The AllCreation Podcast

Deidre Gabbay, director of Shmita Project Northwest, challenges us to think deeply through the question, “What would a Shmita year look like today”?

Show Notes

Sharing Shmita: The Shmita Project Northwest
Deirdre Gabbay, director of The Shmita Project Northwest, takes us on a journey of possibilities, exploring how shmita could inspire change in our communities. Does the world need a Shmita year? Deirdre Gabbay shares not only an explanation of what her group is doing, but her inspirations and thinking on the many  ways  a Shmita year is a good template for how we address modern social crises. Shmita isn’t just about letting the land rest, it’s about the release of debt, slaves, and property, including ancestral homelands. Deidre has a lot of amazing insights, challenging us to think about why need a Shmita and what a Shmita practice might look like today.

About Deirdre
Deirdre Gabbay
is director of The Shmita Project Northwest, an organization dedicated to bringing attention to the Hebrew calendar's seven-year Shmita cycle which centers the relationship between the earth and the wellbeing of the human and more-than-human world, through education, inspiration, community-building, and programmatic support. She founded Ahavat v'Avodat HaAdamah, "Love and Service of the Earth," in 2015 to establish an environmental presence for the Pacific Northwest rooted in Jewish text, tradition, and practice, specifically to support a response to climate change. Deirdre is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle, and a member of the board of directors of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light. She blogs at, where all of her divrei Torah (sermons) can be found.


The texts spoke to me and sort of gave me this vision. I was also really taken with the much more scary depiction that if we don't manage to get things right we're going to experience waves of increasing severity of really bad things, brought about by human pride, which actually creates the hostility of the landscape to the human being. . . "So what are you going to do? Are you going to continue along this course or are you going to reverse course?" Until in the end comes exile and the only way to set the land right, in that part of the text, is, you guessed it, through Shmita.

The global pandemic and overlapping climate and weather-related catastrophes that we all have been going through I think has taught us some really, really important lessons that I think are related to Shmita. And one of them is: really large calamities, like we read about in the Bible, these plagues, they can happen. They can happen in our time.

But then on the positive side, they really taught us that discontinuity of human behavior is possible... As scary as it was it was (the Covid years) it also encouraging. And now all of us, across the planet, have this muscle memory — that things can actually jump out of their ruts, and honestly we're gonna need to be able to jump out of our ruts if we want to try to live sustainably going forward.

So this pattern breaking, from Covid, in some ways gives us a hints of what a Shmita year could be. We sort of have a choice between, it could either be like the one we just had... and the Torah teaches that it gets worse not better if we don't learn the lessons that we're being offered. Or, we could learn to really welcome a Shmita year -- to actually accept voluntarily and lovingly that a year of rest can be a really positive thing. 

What if we were to embrace this, what would a Shmita year look like? 

One of the strengths of a Faith-based point of view is that there’s a vocabulary for a sense of commanded-ness... So how do we summon this sense of commanded-ness? One way is to appeal to these commandments. 

The maximalist vision I have is that someday the whole world will recognize the need for the land to rest for a whole year and that they will rest alongside of it in some meaningful way.  

The cool thing about Shmita, is that it's not even a human commandment at this level. It’s the earth, it’s the land that’s commanded to rest and to observe a Sabbath of complete rest for the Lord. It’s about a relationship that we’re not really even a part of. This is part of the way the world works. It’s part of an operating manual between God and the land. That's a perspective I like to keep.

What if ordinary people were to take a year off from their lives… The Shmita would open this up for ordinary people to think about how to bring this into our culture… I think the Shmita raises the possibility of thinking about this outside of a global pandemic. 

Shmita is deeply concerned about social justice. Shmita isn’t just about letting the land rest, it’s about the release of debts, and it's also about jubilee. . . If you can't repay a debt, then you're supposed to be allowed to walk upright. . .We're having a conversation about how much debt is good for a society. 

Even more intriguing, it has something to say about the need to prevent intergenerational poverty, the passing down of poor circumstances from one generation to the next. 

What could this correspond to today? How might it look? 

Inequality that's left to continue and roll-over from one generation to the next, particularly if it causes some people to be squeezed-out of full participation in society; this is addressed in Torah and a solution is put forward in Torah. We too should put forward a solution. 

For me, it's really important that we learn to take care of the actual place where we live. . . We need to be rooted in place. 

I really hope people feel they have been invited to make aspects of this real...

And just know that this is a very appealing idea that many people are interested in and it can help connect. The belief that we're all in this together is, I think, the most comforting and also the most powerful message we have. 


Thanks for listening.
This podcast is part of our Winter 2021 series, Shmita Now.
Visit the AllCreation podcast site or for more. 
Produced and edited by Chris Searles.
Audio processing and improving by Jeff Haley. 

What is The AllCreation Podcast? Faith • Spirit • Biodiversity • Connections