Torah Portion: B’Har (On the Mount) (Leviticus) Vayikra 25-26:2
Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 32:6-27
This week we read the shortest portion of the Year being only one chapter and two verses of the next chapter. Here we read a description of the Shmitah year or a year of solemn rest for the land. In this year the agricultural land lays fallow. No work on the land is permitted. This year happens every 7th year. We can see some similarities between the Shmitah Year and the Sabbath but also some differences.
We also read about the Jubilee year, about how to help our brothers who are poor and the issue of charging interest on a loan. I want us to look at both of these points, the Shmitah Year and how to deal with the poor.
I think both points are based on trust in G-d and faith in G-d. Faith in Hebrew is emunah and trust is bitachon. Let’s see how these two are normally looked at today. Are they the same? If not, what is the difference? Maybe a short parable or two can help us see the differences between the two.
There was once a very religious man who believed in G-d but he was also a thief. Before every robbery he would pray for success. How can he engage in an act forbidden by G-d and yet pray for success you might ask? It is because he has faith in G-d but lacks trust in G-d. He believes G-d exists but does not trust Him to take care of him and provide for him without resorting to stealing. The man feels he must steal to provide for himself.
In my last parable, there was a world famous tightrope walker who visited a town to perform. People came from everywhere to see his act. As he makes his way up a tree to begin his dangerous act you could have heard a pin drop. Just before he starts across the wire he calls out, “Who here believes I can make it across this wire to the other side?” The crowd roars their faith in his ability to do this. He reaches behind him and pulls out a wheelbarrow and asks, “Who is willing to get in this wheelbarrow and ride to the other side with me!” His question is met with silence. Faith is like the initial roaring response of the crowd but trust is being willing to climb inside the wheelbarrow and trust the tight rope walker to get you to the other side safely.
The Shabbat and Shmitah are good examples of this difference. On Shabbat we honor G-d as Creator. During the Shmitah Year we celebrate G-d as Master and trust Him to provide. On Shabbat we cease from all creative work, honoring our belief that there is only one true Creator. During Shimtah creating is permitted, it is managing the land which is not. Shmitah stresses that there is one true Proprietor of our world and the world bends to His will. So the Shmitah teaches us that our lives are in G-d’s hands and we can trust Him in all our ways. In Israel there is a cabinet minister whose title is Sar HaBitachon or the Minister of Security. G-d is our security and in Him we trust. Our relationship with G-d must go deeper than faith. We must learn to trust Him in everything.
The Jubilee Year and the forgiveness of debt teach us the same thing. Property returns to its original tenants. Why? To show us we are only caretakers of what G-d has given us in our lives. Interest is not charged because our money is really only what G-d has allowed us to accumulate and when a need arises we are expected to use what G-d has put into our hands to meet the needs of the poor.
In fact it is our place, not that of the government, to help the poor. In Lev. 25:35 we read the word brother, that can be a blood relative or a member of our congregational family, then extended to all men eventually. The point being G-d’s desire is that His people be ready to help without hesitation.
What we have comes from the Father and He calls us to be ready to help without any thought of payback or interest charged. Pretty radical ideas but that is what the scripture teaches throughout.
Which brings me to a question for us all. How can our group live this out in our personal lives and in our community? I want to hear your ideas.