The Seventh Year
This past week's parashah offers one of Torah's most soaring texts on seeking the ideal of political, social and economic equity. And it all focuses on the ownership of land.
It teaches us the humility and freedom of ownerlessness: "When you enter the land that I give you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest."
For six years, we can act as if the land is ours; its produce is ours and the wealth and status that it affords us is ours. Such is the concession to our quotidian impulses. But the seventh year, like the seventh day, calls us to transcend coarse reality and enter the realm of the ideal. For in the seventh year, all boundaries fall; all private property reverts to its primordial state: being the possession of God, gifted to all humanity.
That which was ours last year (and will be ours again the following year) is nonetheless not ours this year. It belongs to everyone equally. And we are levelled - socially, economically, and therefore, politically - with everyone else. There can be no hoarding; no merchandising; no lender and no borrower. Everything is shared. It is a return to Eden; to the manna-fed, ownerless existence of the wilderness.
For six years, we live in reality. In the seventh year, we are reminded, through our acts, the opening of all fields, and the sharing of all food that the earth produces on its own accord, of our common humanity. Ideally, we take some of those lessons, those humbling thoughts and feelings, and carry them with us across the threshold from the seventh year, to the return to year one of a new cycle of seven.
Imagine if we applied some of these lessons today. What might that look like?
Perhaps it would mean we would empty out our off-site storage bins every seven years. Fling open the doors and make all our excess available to those who need. Or perhaps it would mean that we didn't buy anything new - except the utmost necessities - in the seventh year. We would manage with last year's wardrobe and shoes and articles and stuff. Perhaps it would mean we set aside a larger portion of our income to do the good work of enabling others to earn a living for themselves.
We are in the midst of the Seventh Year. The count continues to this very day. In the waning months of the year, perhaps we can each imagine a contemporary application of this age-old teaching. And see what it feels like to live a little closer to our ideal.