With one hand we acquire the eggs or the fledglings (or the crops) but with the other we let the mother go (or leave something for the poor to live on). Recognizing the fact that using natural resources for our own benefit is perfectly legitimate, yet we do not own nature in its entirety. The creator has commanded us to leave something for someone else specifically when we take something for ourselves.
Only a handful of Mitzvot in the Torah reveal their own “payback”, or benefit to one who observes a particular commandment. The most famous one is honoring one’s parents, which will result in long endurance “on the land that the LORD your God is assigning to you” (Numbers 20:12).
In this week’s Parsha there are two more such special cases:
- If you find a nest with a mother bird and its eggs or fledglings, you must let the mother go and as a result, you will “have a long life” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7).
- If you overlook a sheaf of grain during harvest, and leave it to the poor, “God may bless you in all your undertakings” (Deuteronomy 24:19).
The connecting thread between these two seemingly separate commandments is that both of them are based on acquisition on the one hand and letting go on the other. With one hand we acquire the eggs or the fledglings (or the crops) but with the other we let the mother go (or leave something for the poor to live on). Recognizing the fact that using natural resources for our own benefit is perfectly legitimate, yet we do not own nature in its entirety. The creator has commanded us to leave something for someone else specifically when we take something for ourselves.
The urge to acquire and control is imprinted deeply in our minds and directs many of our actions. This is perhaps why the Torah restrains acquisition at its source. The commandments go beyond giving charity only after we bring goods or produce into our homes and ask us to look more closely at our need to control.
Shmita tackles the exact same issue, on a much larger scale. By leaving the land fallow and letting everybody take its fruit, we acknowledge the fact that the true owner is not us, it is the creators. On the other hand, Shmita confirms the validity of private property and commerce throughout the other six years.
But where does it say what would be the benefit of observing Shmita? In the case of Shmita, it is brought on the negative side, both in the Bible and in the Talmud: if the People of Israel fail to observe Shmita, the whole nation will be punished by exile. The logic here is clear: if we fail, as a nation, to acknowledge the fact we have only partial ownership of the land, we will have to learn this lesson the hard way. It happened once, when we lost the first Temple in 586 BCE, now it is up to us to make sure it will not happen again.
Aharon Ariel Lavi is the founder and director of Hakhel: The Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator in the Diaspora. Lavi is a professional community organizer and serial social entrepreneur who believes that networks are key to shaping our reality. Lavi is co-founder of Garin Shuva on the Gaza border; the Nettiot Intentional Communities Network, reengaging Haredi Ba’aley Teshuva into society; And MAKOM: the national umbrella organization of intentional communities in Israel. Lavi lives with is wife Liat, their four children, and a dog in the Negev and when he doesn’t work or study Torah he likes riding his bikes in the open fields of the Negev, and desperately trying to learn to play the flute, a guitar or anything that makes music.