Posts Tagged 'Shmita'

A Different Kind of Shmitah

With the advent of COVID-19 and the shelter in place regulations we have not driven our family van. At the start I realized that we had a flat tire and eventually switched it out for a doughnut, but still the car has not moved in 9 weeks.

This whole existence has caused a forced Shmitah of sorts. As we read in this week’s Torah portion, Behar Bechukotai:

God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for God. For Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyards and you may gather your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for God, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. ( Leviticus 25:1-4)

On one hand I have never worked this hard in my life, on the other hand this unique 9 week period has been a prolonged period of “complete rest”. Our car’s idle state represents our staying in one place. This has been a blessing of a prolonged family Shabbat.

On our Torah portion Rashi asks the oft quoted question, ” What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Why is this Mitzvah getting top billing at Sinai? Was not the whole Torah given at Sinai?  What is so special about a “complete rest”?

While on Passover we were slaves, by the time we reach Shavuot we ascended to the level to receive the Torah at Har Sinai. When we were slaves were bound by our masters to work in their land and not move. While we were traveling around in the desert as refugees it was hard to forget that we were a band of lowly liberated slaves. It is Gods world and we were just drifting through it.  Eventually we will be in the Land of Israel and again sedentary working our own land. Even if we are unsettled at this moment, the laws of Shmitah are here by Har Sinai to remind us of our humble beginnings as slaves and to point us to a wonderful autonomous future. In many ways this flat tire is doing a similar thing. It reminds me that even if everything is crazy now, I am safe, with the people I love, and there is a future when everything will settle down.

Giving Thanks to Our Heros on Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899)

With the advent of Thanksgiving we reflect on the narrative of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. What was the nature of the meal shared by Native Americans and the Pilgrims?Even if it did not happen as we “remember it” how do we make meaning of a yearly ritual of giving thanks? We celebrate this day with its cornucopia of fall harvest in honor of those who came before us.  What about the Native Americans?

Charles Alexander Eastman, a Native American physician, writer, national lecturer, and reformer, once said, “It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. . . . Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving. . . . The Indians in their simplicity literally give away all that they have—to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.”  We have a tremendous amount to learn from the Native Americans.

This idea of giving is resonant with the idea of Shmita. According to the Torah this year we are supposed to let the land in Israel lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden. Under Jewish Law any fruits which grow of their own accord are deemed hefker-ownerless and may be picked by anyone. A variety of laws also apply to the sale, consumption and disposal of Shmita produce. All native debts were to be remitted. The Midrash describes those who manage to keep shmita properly as “angels of God, mighty warriors doing God’s will, listening to God’s words”. (Vayikra Rabba 1:1) It is normal for a person to do a mitzvah– commandment for one moment, for one day, one week, one month, and even for 49 days. Could it be for the rest of the year? Yet, the owner sees his field empty, abandons his vineyard and pays taxes and is silent.

Too much blood has been spilled in the name of land conflict. What can we learn about the warrior who fights from within? Just as we learn from Eastman we learn in Perkey Avot, “Who is strong? He who conquers his inclination” ( Avot 4:1). May this Thanksgiving during this year of Shmita give us pause to rethink our connection to the land and each other. The giving person is the true hero.

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