Shabbat Commentary

24/25 May: Behar : Shabbat comes in 8:44 pm,  ends  10:01 pm

The idea of the shmita year — letting slaves go free and letting the land lay fallow in the seventh year — and the law of jubilee year — of returning land to original owners and cancelling debts — strikes me as radical socialism.  I understand that it served an important function of not allowing any person to become extremely rich while others lost their family’s inheritance.   However, Rabbi Hillel eventually did away with the jubilee cancellation of debts since it was preventing healthy commerce (who would lend money if the debt would be cancelled?)

However, in between the verses on shmita and the jubilee there is a strange sentence,  which seems out of place, it says:  “On the day of atonement shall you sound the shofar throughout the land.”

I want to suggest that the mention of Yom Kippur comes here for the important reason of building on the theme of things that do not entirely belong to us —    including our very selves.   Once a year we acknowledge that although we think we are entirely in control of our lives, we do not have total dominion over ourselves.

We are not allowed to intentionally harm our bodies (smoking, dangerous activity etc.) because our body is not entirely ours.   The idea is very powerful.   Sometimes the way to be completely “responsible”  — to take control for our land, our possessions or even ourselves, is to acknowledge that we share responsibility with God.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman




May 23, 2019