Shmita: A Lesson In Learning When To Let Go

Watching. Watching my plants and waiting for rain. Waiting and watching, and oh yes, praying. It’s Shmita, and my plants outside need the rain. Of course, I am allowed to water them, but not too much. And not too little. Just the right amount. What is the right amount?

Watching my children and grandchildren. Watching and waiting. Waiting and watching, and oh yes, praying.

One Week Before Rosh Hashanah

I am busily plucking off the wilted flowers, pinching off the brown leaves. Watering, maybe a little too much. They are too soggy, but I figure in a week or two they will be begging for moisture, flowers with their little petals open, like little pink mouths, waiting silently for someone to give them a drink. I am busy — no, obsessive — in pulling off the bad parts, getting ready for a whole year when I cannot touch them. Can’t even move them to a sunnier or shady spot. These last few days before Rosh Hashanah are the last opportunity for pruning, for guiding the stem upward, for drowning the poor little geraniums in water.

”Eema, why do you always worry about me?” my daughter asks me one day.

“I worry about everyone.” But some more than others, I say to myself. In fact, it is beginning to take over my brain, this worry. Will they be ok? Will their livelihood work out? Can they handle all the stresses of renting and buying, and changing diapers and, I dunno, marrying off children?” 

Did I just say marrying off children? I’M worried about THEM marrying off their children in 20 years? This is getting out of hand, this worry thing.

I once heard a wise man say, “There is really no reason to worry. If you can change something, change it, and then don’t worry. And if you can’t change it, then there’s no need to worry, because it’s not your problem.” Wish I could do that more.

Tzom Gedalia

I look at the flowers. They might be thirsty, but they seem ok. I don’t think it’s time to water them. Anyway, it’s a fast…

But how I’m dying to pluck off that brown leaf! How I want to cut off that shriveled reddish flower! I am so tempted, and yet … it is not allowed in Shmita. Pruning, zmira, is forbidden from the Torah. 

It is interesting: Zmira is from the same root as zimra, a song. Perhaps to prune a branch helps the tree to grow, helps it sing. But sometimes they should be left alone. Like on Shmita. Left alone to sing their own song.

Yom Kippur

Epiphany: I realize that this worry is eating me up. I realize I am getting overly involved emotionally with my children’s challenges. I think too much about it when I go to sleep. I worry. I don’t even necessarily mean the difficult challenges. I mean the everyday ones: how is this granddaughter doing in school? This daughter seems so tired. What about this decision? What about that grandson and his cold?

What’s to be done about this worry?

Still, I must defend the Jewish Mother. I take my job as a grandmother very seriously. For me, it is a tikkun, a repair job of the past. It is a fixing up of my motherhood. 

When I look back, my era of mothering small kids seems like a lot of treading water. I was surviving. If I found two socks that matched, it was a good day. I’m exaggerating. But now, as a Savta, I am given the opportunity to really zero in on each child and each grandchild, to evaluate what each one needs. It is, in fact, exhilarating. It is a psychological and emotional renovation. A tikkun. What does he need, and can I provide it? If it is advice that he needs, can I just say it out, or should I clothe it in parables so that he won’t take offense? Or better, should I just keep my mouth shut?

When should I water them? Should I let them alone for a while? Should I just mind my own business? Maybe they are better off blossoming all by themselves, without my nose in their little leaves, brown or green. Maybe their song, their zimra, will flourish on its own.

Erev Sukkot

I examine the flowers. The Geraniums, those little warriors, are resilient. They almost always do ok, even if you go on vacation for a week, or you forget to water them because it’s Erev Shabbos and you are just too busy. The Petunias are doing surprisingly well. There are a few flowers that threw in the towel and are gasping on the sidewalk, but then there are the others who are as purple and perky as ever. The succulents are holding on. They, of course, need almost no water, but they also are not giving any flowers. Not yet, at least.

Chol Hamoed

A carnival of color! The Geraniums are bobbing their pink and red blossoming heads in the wind. The Petunias look up with pride, and the succulents, well, they are still green with no flowers. Yet.

Conclusion? The flowers are doing quite well on their own.

After the Chagim

Waiting and watching the sky. But mostly praying. Praying that this newborn will grow, that granddaughter will blossom, this grandson will flourish, this son-in-law will bloom, that daughter-in-law will thrive. I can’t straighten his tie, too often. Or give too much advice. Or too little. Can’t pluck off their problem or pinch off the setbacks.

I have faith that the rain and the cooler air of Cheshvan will nurture them. That the One who is Mashiv Haruach UMorid Hageshem, who makes the wind blow and the rain come down, will sustain them.


I had a whole year of “Let go, Let G-d” in my garden. And I have a lifetime of “Let go, let G-d” in my family.

Shmita is a lesson in learning when to let go.