The Purple Sheet
Shabbat Parshat Behar – May 27th/28th 2016 – כ’ אייר תשע’ו
More is Never Enough
This week’s Torah portion focuses on the laws of Shmittah, the Sabbatical year. Every seventh year the Jewish people living in Israel are instructed not to farm, plant or do anything that may improve the land agriculturally. They must allow their crops to remain uncultivated for the entire year. Furthermore, after the seven Shmittah cycles they are instructed to do the same for the 50th year, the Yovel (Jubilee) year, as they would for the 49th. Naturally the issue of survival would be paramount on people’s mind and the Torah, anticipating that, offers assurance that it needn’t be an issue.
If you should ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year?’ I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for a three-year period.
A bumper crop is promised by God to enable the Jewish people to withstand the year(s) of lack of production.
Needless to say, this was not an easy commandment to follow as it required a tremendous sense of trust and faith in God. Indeed, historically the Jewish people had difficulty following this mitzvah, and it is one of the reasons we were exiled after the destruction of the First Temple. Seventy years, in fact, to allow the land of Israel to get its seventy years of rest from the seventy Shmittah and Yovel years that the Jewish people did not fully comply with.
The mitzvah of Shmittah is similar to the mitzvot of the Shabbat and Tzedakah; the common theme being the demand to relinquish our ability and need to conquer and possess. On Shabbat we are told to stop producing, working and creating – not always an easy thing to do especially in our busy multi-task society where the availability to accomplish is just a click away. Through Tzedakah we are asked to give away a percentage of our earnings to the less fortunate or to institutions that provide spiritual services to our community. In both instances we are instructed to give something up in order to realize that ultimately, our good and welfare is in the hands of the Almighty.
Through ceasing our activities or giving away some of our possessions to others, we learn to overcome the natural tendency to think that what I have gained is solely mine and all that I accomplish is a result of my efforts alone. We come to recognize that, in truth, all of our accomplishments are gifts from God, our efforts notwithstanding, as expressed by the phrase, “Man proposes and God disposes”. In a sense we view possessions not as a complete free-for-all to do with as we please, but actually on loan from the Almighty that requires responsibility on my part. Judaism teaches that I am not the sole owner of anything, but a partner with God who also has “rights” to these jointly-owned possessions. This is not an endorsement of a Bernie Sanders philosophy of Socialism but more an awareness that there are two important factors for my success – my total commitment and hard work, but also God’s aligning things that allow me to succeed. After all, we have all had times where we put in the hard work and nothing came of it.
Not only do the commandments of Shmittah, Shabbat and Tzedakah help us recognize that all that we have comes from God, but they also teach us a bit of restraint; something sorely needed in our society. Developing the habit of holding oneself back from getting whatever may be within your grasp, reach and capabilities is a crucial trait for one’s good, welfare and health. Just because it is there to be had doesn’t necessarily mean you ought to go and get it.
We constantly hear of people who suffer the effects of too much – too much food, too much work, too much alcohol, too many choices. Homes are not big enough to hold the stuff we own so we rent storage units. We have feelings of inadequacy because the person next to me has more or nicer things than me and is having a much better time in life according to his Facebook posts. The endless consumption goes on and on and on and it is never enough since I cannot be happy unless I get the latest, newest, greatest, most chic thing which will provide a moment of fleeting happiness … at least until the next latest, newest, greatest, most chic thing comes along to undermine the one I own.
As for the overwhelming choices and availability, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, we now can set our garages, thermostats and do too many other tasks with an app. The WSJ this week featured an article entitled, “The Internet of Every Single Thing Must Be Stopped”. Apparently now you can buy an umbrella for $125 that will alert your phone when you have left it behind. I dunno, given how often I have forgotten umbrellas, for $125 I think I will still come out ahead financially without this purchase. Or how about the Quirky Egg Minder Tray ($15) a wifi egg tray that send notices when eggs get old? I won’t even begin to describe the My Flow Smart Tampon – no, I am not making this up.
The futility of gathering beyond our needs is poignantly illustrated by a short story by Leo Tolstoy entitled “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” It tells the tale of a man who makes a deal which gives him the opportunity to obtain as much land as he can fully encircle by walking during the course of one day, with the provision that he must make it back to the starting point or he gets nil. The man starts out early in the morning, and as he gets further and further out, his eyes catch more and more good land. So he keeps on going. It is only when the day is more than half over that he realizes he’d better make a turn and head back to the beginning keeping in mind that if he doesn’t fully encircle the land, he ends up with nothing. The afternoon wears on and towards the end the man is running. The finish line is in sight and the sun is setting. He tries to run faster but his body is exhausted. Finally, with his last ounce of strength, one moment before sunset, he lunges to the finish line … at which point he collapses and dies.
How much land does a man need? The burial plot was about eight feet.
More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like it
More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like it
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida www.aishfl.com