Monday, May 5, 2014

Behar 74 - Shemittah, faith and Community

The parasha-portion of Behar deals with the Sabbatical  year = Shemittah,  when the land lies fallow and the Jubilee= Yovel = 50th year  when in addition to the land lying fallow , land is returned to its original owners, slaves are freed  and debts are canceled .In the middle of this section , the Torah warns us not to transgress  the negative commandments of Ona'at ma'mon and ona'at devarim = cheating, being financially dishonest and hurting  others with words - being insulting , using put-downs to belittle someone or even giving him bad advice in a way he thinks you are trying to help him.  God knows one's true intentions. The question is why did the Torah choose to teach the negative commandments of Ona'at ma'mon and ona'at devarim = financial cheating and using insulting words in the context of the mitzvoth of the Sabbatical year= Shemittah and Yovel- Jubilee?  We can find plenty of reasons why cheating or insulting others is bad in the context of the Man to man relationship, so what does Shemittah and the Yovel add to our understanding?

A man of faith believes that his livelihood is preordained by God on Rosh Hashanah and what he earns is what he needs in order to be a faithful servant of God in this world. The challenge is not only-  not be dishonest in ones' dealings or insulting to others in order to get ahead, but to know that what looks like the fruits of our labor's and our efforts  is actually a  gift from God in order that we should we should be able to live more  spiritual lives. The Yovel   also teaches us not to become attached to our physical possessions as ownership is a temporary state. Land reverts back to the original owner and debts are cancelled.  If we do not use our earnings in service of God and man, we are in fact stealing from God and this is sacrilege. Dishonest dealings and hurtful words completely disregard the role of God in the world and are a declaration that what I have is my hard earned money and I can choose how to spend it.  This person will then find it pretty easy to justify his dishonest dealings and hurtful words.

But the sabbatical year = Shemittah and the Jubilee =Yovel are not just a ' mind shifts', they are leaps of faith. The farmer has really got to give up working for a year and put his trust in God that he will have a livelihood and be able to provide for his family. The contrast between the man of faith putting his trust In God and the man who feels he can only get ahead by being dishonest in his business dealings, or by insulting people and putting them down is most apparent in the context of Shemittah and Yovel years.

The Se'fat Emet adds another important dimension to this connection between Shemittah and ona'at ma'mon and de'varim = dishonest dealings and insults. Shemittah is a communal mitzvah, not a private one. It should lead to unity and cooperation among people of a community in order to support each other. In order to be successful and get ahead, it is not the competitive drive, being number one, being a winner and not a loser that makes people successful. What makes people successful is being able to cooperate and collaborate with others, having a sense of purpose bigger than yourself and your company, and wanting to be of service etc. 

We can help our children see the value of family and community and that others are not obstacles in the way of our success. The opposite is true. When we view our resources and earnings as a gift from God, not only are we careful to be honest in our dealings and sensitive with our words but we use these resources in the service of God and to help other people. This is the way we get ahead in life.

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