Floating in an inner tube on the Delaware River, I think about four rivers I’ve crossed to arrive at this moment in my life: the Hudson, the Harlem, the Delaware and the Chattahoochee. Sometimes I rode above them on high bridges and other times under them in deep tunnels. Mostly I focused on the traffic and how long my commute was taking. Rarely did I reflect on the source of these rivers, our most precious resource, and how critical they are to the survival of all living things on this planet. Riding the gentle rapids of the Delaware, I’m reminded of four rivers in Genesis—the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates—flowing forth from the river in the Garden of Eden and watering the surface of the earth. I’m also reminded of the consequences of not caring for and protecting these life-sustaining waters.
This Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the creation of the world; it also marks the beginning of the shmita year, the seventh year in a biblically ordained agricultural cycle. It’s a year of release, a year to allow the land to rest, a year to allow the farms and orchards and vineyards to recover from the human need to cultivate, to till and to tend. Shmita challenges us to reconsider our relationship to the earth and all that is in it. For those of us living in cities and suburbs outside the land of Israel, this shmita year of 5782 is an opportunity to focus on restoring the environment where we are. For me, this year is an invitation to return to the river, to repair it and restore it. In the beginning God gave us water, the source of life. In the year ahead, may we reconnect to all that sustains us in life.
Rabbi Pamela Gottfried begins her 23rd year as a rabbi and teacher in Metro Atlanta, and her 2nd year volunteering with JCAN-GA.