Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Behar
I remember growing up watching baseball, marveling at the players’ athleticism, power, and speed, making highlight plays seem routine. While I was never a Cubs fan, I enjoyed it when I got to see a Cubs game so that I could sing with Harry Caray, “Take Me Out To the Ball Game!” Many ballparks orchestrated this performance, but no one did it quite like Harry. I guess I always thought that the purpose of the 7th inning stretch was to let someone sing that song. It took a while, but at some point, I realized that the 7th inning stretch served three primary purposes, and the song was there to fill in the time. Players needed a moment to regroup. It’s hot on the field, and they may be cramping. They need a strategy break, as well. Football players get an entire halftime, so the athletes needed a breather. Fans needed to stretch their legs. Sitting in stadium seats for a couple of hours took a toll on one’s legs, hips, and back. Of course, the ballparks needed an opportunity to make a killing on “last call” food and beverages. The respite allowed people to run to the food stands one last time.
Seventh Inning stretch. In a nine-inning game, it is way past halftime. It’s kind of like a sabbatical. Every seven years, everything stops. The farmers take a rest from working the land. Indentured servitudes get redeemed. Before we had specialized pitchers in baseball, you could count a pitching change around the 7th inning – accompanied by a batting order shift, as the new pitcher with a fresh arm often moved into a new place in the batting order to avoid risking his “lame” at-bat.
Every seven years, our lives morph. Every seventh year allows for some time off to renew in the professional world. Taste buds change in that time. At every multiple of seven, we experience life in new ways. At fourteen, our transcripts start to matter for college. At 21, we reach the “legal age.” By 35, we have, or starting, a new way of living called “family.” By 49, our children start facing their own adult decisions. By 70, we have either retired from the work world or taken dramatic steps to begin winding down and living off the retirement we struggled to collect. We spent our whole life building, and now we face our remaining years with an entirely new set of priorities. Seven is all about change and renewal.
So, as we come close to the conclusion of the Book of Leviticus, the conversation between God and Moses turns from ritual rules to ground rules for sustaining and growing community. Quite literally, this week’s portion speaks to the respite and renewal of the land. I learned from a farmer that the concept of a Sabbatical for the land might be part of the Torah story, but it is a mandate for good farming practices. No differently than any other lifeform, nature needs time to renew. We don’t work it. We take whatever it offers on its own.
The Sabbatical respite accomplishes the task of renewal. Dayaenu (that is good enough a reason)! But, at the risk of sounding like a television infomercial, “Wait, there’s more!” Not only does everything “Sabbatical” address renewal, but it also reminds us that we are only stewards of life. We don’t own it. We don’t control it. We are merely the “Caretakers” of all that we touch. Every seven years, all debts are canceled – people get a respite from sinking economically. During this Sabbatical year, all indentured servants are freed from captivity and given property and sustenance to restart their lives. In addition to all sabbatical provisions, after every 49th year (Jubilee), all land transfers annul. The title to the deed reverts to the previous owners. Tied into the need for rest, Torah teaches us that the Sabbatical reminds us to keep our egos in check. None of this is ours – all of humanity (God) owns it – collectively. When we try to profit off another’s misfortune, we lose. We must disgorge and forgive the interest on the loan; the usurious profit on the transaction is not ours.
Still, one more lesson is certainly subtle but by no means a stretch. If we know from the very beginning of a transaction that we cannot benefit on the back of another’s misfortune, we must make a choice: do we engage at all or keep to ourselves. To address this potential conundrum, Torah commands us to work to end poverty. We must give and engage personally. Even if we don’t like someone, we have an obligation to help. Torah reminds us that we must stop what we are doing to help even our enemy’s fallen animal of transport. Morally, even as we seek to succeed and thrive, “it” is never about us. Kol Yisrael aravim zeh ba-zeh – all people are responsible for each other.