וּבְטוּבוֹ מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית
U’v’tuvo m’chadesh b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh bereishit
And with His Goodness He renews each day, continuously, the act of creation.
We say these words every single day at the beginning of the introductory blessings for the Sh’ma. In other words, we remind ourselves daily that the universe is not a closed system, a zero-sum game, but rather one of expanding, beneficial potential.
Perhaps more than any other belief, this is what distinguishes Torah Judaism from other western belief systems which are, largely, grounded in Aristotelian logic and empiricism. While a basic law of physics, almost universally subscribed to in contemporary society, states that matter/energy is neither created nor destroyed, making for a “zero-sum game” where every winner requires a loser, we believe otherwise. Our tradition teaches us that, indeed, win-win transactions are not only theoretically possible, but should, in fact, be the paradigm of all human interaction.
This week’s Torah portion, Behar, specifies the laws of Shmitta, resting the land every seven years, allowing it to go fallow and entitling everyone, not just the owners, to harvest whatever grew that year on its own. Although many people point out the wisdom of the Torah in light of modern knowledge of farming and soil science, I find that more in the realm of apologetics for our “strange customs” and not really to the Torah’s point at all. Remember, God equipped humanity with sense organs capable of perceiving the external world as well as the “software”, intelligence, to understand it–He gave us Torah to teach us that which we cannot discover for ourselves. In other words, the laws of Shmitta, rather than a discourse on ecology, is a spiritual exercise in faith and trust, אמונה וביטחון, emunah v’bitachon.
Imagine the first generation of Jewish farmers, with no experience at all (remember, they had all wandered the desert for 40 years, their food provided by Heaven in the form of manna). Thirty-five hundred years ago, there wasn’t a great storehouse of agricultural wisdom they could access. After scratching out livings for six years, they’re told to completely withdraw from farming for a year and to trust that there would still be food to eat. They hadn’t experienced several cycles of this mitzva so they had no factual, empirical experience to reassure them. Rather, they had to rely on a mechanism which broke all the rules of reality as they understood them. Nothing in should have yielded nothing out, and in a world of strict empiricism and logic our people would have perished before they’d really begun.
However, U’v’tuvo m’chadesh b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh bereishit. We don’t live in a zero-sum world. When one person succeeds, he doesn’t bring failure to another. Prosperity by some doesn’t guarantee poverty for everyone else. Rather, we live in a world where prosperity brings more prosperity and where success doesn’t necessarily create victims, but, rather, more winners.
The real message of our parsha, the message of the Shmitta laws, is that neither do the rich have to take from the poor nor the poor from the rich, but that we all can succeed. Jewish survival doesn’t come at the cost of another people’s success, but prosperity, created together can be shared together. At each moment the resources of the world increase infinitely. God pours His Goodness into the world, renewing and replenishing and increasing, each and every moment.
Like our first generations of farmers so many centuries ago, if only we rely……