Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – R’eih
Shabbat is our sacred time. As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, it is the time to stop pursuing the things of creation and turn our attention to creation’s blessings. Shabbat is a respite from the weekly storm that swirls around the pressures of our jobs, calendars, family and work demands, and our ongoing insecurities.
The sages tell us that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come, the Messianic Age of Peace. Some say that the Torah requires us to do nothing work productive on Shabbat. Others say that it just has to be day different than every day in the rest of the week; exalted and refocused. Heschel wanted us to use Shabbat to interrupt our real-world everyday existence. If even for ten minutes, we need to turn from the possession of created things and turn to appreciate the blessings of having been created. In different parts of the world and at different times in our lives, these takes (and more) all have merit. It’s a pretty simple formula. One-seventh of your week needs to be spent, in some way, renewing, reviewing, and recharging. Shabbat is not time to do nothing. Instead, the Sabbath is our guaranteed time to find a better/more productive relational connection with a sense of the holy that transcends the frenzied norm.
Then we get this week’s Torah portion. Shabbat is not only about a once a week respite. Shabbat compels us to step back from the drive to own, control, and dissipate our resources. We have seen this application of a broader Shabbat before. The land has to lay fallow every seventh year. It needs to renew the soil, and the crops, organically regenerating without human manipulation. Seven weeks after Passover (our march into freedom), we celebrate Shavuot and rethink our stewardship of the earth. According to tradition Moses received the Torah on this day atop Mt. Sinai. We celebrate our relationship with the Torah affirming that we will live its call to love, justice, and peace – figuring out what it means in each generation.
This week, Moses reminds us of the Mitzvot of a Sabbatical between people. We know of the Jubilee and Sabbatical years as times dedicated to the restoration of people, property, and the spirit of life. It would be simple for the Torah to tell us to walk away from anxious matters or relationships, no differently than we do from the land. “Take a break from each other” would sometimes be a most welcome command when relationships become strained.
Torah presumes that we need more than time away to rethink the course we had been traveling. For the Jubilee (elsewhere in the text) and the Sabbatical years, we have to dismantle the previous years’ activities and results. Simply not continuing the use or abuse of our relationships (as per leaving the land fallow), cannot undo the pain we inflict on each other (and ourselves) over the course of 49 or 7 years of often unchecked behavior.
While we know that the Torah speaks in metaphors that sometimes reads more figurative than others. Biblically, we know that “slavery” runs the gamut from indentured servitude (to pay off a debt) to war captivity. Regardless of the circumstances, not only must people set servants free and eliminate the debt, but they have to give the tools for sustenance. They must provide newly freed person property and assets with which to sustain him/her self. For the Jubilee year, every land transaction over the previous 49 years becomes null and void. Ancestral properties cannot be alienated even if someone down the road fell on hard times. Read these commands with the over 36 times Torah tells us to take care of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. We know that there is no room for abject poverty in our system.
Sabbatical time, whether measured in days, years, or generations, is not about retreating. Sabbath time should help us appreciate the blessings we enjoy and impel us to share those blessings broadly. If I have and you have not, neither of us is whole. Shabbat Shalom.