Linking the Generations - Emor (Leviticus 21:1−24:23)
The Eternal One said to Moses: "Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron …
From the Sacredness of Space and Time – to the Sacredness of People, Justice and Fairness:
In different parts of the Jewish world this week, we read either Emor or Bahar. In each we are being commanded about various holidays and observances. And interestingly, as we move from a conversation about marking time, we are presented with ways to mark time – and fairness.
When we are presented with the concept of Shabbat – and reminded of it here – we are told it is a time to rest, to refrain from work. We are rarely told exactly why however. We can of course extrapolate that rest is good - especially since we are told that God rested on the 7th day and that was good.
But as we are presented with additional "Sabbaths” we can glean more understanding about the original Shabbat. We are told that not only are we to rest every seven days, but also, we are told of a very special Shabbat that happens every seven years (the original Sabbatical). On that seventh year, we are to rest our fields so that they can be rejuvenated and not be over-used. Might that be the Torah’s way of saying that this is why WE are to rest as well?
Even beyond the rest we are commanded to take on the seventh year, there is an even more dramatic "rest” we are to take on the seventh cycle of seven years. The text relates the concept of the "Jubilee” year when debts are to be forgiven. After 49 years of toil, in the 50th year, in our very own texts, we are supposed to – in a sense – reset to zero. Debts are to be forgiven and practically – that would mean many people get to start our fresh. And given our current system of investment, banking, and mortgage backed capital, those who make money off of those debts would no longer do so. They also, in many ways, would re-set to zero.
If you are thinking that this exact interpretation of the Jubilee year seems radical or even crazy, what would be interesting to think about is the concept behind it. We are being told that there is value in fairness. We are being told that there may be something inherently unfair about the way wealth is accumulated and debt amassed.
As with many things in Torah, considering the lesson may be even more important than the context or events that are being presented. If the value is sound, it may be incumbent upon us to ask ourselves – and share with our children – the extremes of our monetary systems that may inherently create inequality and it’s perpetuation. This lesson would not fly in the face of the value of hard work, or the value of earning to take care of your family. What it would reinforce however, is the imperative to acknowledge privilege and the responsibility to give back to help those less fortunate than ourselves – something we already teach to our children and hold as one of our highest values through Tzedakah and Gimilut Hassadim.