Yom Hazikaron & Yom Ha’atzmaut: Yom Hazikaron begins here not with sunset the day of, but with the first note of somber Israeli music, broadcasted from 9000 miles away, 10 extra hours earlier. Obsessively, I listen to galgalatz (Israeli music plus) traffic reports, as if it’s me who is maneuvering Haifa’s roads on my way to my friend’s grave-site (very crowded along the beach, near the military cemetery and outside my high school, where one of the biggest memorial ceremonies takes place). On these two days, which just passed this week, I feel like Captain Hook’s crocodile – my head slightly above water, but in my belly – a different clock is ticking, marking another time.
A few years ago, I invited a friend to join in Yom Hazikaron commemoration ceremony “ey sham” (somewhere) in Northern CA. It was a bit of a patronizing invite that had the tone of: ‘you need to come to see what a sacrifice my friends and I had to make, so you and others like you can live here peacefully, because, you know if we didn’t have a state… and we wouldn’t have had a state if not…’. These were the lines we were fed as kids, growing up in Israel, and I spat them out without a second thought.
‘Sure, I’ll come’, he said. ‘Will you also come to our Memorial Day?’
‘Memorial Day?’ I asked surprised. ‘that’s for shopping and BBQ. Sure, I’ll come’, I chuckled.
‘We meet at the entrance to the cemetery. You want to be there by 10am. Parking is a pain’, he told me. He wasn’t joking.
So often, American and Israeli Jews stand facing each other clothed with ‘holier than thou’ expressions. The short is – lo tzarich. It’s not necessary. We’re part of same family. Let’s find out more about each other instead of less.
This week’s Torah portion is another one of these – this or that? Yes. And this time the question on our table is: Communism or Capitalism? Yes!
The Book of Leviticus has opened before us like a beautiful flower: we started by dealing with our possessions, then our animals, from sacrifices to the laws of kashrut; then people, from birth through life, then Peoplehood in general with the priest’s Yom Kippur atonement, and now, we’re coming to the laws regarding The Land.
We’re also reaching new heights in the peculiarity of our laws. We might have gotten used to it, but the shmita year must really be just one of our craziest mitzvot: “Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof; And the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath unto God. You shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard” (Levitics 25:3-4). And just in case we didn’t get it (let’s be honest: how could we get this??), the next verse states: …”it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land”, and in case we still didn’t get it (‘wait, are you sure it’s not crop rotation? You really mean a whole year of rest to the land’??), the next verse also calls it: …” the Sabbath of the Land”…
So did we get it??
On the surface, it’s simple: The shmita year is like Shabbat, but for a whole year. Imagine what would happen if we got such a commandment. We barely make it through one “hands-off” day. How would we deal with a whole year? The Children of Israel must have asked that too, and God said: “And if you shall say: ‘What shall we eat on the seventh year?… then I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years” (25:20-21). Why three years? Because we need food for the 6th, 7th and beginning of 8th year too. And this just gets “worse” when there is a jubilee (the 50th year in a cycle), when we will need food for four years before we can harvest our own produce off our own land!
Of course, we learned how to work with the system because a restriction and discipline is often just a push for more creativity, so we learned to grow plants above ground (rather than in the soil), and near by “The Land” rather than in the land. But is that all it is? A trick or challenge for us??
According to Rabbi Hirsch of the 19th century, shmita makes three things possible for a human being: to bridge and flow better between the materialistic and spiritual worlds; to highlight our connection to The Land, because shmita is only binding in Israel; and to learn the correct approach to social class, richness and poverty in a just society.
Winston Churchill is quoted saying: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries”. The Torah offers us a careful mix of both which I’ve seen called “capitalism with a conscience” or “socialistic capitalism”. Either way, we want to express the idea that it’s not an either or.
It’s great that some people can reach for the stars and pick some, but those who can’t, still deserve the basic respect of human dignity. Thus we have countless laws how to make sure that the gap between rich and poor, land owners, laborers and gathers, balabatim (heads of households) and the widows, doesn’t grow endlessly, but rather that we maintain care for each other. This way, we advocate for free economy, and those of us with creative powers who are capable of increasing their wealth, are encouraged to do so, but greed is curbed, the needy are served and given a place as valued members of society too. And the Torah tells us that the Land belongs to God (25:23) and we are but temporary tenants on it, so once every seven years, we return what we have to the rightful owner.
Recent history has seen the world separate “isms” out, trying to make them stand on their own. Some of them have had a good idea at the core, but their isolation from the greater system, made them fail with dreadful consequences. And although we are not in the Land of Israel and don’t have to let our land lay fallow, we can still live by some of these values, and especially this week, remind ourselves of this Land uniqueness and beauty.