Enoughness

Goodwill shopping-Bob JagendorfWe have entered the last month of the Jewish year, Elul—a month of preparation, reflection, and expectation. Elul, when God is said to go walking in the fields; when we seek to lovingly reconnect our ordinary lives to the holy—ani ledodi vedodi li—“I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine;” when we add Psalm 27 to our prayers twice a day; and we carefully examine our lives, considering how we might choose to bring our actions more fully into alignment with our values, hopes, and aspirations. 

On the first day of Elul, I went shopping. I bought three tops; two light sweater jacket things for fashion layering (yes, I do that now—also, what do we call those??); four skirts; one long-sleeve t-shirt; and two dresses. At Goodwill, that cost me $90. Hallelujah! Buying the majority of my clothes at resale shops is one way I choose to walk lightly on the earth and reduce, reuse, recycle. It also saves me money, which is great.

Why am I telling you about buying clothes? Because buying these items now during this year’s Elul is one way I’m preparing for Rosh Hashana and the Sabbatical, or shmita, year that’s coming up.

During the shmita year, we are to refrain from sowing and harvesting our fields. Instead, we are to eat only what grows on its own. I don’t have any fields to sow or not sow, harvest or not harvest. But I understand something about the biblical teaching of enoughness that’s implicit in this shmita instruction, and I’d like to find ways to implement some enoughness practices into my 21st-century, (sub)urban life in the new year.

In that spirit, then, during the shmita year of 5775, I will refrain from buying any new-for-me clothes.

Now, I recognize that this is not a huge sacrifice. I really do have enough clothes. I will not suffer from skipping my quarterly (or so) visits to a local resale shop. But the intention, the practice, is important.

Surely there are other ways I could implement enoughness practices for the shmita year. Nigel Savage, Executive Director of Hazon, has written about how he and his wife are wrapping their unread books in newspaper and placing them in a box. Rather than buying new books during the shmita year, when they finish one book, they’ll pick up a wrapped book and open it, exclaiming, “wow, that is so cool—I always wanted to read that!”

I haven’t decided whether or not I will commit to that enoughness practice yet. I’m thinking about it. My books are all in boxes right now, ready for my move, so I can’t wrap them even if I wanted to. But maybe when I am in my new house, unpacking books, I can set aside the ones I haven’t yet read. Maybe I could wrap them in some of the paper that once protected dishes in another box. Maybe that way I’d finally read that book about liberation theology I keep meaning to read, or the one about container gardening.

But what if there’s a book I don’t have that I really, really want to read? Maybe I could let myself buy it—on the condition that I must then give a different book away. I think I could incorporate that into my shmita observance and feel like it is in keeping with the spirit of enoughness. If I’m buying one book, I should give another one away—because part of the idea is that more, more, more is not sustainable or healthy. Also, sharing resources in community is good.

To me, enoughness is not about a punishing limitation; it is part of a simple recognition that really, I am blessed—really, I have all the things that I need. As long as my basic needs are met, more stuff isn’t what matters. Life and family and community and the holy—that’s what matters.

Rather than wishing for, coveting, and craving more things, I should approach my life with a spirit of profound gratitude—at all times, but perhaps especially during the shmita year.

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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p.s.- I’d love to hear your ideas about ways to implement enoughness practices, too—please do share!

(Above photo courtesy of Bob Jagendorf via Flickr Creative Commons.)

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