Take A Rest: The Shemita Year
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Take A Rest: The Shemita Year

grades:  Middle School (6-8) 

Enduring Understandings:

  • All of humanity and all of the earth requires periods of replenishing, renewal, and rebirth. 
  • The earth and its inhabitants are interconnected with each other.

Essential Questions:

  • What is rest? 
  • What is our relationship to the land, and what is the land’s relationship to us?
  • What does it mean that we cannot reap what we do not sow?

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

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Text Study and Midrash Handouts



Lesson Outline:

Introduction/Blessing over Torah Study
Set Induction – the Lorax
Introducing the Parashah
Text Study/Hevruta
Sabbatical Year and Shabbat: A Comparison
Wrap Up – Midrash


The teacher will explain to the students the importance of recognizing that when we study, especially Torah and Judaism, we are making a distinction between what is sacred and holy and what is normal and ordinary. When we study Torah and learn about our Judaism, we are creating a sacred and holy space for us to better understand how Judaism relates to us.

The teacher will ask the students if they have either read the book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss or have seen the movie.

If students have read the book or seen the movie, the teacher will ask a student to provide a short synopsis of the movie.

Some important key points for the teacher to remind the students of:

In the movie The Lorax, Ted Wiggins is a 12-year-old boy who lives in Thneedville, a walled city in which everything is artificial and made of plastic, metal, or synthetics. Ted has a crush on Audrey and decides to find a real tree in order to impress her. Ted visits an elderly hermit known as "The Once-ler" and asks how the world got so polluted. He explains that once the world was beautiful, containing a wide variety of happy animals that lived among beautiful "Truffula trees." He cut down the trees because they were excellent material to make products he invented called "Thneeds." The "Thneeds" became a huge marketing success, forcing him to expand his factory and cut down more Truffula trees.
The Lorax, a small orange creature who spoke on behalf of the trees, warned the Once-ler that the trees are the environment he and his fellow creatures need to survive. The Once-ler ignored him, and soon the land became polluted, the animals fleeing to more hospitable areas and the Truffula trees dwindling until there were none. Deprived of its key raw material, the Once-ler's factory was forced to close, and the Lorax disappeared, leaving the Once-ler to view the ruins of his enterprise with remorse. The story closes with the Once-ler giving the boy the last Truffula tree seed and asking him to plant it so the trees, and perhaps also the Lorax, will return.

The teacher will explain that he will show a clip near the end of the movie The Lorax that includes a song, “Let it Grow.” He will encourage students to notice how important it seemed to be for the residents of Thneedville to allow for trees to grow in the town again.  

Following the clip, the teacher will draw attention to the chorus of the song:
Let it grow, let it grow/You can’t reap what you don’t sow/Plant a seed inside the Earth/Just one way to know its worth/Let’s celebrate the world’s rebirth/We say Let it Grow

Ask the students if they can summarize what the message of this clip is. One possible answer is that we can’t necessarily see the value of something if we do not put the effort into growing it, but also caring for it.

Introducing the Parashah/Text Study
The teacher will explain that the message of the Lorax in terms of protecting the environment reminds him of this week’s double parashah, Behar-Behukotai. At the beginning of this parashah, one of the things that we learn about is that for 6 years, we can plant and harvest from our fields and vineyards. But the 7th year is a year of complete rest for the land. The Israelites won’t be able to work their fields, but they will be able to gather and share whatever the land produces. God promises our people that the year prior to the Sabbatical year there will be enough harvest to hold them over until the 8th year. So one way we can look at this scenario is that every 7 years, all of our agriculture – our environment – has a year- long Shabbat.
The teacher will explain that he wants the class to examine two texts. One text is directly taken from the Torah portion this week and outlines the commandment for the Sabbatical year. The other text is taken from the book of Exodus, and outlines part of the commandment related to Shabbat.
Ask students to work in pairs (hevruta) and read through these two texts. Refer to the questions at the end of the handout, and encourage students to keep in mind how the Sabbatical year and Shabbat are ALIKE.

Discussion (make sure that handout text is accessible to students)
Have students share their findings and remind them that the focus here is to identify how the Sabbatical year for plants and Shabbat are alike.

Some key points to note are:
  • Both texts emphasize the concept of rest. Ask the students: What does it mean to rest? What do we need rest?
  • Inquire why they think that there is an emphasis on working for 6 days and resting on the 7th, planting/harvesting for 6 years and resting on the 7th. Remind them that in part, this has to do with creation, but also point out that perhaps we are being told that this is the amount of work that we can handle and we need time to rest! Allude to the idea that we go to school for five days, but use about one day’s worth of time to work on homework during the weekend, and also take some time off to sleep in, play with friends, etc. We can only handle so much!
Like us, the land needs time to replenish itself. We can’t give it more than it can handle. The land gives us so much: natural resources, food, and nourishment for US to live. In order for it to continue to give to us, we have to give to it as well. Point out that our parashah is telling us that we need to make sure every six years the land has time to rest, but there are things we can do to take care of it on a regular basis to. Ask the students what ways they can take care of the earth.

Wrap Up/Conclusion

Have a student read the Midrash. Emphasize that last statement – adam is a kind of vegetable, because it resembles a human being. Note that the land and humanity are interconnected. We have to take care of each other, and provide opportunities for us to rest so we can renew, replenish, and continue to grow!


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