Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – B’har-B’chukotai
It was 25 years ago that I closed my law office in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was moving to Jerusalem for my first year as a Rabbinical Student, and everything was moving at a whirlwind pace. I had given away cases that were worth millions and cases that were strictly pro-bono, but it all happened so quickly, that many folks speculated all sorts of things about “Why I was running to Israel … seemingly without notice or warning.” I was not under indictment. I was not in any ethical or legal trouble. In fact, I was Vice-chair of the American Bar Association Committee on Corporate Counsel (young lawyers division). I had a blossoming practice. I was doing well and had a nice corner office in a tall mostly glass building. All seemed professionally good in my world, until the day I stopped to ask myself to assess my own priorities.
I had to spend a lot of time reflecting on why I made this life and career altering choice. Of course most people I meet ask the question, “What made me make the switch?” I have a few standard answers, all of which are true … but they were never really satisfying for me. I can blame “Whitewater;” the scandal involving the top brass of the Rose Law Firm, the most prestigious firm in Arkansas. I cannot say that I found God, for I am, to this day not sure how to begin defining an ineffable intangible being presumed to be the source of … everything. I did find faith, and I glibly tell folks that I am still practicing law, but for a higher class but lower paying client … God. I even remark that I am committed (to service) or should be committed (to an institution). Clearly, there is a piece of me still stuck in the practice of law, even while I spend my regular 182.7 hours of a work week with the most unorthodox frame of mind. I still affirm having left the practice, but I have not been as effective in figuring out the real reason I left. In reading this week’s portion, I may have solved a part of the conundrum.
This week, Torah admonishes us to observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. The Sabbatical (in Hebrew Sh’mitah) sees us letting the land grow fallow for a year. It is not to be worked so that it has an opportunity to renew. In the same vein, any indentured servants are to be freed and set up with resources such that they can sustain themselves. On the Jubilee year (Yovael – every 50th year), all debt is cancelled, all lands alienated from the tribal ownership are returned, and the financial world experiences the first concept of the “reset” or “reboot” in history. Of course, both the Sh’mitah and Yovael are predicated on the conceptualization of a Sabbath day established to renew and recharge the spiritual batteries every week. Essentially, the Rabbis teach us that we have to intentionally step back and assess what the world around us looks like. Where things are not in order, we have an obligation to put them in order. Every week, every seven years, and every “golden anniversary:” each provides an opportunity to start over. As I reflect on my career change, I realize that while I was certainly financially successful, I lacked spiritual fulfillment. Now, had I realized this back then I might have been able to do both, but I was so distracted by the ugliness associated with the practice of law in that city, at that time, that I could not see past the dread of each day.
I loved the work I did at Temple. Rabbi Gene Levy, my Rabbi, gave me lots of room to grow and learn … and serve. I realized that what I was doing there made a lot more sense than what I was doing in my law office. Oddly, if you include the time I worked at the firm where I started, it was as I began my seventh year of practice … the Sabbatical year, that I realized I needed a change. It is only now, as I look back, though, that I see the confluence of time and the decision. I needed more; my soul told me I needed more.
Ok, the idea of a Sabbatical begins with our need to renew our agriculture. At the same time, though, we acknowledge that Torah is the “Tree of Life.” The agricultural metaphor runs through our lives. Each of us farms and harvests relationships with ourselves and with each other. If we don’t take time to renew and rethink our relationships with things, people, and our life situations we all lose. I see so many people who are miserable in their careers and relationships. We get stuck, unable to renew, to seek change that will help heal the ache in our spirit. I am blessed that I had the support system to help me make room for this growth. In turn, I hope that I have been that support system for others. We really are all in this together. Let’s help each other grow and blossom. Shabbat Shalom.