“This is a core principal of shmita to let the fields rest and allow the hungry to eat from them. In a country where there is gross food insecurity, in a world where people are suffering environmental calamities and dangerous oppressions, we need to determine how, going forward, we will each be responsive to this message.”
Some context first. We are in the month of Elul, getting ready for the high holidays, for those powerful days of accounting to ourselves for where we are and where we would like to be going forward—not so much physically or geographically but socially and emotionally—in our obligation to ourselves and in our relationship to our community.
This year we are also getting ready for the next shmita year and we are, in the Torah cycle, in the book of Deuteronomy, where the stories are repeated and many gems of wisdom are reiterated in the hope that we are “getting it” and learning how to live a holy life.
In this parsha, Ki Tavo, we are reminded not to take our blessings for granted. Yes, we are going to the promised land, a land of milk and honey, a land of figs and pomegranates, a land where you may eat food without stint (Deut. 8:7-9). But we are given some cautions as well. We are not to think we did this all ourselves; it is God who has freed us, taken us out of Egypt, and provided this for us. Specifically, we are not to become overly entitled or—to use a different and important contemporary expression—too privileged. We are to remember the history and maintain a sense of gratitude AND we are to share our largesse with the stranger, the other, the ones who do not have.
Rabbi Shai Held summarizes this as follows: “if you remember how much has been given to you, you will be receptive both to God’s command and to the needs of the downtrodden.”
Or as Rabbi Victor Urecki, posted this week on social media: “[w]e must never forget what it is like to be hungry in this world. For us who live in the comfort of our fields of plenty, our every waking thought should be to alleviate the suffering of those whose every waking thought is hunger. …when you allow people to eat from your fields, you have reminded yourself that what you have are merely gifts from Above and an opportunity to help your neighbor.”
This is a core principal of shmita to let the fields rest and allow the hungry to eat from them. In a country where there is gross food insecurity, in a world where people are suffering environmental calamities and dangerous oppressions, we need to determine how, going forward, we will each be responsive to this message.
Ruth W. Messinger is an emerita board member of Hazon. She is the Global Ambassador of American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and she serves as a social justice consultant and activist for The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the Meyerson JCC and several other organizations. Ruth has three children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
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