There’s a van I see regularly when I go to the gym with a bumper sticker that reads, “Remember who you wanted to be.” It’s a powerful little statement. In six words, it conveys one of the great challenges of adulthood in the modern era: the divergences between the life we hoped or dreamed of at one time, and the life that has emerged. For Freud, and for many of us, the gap between aspiration and reality becomes the source of neurosis, ‘unresolved conflicts.’

That’s on the other side of adulthood. At the outset, in the lives of the emerging adults with whom I work (and who I hope are reading this), the sense is less one of regret over dreams deferred than being overwhelmed at the dreams available. I spoke this morning with a senior about to graduate, who reflected on being a freshman and entering the college dining hall for the first time. “People have to learn not to drink three cups of soda, or not to eat five pieces of cake. College kids have to learn discipline.” So many options are available, so many possible choices, that the issue becomes less one of being enslaved to a future already scripted than paralyzed by a future without a direction. And discipline, rather than being imposed from without, is largely left to the individual to develop for him or herself.

This reality comes to mind as we read the opening words of this week’s double-parasha, Behar-Behukotai: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.” (Leviticus 25:2-4) For six years we are to toil and labor, a reflection of the six days of the week on which we work. But in the seventh year, the land itself–and we, by extension–must rest.

Likewise, the Torah continues, “Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” (Lev. 25:8-10) During this Jubilee year, not only does the land rest, and not only do the people rest, but something even larger happens: liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. Specifically, the Torah states, “It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.” Land sales are effectivley cancelled, and everyone is to return to the plot of land from which their ancestors came. It is, in effect, pressing the reset button on society. That is the liberty of the Jubilee year–not to own, not to accumulate, not to exploit, but simply to be.

In his commentary on this passage, Rabbi Judah Loew, also called the Maharal of Prague (1520-1609) explains why the Jubilee year is proclaimed not on Rosh Hashanah, as we might expect, but on the tenth of the month of Tishrei, on Yom Kippur: “The Jubilee and Yom Kippur—the two are really one: For the Jubilee is the return of each individual to his original state, to be as it was in the beginning. And so too with Yom Kippur: everyone returns to his original state. As the Holy One Blessed Be He atones for them, they return to their original state.” (Gur Aryeh Behar, s.v. “M’mashma”)

This is a utopian vision, to be sure. It is unclear whether the Jubilee year was ever actually implemented in ancient times. But the Torah’s vision is a profound one of what human life is really about: we work and toil while we number our days and our years. That is, we create a story, a context for our work. Knowing that the Sabbatical or Jubilee year is coming focuses us on those things that are most important, on work of value, on relationships of substance–because everything else is ultimatley ephemeral. By creating a rhythm for our lives, we discipline ourselves–we give shape to our dreams and dimensions to our visions.

The college dining hall, with its overwhelming choices, is a concrete example of the larger challenge for many emerging adults today: How to create structure and develop discipline on your own. For so many students, time is not a dimension to be considered–except when a deadline is approaching, when a paper is due or a test is about to happen. But in college you can make your own hours, you can choose your own courses, you can write your own story–all, in most cases, without being committed to anyone else in particular.

Yet, as the senior I talked with this morning realized, that’s not a healthy way to live. Time is the dimension that distinguishes human beings from the rest of Creation. To be human is to live in time. And to live in time, just as to live in space, requires discipline.The Sabbatical and the Jubilee, like Shabbat, exist to discipline us to live in time.

Shabbat shalom.

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