A remission year, שנת שמיטה, is a year where everyone had less, even those who usually can afford things. This year brings in one way or another shortage in certain goods and the prices rise. Therefore, those of lesser means will find it even more difficult to make ends meet. The reading of this week’s portion of the Torah forewarns us to be aware of this time, ahead of time. Moses states, “Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’”
Today the agrarian remission has little to no impact on our daily lives. Agriculture is handled quite differently than it used to in those past times and there are ways to handle the farmlands wisely and sophisticatedly. It is therefore quite easy to simply let go of this concept of the seventh-year remission as if it has never happened, as if it is totally irrelevant. This tends to happen when the meaning we put into the concept is compacted into its literal meaning rather than attempting to broaden it and interpret it in ways suitable for our modern society. It requires a different embodiment of the concept that fits our world which is certainly different from the world where the people of Israel stood there listening to the words of Moses in anticipation of entering the Promised Land.
In the Haftarah for this week’s reading the words of Isiah echo, “In righteousness you will be established; You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear; And from terror, for it will not come near you.” In a short sentence the prophet explains what it is all about, brining back to our consciousness that it is all about righteousness and keeping our distance from oppression that builds a society have sound foundations. It is a society that does not get its people at each other’s throats. Rather, it deals with building and healing, regardless of the differences and despite the disputes. A system that is stable, that everyone can trust. Avoiding benefits that go only to those who are close to the throne while leaving the misery to others.
As the reading in the Torah continues, we also find this, “If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” The business of righteousness is a big issue. It demands doing something which is seemingly unnatural to us. We must go beyond what the heart may say and do something special for the freed slave, give hi a starting point so that maybe he will not return to be a slave in the future. The scripture adds, “It shall not seem hard to you when you set him free” for it is understood how the human nature will be tempted to resist the cessation of the benefits of having a someone else being our own slave.
Brining into our lives the traditions of the seventh-year remission, when most of us do not even grow crops or livestock at home, certainly are not in possession of slaves, may seem seriously odd. Nevertheless, there is here an opportunity to use the term שמיטה in its Hebrew meaning, ‘to drop’ or ‘to release’. An opportunity to let things go, move forward, or leave them behind. For example, we may want to use that when we have a bad opinion of someone and it is time to release, to let bygone fade away, without reluctance, all heartedly, with a hope that a relationship will become better and improve. From an understanding that the differences may be much less than we deem them to be. When we do not do that, we forget to bring Shmita into our lives. I would submit that even the study of that can help us manage our lives better. Maybe once we do, we will enjoy the teachings of the prophet, “O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, And your foundations I will lay in sapphires. Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies, And your gates of crystal, And your entire [j]wall of precious stones. All your sons will be taught of the Lord; And the well-being of your sons will be great.”
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 14 August 2020, 25 Av, 5780