Posts Tagged 'Shmitta'

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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Hard Reset- Shmitta and Socialism

In Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the upcoming shmita, Sabbatical year. There we read:

For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, saying: ‘You shalt surely open your hand unto your poor and needy brother, in your land.’ If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold to you, he shall serve you six years; and in the seventh year you shalt let him go free from you. ( Deuteronomy 15:11-12)

Here we see a connection between the remission of loans and the freeing of the slaves on the seventh year. If some one is down on their luck regarding a loan or having been in slavery, the Torah commands the community to take responsibility to help them . Here we are called to look out for the needs of our fellow Jews. But what does it mean that, “poor shall never cease”? Why can we not imagine a time when poverty is over?

It seems that this question is answered in Isaiah’s Messianic vision in our Haftarah . There we read:

Ho, every one that is thirsty, come you for water, and he that had no money; come you, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your gain for that which satisfied not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.( Isaiah 55:1-2)

The ideal for the future is a time in which our needs are met without the disparity inherit in a society that is built around privilege, debt, and the imbalanced nature of currency. I am not foolhardy enough to think that our world can survive without the forces of capitalism, we just need to recognize that inherent in that system is perpetual poverty. It is also possible that our approach to poverty cannot be limited to any single community looking out for their own. But, as a Jewish person I can say that I am looking forward to the new year. It seems that we all could use a reset.


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