Our weekly Portion opens with something astonishing. It says (Leviticus 25:2) that the Land will observe Shabbat (Shmita). This should immediately lead to the following questions: 1. What is Shmita doing so prominently in the Book of Leviticus, that deals with the Temple service and the Priests? 2. Why doesn’t it say anywhere in the Torah that the Seventh Day rested, but it does say that the Land rested? 3. What relevance does this have today?
The difference between the Day of Rest and the Land at Rest is that the first is holiness in Time, the second is holiness of Space. That explains immediately why this is notably discussed in Leviticus, which deals with holiness of place.
What is the difference between Place and Time? One can become owner of the former, not of the latter. One can buy a piece of land and put a fence around it with a notice revealing the owner and directions like: don’t enter, don’t touch. That is impossible with time. One could say “I gave of my time” and “I can do in my own time as I want” but one can’t say: I bought next week’s Thursday, and I decide who can enter or not. What does this Land ownership matter?
G^d soon in our Portion (Leviticus 25:23) tells us: the Land is Mine – He is the owner. True, He promised it to our Forefathers (Genesis 12:7, 15:18, 28:4, 35:12, 50:24, Exodus 6:8, 6:10, Leviticus 26:42, 26:25, Numbers 11:12, Deuteronomy 1:8, 1:35, 6:10, 7:13, 8:1, 11:9, 30:5, 34:4, Joshua 1:6, 21:43, 1 Kings 8:40, 2 Kings 21:8, Ezekiel 20:42, 33:24, 36:28, 37:25, 47:14, 2 Chronicles 20:7, 33:8, Isaiah 14:1, Jeremiah 7:7, 11:5, 24:10, 25:5, 30:3, 32:22, Nehemiah 9:36) but He gave us it to work it and to harvest, to sell it and to buy it, and to live in it, as is hinted in (Leviticus 25:38): “I am G^d, the Eternal One of yours, Who took you out of the Land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be for all of you as your Eternal One.” Don’t read: “to give you the land of Canaan, to be for all of you as your Eternal One” but “to give you the land of Canaan to be.” If you want to be possessive, you can have Me, “for all of you as your Eternal One” – I won’t get hurt.
The Land is ours to use, not abuse. We need to behave as proper guests because the holy Land has needs, rules and sensitivities. It itself keeps Shmita. If we don’t join her in that, we violate her – and she will spit us out (Leviticus 18:25, 18:28, 20:22, 26:43, Sayings of the Fathers 5:11-12!). How can we ascribe human qualities like sensitivity and regurgitation to something as subhuman as the Land? The same way as the stomach, though having no brain, knows when to empty out poison: it’s built-in wisdom.
This is not so different from a Jewish man who marries a Jewish woman. Now he can be in her house (not for nothing, the Hebrew word for Land is female), but not to trash it, boss her around or exploit her. She has needs, rules and sensitivities. This is a very important training for married men: to give, give and give. Life is not give and take – it’s give and receive.
And women should just receive, receive, receive? Yes, they should, but most women, either by Nature or as second nature from their upbringing are givers already. Often their giving is too humble and hidden to notice for beginning selfish self-centered chauvinist self-entitled husbands. Jewish Law acknowledges and corrects that.
And that is not the end of this story. As soon as the children come, proper parents will both be giving beyond their means. The baby has unsubstitutable needs and your headache should be put on the back burner (down with the pacifiers!). I often say to new parents: And you thought that you knew the meaning of the word “tired.”
When children have their needs met (not to be confused with withholding responsibilities and not saying “no” when you should, which is truly spoiling them), then they will grow up to be people who in turn are ready to give to their children. Just as Rabbi E.E. Dessler says: The only thing the Torah wants to do is to turn us from babies who need to receive everything, into grown-ups who are capable of giving. And not just our babies need us. The whole world has unmet needs and is waiting for our generosity.
The last Lubavitcher Rebbe clearly had decided that he was on earth just to give. So he would not have any of it when I met him and blessed him. He blessed me numerous times and then explained: true receiving comes from giving.
Written in honor of the birth of the firstborn of my firstborn.