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David Seidenberg
Ecohasid meets Rambam

‘Money is not worthy of blessing’: Radical midrash for the end of Shmitah

The last great act of the Shmitah year is the cancellation of debts, which happens when Rosh Hashanah begins. Hak’hel, the post-Shmitah gathering on Sukkot, follows about two weeks later.

Debts are canceled at the end of the Shmitah, and not the beginning, so that people can have a year of living in equality before shmitat k’safim, before letting go of money. After a year of living the values of Shmitah, people might hopefully value equality more than they value money.

Monetary debts are canceled, but if I owe you a sheep that would not be canceled. Conversely, in the seventh year of a person’s servitude, he or she is freed and provided sheep from their master/host’s flock and threshing floor and winepress, the Torah teaches (Deut 15:14). But Torah also says, “whatever Hashem has blessed you with” — meaning, from everything of value that can be blessed. To which the Midrash adds, in the name of R. Shimon, this excludes money, because money is “not worthy of blessing” – k’safim ‘ein re’uyim livrakhah. Why? Because money is not natural and cannot increase naturally, which is the meaning of blessing. (Sifrei Devarim 119)

Yet here we dwell, in a civilization and society for which money is the only thing seen as truly blessed, as inherently increasing. Where we have such false consciousness about money in part because money is lent on interest, which is of course forbidden in Torah between fellow citizens. Where most people need to put their entire stock into investing money for retirement, even though stock once meant livestock. Where simply having money brings status and power.

Even though a small amount of reflection will lead to understanding that everything and anything of value starts with and is grounded in what Nature provides by the hand of the Creator. Not in “financial instruments”.

The proof that this money fixation leads to insanity is how much money people can make by destroying Nature, by destroying the very foundation of blessing.

Debt cancellation means the canceling and undoing this way of thinking about money and this way of living against Nature. The symbol of value is not value.

And if debts between each other can be canceled, so can our debts to Hashem — all except the debt of gratitude, which remains after sins are gone. And we “repay” that debt through becoming instruments of justice and love.

As we say in Avinu Malkeinu: Asei imanu ts’dakah vachesed – do justice and love through us!

About the Author
Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg is the creator of neohasid.org, author of Kabbalah and Ecology (Cambridge U. Press, 2015), and a scholar of Jewish thought. David is also the Shmita scholar-in-residence at Abundance Farm in Northampton MA. He teaches around the world and also leads astronomy programs. As a liturgist, David is well-known for pieces like the prayer for voting and an acclaimed English translation of Eikhah ("Laments"). David also teaches nigunim and is a composer of Jewish music and an avid dancer.
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