Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Behar/Bechukotai

I am not completely sure why, but these days, I am stuck in football analogies. Perhaps it is because rookie camps are open and I am reminiscent of all that could have been … decades ago. That said, I remember a guy named Art Monk. For 14 years, Art was a receiver for the Washington Redskins. His city and teammates nicknamed him “Mr. Redskin.” He played two more years with the New York Jets and with the Philadelphia Eagles, but his Hall of Fame career was all about his years in Washington. A business decision seeking youth ended his career in D.C. He went elsewhere because he loved playing the game, even while his team moved on. His career achievements on the field, though, were not the measure of this man. He loved playing and did not get involved in contract disputes or drama. His teammates were his family, and by all accords, he made everyone around him better. But, he was forced to leave. Washington did not renew him. After one year, the Jets cut two Hall of Famers (Monk and Ronnie Lott) in the pursuit of youth. He played in only three games for the Eagles the next year.

We live in a world of forced relationships and unrelationships. Especially in the climate in which we find our world, football is, perhaps, the easiest (and least controversial) vehicle through which to teach this message. Monk was a man who loved the game and just wanted to play. The Redskins wanted him to play, so long as he fit into their game plan. When he no longer fit into their plan, they sent him packing. He was productive with the Jets and then less so with the Eagles, but each did the same to him after one year. He was forced out. Yes, it was probably time; he was getting old, and 16 years is a long career for a wide receiver. Still, he was forced out, having been wanted only so long as he could do something for the franchise. In today’s world, often the force is reversed. Free agency allows players to hold teams hostage for high ransoms. It is no longer about the game, and there is no loyalty to the brand or the locker room relationships. It comes down to dollar signs only, and the athlete’s focus on dollars often distracts him from performing at his highest level. While there are still fans who fill the seats and the game goes on, we do not hold the individual players in as high a regard as we used to.

This week, the Torah tells us the same about our relationships with our land and with each other. Seven years is a cycle. At the end of six, we have to take a step back and renew our relationships. If it is indentured servitude, then after seven years the debt cancels and people are free to pursue their own lives. In terms of our relationship with the land, Torah tells us that every seventh year is the land’s sabbatical; we are not to force the land to produce. It must lay fallow and regenerate naturally or it will no longer be fertile. Further, every Sabbath of sabbaticals (49 years), Torah recognizes a jubilee year. We cannot force people into poverty. We cannot force people to live disinherited from their family estate. Every jubilee year sees all property exchanges revert to its original tribal owner. When we impose force to gain advantage over another, we violate Torah.

No more important place for this conversation is in our intimate lives. We force ourselves into relationships that cannot be healthy, even while they look good on our business resume, our social resume, or appease someone else in our lives. How much of our daily dysfunction exists because of our involvement in relationships in which we do not want to be involved … but have to be? How much energy do we expend forcing our ways or ourselves on someone else? How much energy is sapped from us when we are on the receiving end? Torah demands that we take intentional time to rethink our relationships in order to reframe them (and our involvement) in the healthiest and most productive ways. Let’s learn to love and respect each other and our Earth, so that we will be able to share our lives lovingly and willingly for years to come. Shabbat Shalom.