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05/22/2019 10:09:33 AM


Sam Shnider

This week we read Parshat Behar, one of the final readings in Leviticus(25:1-26:2). The portion begins with the description of the Shemittah, or Sabbatical year. The Torah directs us in a particular relationship to the land - and teaches us that we never truly possess it. 

שֵׁ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ תִּזְרַ֣ע שָׂדֶ֔ךָ וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְמֹ֣ר כַּרְמֶ֑ךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃

Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield.

וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר׃

But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the LORD: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. Leviticus 25:3-4.

The purpose of this rest is to allow others to share the land: the fruits of the seventh year are no longer the exclusive property of the named owner, but the property of all alike. As Rashi, the medieval commentator explains with regards to the Sabbatical year produce, “you should not comport yourself in respect of them as the exclusive owner but all must be equal as regards it — you and your hired servant and your sojourner.” Rashi on verse 6. Thus, the Torah treats ownership of land as stewardship only. By relinquishing our control of the land we remind ourselves that we too are only transient:

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃

But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. 

Leviticus 25:23. 

I am reminded of a busker on the New York subway, who got on our subway car full of commuters, in his ragged clothing with his best up guitar and waited dramatically for us to observe his spectacle, then opened with the words, “Good day everyone! Welcome to my living room. That’s right I am happy to have you as guests, and make yourself at home but remember I have to invite in a whole bunch more guests when you leave...” 

The Torah’s vision of ownership may seem aspirational and foreign to us, but it has an urgency to it. Real ownership only exists in the divine. We are so accustomed to identifying ourselves with our little kingdoms that our knuckles are white from grasping on to them. But we are never defined by what we own - and we cannot even truly have the final say on the disposition of our own property. The Torah asks us to release our grasp. And we can do so even today in a thousand small ways, by sharing, by allowing others in, by relinquishing exclusivity. 

The Torah teaches us that this is the true path to blessing, because real abundance comes from above. 

וְכִ֣י תֹאמְר֔וּ מַה־נֹּאכַ֤֖ל בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑ת הֵ֚ן לֹ֣א נִזְרָ֔ע וְלֹ֥א נֶאֱסֹ֖ף אֶת־תְּבוּאָתֵֽנוּ׃

And should you ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?”

וְצִוִּ֤יתִי אֶת־בִּרְכָתִי֙ לָכֶ֔ם בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הַשִּׁשִּׁ֑ית וְעָשָׂת֙ אֶת־הַתְּבוּאָ֔ה לִשְׁלֹ֖שׁ הַשָּׁנִֽים׃

I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years.


By relinquishing our grasp and our need for certainty and predictability, we make room for true blessing in our lives. 

Sat, July 11 2020 19 Tammuz 5780