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Jubilee: Resting & Reflecting

Question 2: If all these practices were the same event, under what category would you place them?

That is the Jubilee. Resting, redistributing, and reflecting are profoundly the same act, and that one act is infused with celebration of the Spirit.

The Jubilee tradition says to us: You cannot achieve equality unless you accept that no human really owns the wealth, not the boss, not the proletariat, not even the people as a whole: only God, Who is Beyond. It says: You cannot achieve spiritual transcendence, you cannot free yourself from "attachment" and addiction to material values, unless you know that everyone needs and must share the wealth. It says: You cannot heal the earth if you are driven by greed, or fear, or envy.

And the Jubilee is not static. It does not imagine that we can achieve a Great Plateau of social peace or spiritual peace, and then just sit there. It speaks of a rhythm, a cycle of change. It does not imagine that the land can be shared and justice achieved once and for all, and it does not imagine that a little change, year after year, can make for real justice. The Jubilee says that in every year the poor must be allowed to glean in the corners of the field, that in every seventh year loans must be forgiven and the poor lifted from the desperation of debt, that for six years of every seven it is all right for some to accumulate wealth and some to lose it, and for the earth to be forced to work under human command ó but that once in every generation there must be a great transformation. And that each generation must know it will have to be done again, in the next generation.

This rhythm is not what we have come to know as conservative or liberal or radical. It carries a more subtle sense of human behavior than any one of them. Rhythms of Rest

And the Jubilee says that there is a connection between the cycle of nature and the cycle of human life. For the Jubilee is rooted in a set of smaller rhythms, the rhythms of earth and sun and moon:

There is first the rhythm of the earth's spin upon its axis. Count seven sunsets, and we dance our way into Shabbat.

And there is the dance of earth and moon. Count seven new moons, and we reach a month of Shabbat. Begin counting with the month the Torah teaches is "the first of months," the month of spring and Passover, and our seventh month is Tishri, the month of holy festivals for every phase of the moon:

Rosh Hashanah (the new moon), Yom Kippur (the waxing moon), Sukkot (the full moon) and Shímini Atzeret/Simchat Torah (the waning moon). And then if we begin counting again from the Shabbat month of Tishri, we reach the seventh new moon in the spring; Nisan, the month of Passover.

Tishri and Nisan: months of rest, renewal, sharing the frail hut of the sukkah in the fall, sharing the flat bread of the matzah in the spring. Months of Shabbat.

And then we count the circlings of the earth around the sun. Count seven autumn equinoxes, and we reach the Sabbatical Year, the year of Shabbat. The year when all debts were to be forgiven and the land was to lie fallow.

Only then, in the year following the seventh seventh year, in the fiftieth year, could the rhythm whirl up the final spiral to the Jubilee.

In each Shabbat, a whiff of the Jubilee to come. In every Jubilee, the delight of a deeper Shabbat.

And how does the cycle feel when the Jubilee itself comes round at last? There stands the land untilled as it stood the year before, the seventh seventh year. Two years in a row untilled! Picture a farming society where twice in a row the land had gone unsown, the trees and vines unpruned. Where the free growth of the soil was for every family to pluck, not for the owners to harvest systematically.

Imagine how strange the land would look: more than a touch of wilderness, a fifth "season" of the year. Nature itself would be transformed along with the society; everyone would have a sense that doing something so basic as sharing the wealth could change something so basic as how the plants grew.

Everyone would learn that the "biggest" action of all was to not act.

Not acting! ó How fearful the farmers who tried to live by this teaching! The farmer might fear that waiting two years in a row would bring ruin. But the Torah asserts, and modern science confirms, that letting the land lie fallow is a crucial part of its restoration. What looks like a famine in the short run is necessary to prosperity in the long run.

Perhaps it was shepherds who taught this lesson to farmers. Shepherds knew they must move their flocks from pasture to pasture, to allow each field to recover its nutrient power. Farmers could not move from place to place; for them, rotation in time would take the place of rotation in space. From the wisdom of restfulness in the technological era before us, can we learn the wisdom of restfulness for our own generation?

Let us imagine the farmer who stands on his family plot of land, thinking: Here, right here, is where my grandparents stood fifty years ago, and here, right here, is where my grandchildren will stand fifty years hence. Come what may, in fifty years here my seed will stand, knowing this hill and this wellspring, this rock and this olive tree.

Between the renewed health of my small family and the renewed health of my whole country, land and people, there is a clear unity. For it is only by restoring each family that our country is restored: no king, no priest can accomplish this renewal: only my family, and every other family.

All this we do not learn from modern secular politics. Today conservatives who demand that the family be strengthened turn furious at the idea of abolishing all wealth and privilege. Radicals who demand that the rich be expropriated are baffled at the ideas that the land be left unproductive or the "regressive" institution of the family be celebrated.

The Jubilee stands beyond the politics of guilt and rage. It does not ask for the rich to give their land away in fear or guilt; it does not ask the wretched of the earth and the prisoners of starvation to rise in rage to take back the land from the swollen rich.

Instead, the Jubilee proclaims a "release," a Shabbat, for everyone. A release for  the rich as well as the poor. The rich are released from working, bossing, increasing production, and from others' envy of them. The poor are released from working, from hunger, from humiliation and despair, and from others' pity of them. Both the rich and the poor are seen as fully human, as counterparts to be encounteredónot as enemies or victims to be feared or hated.

So the Jubilee Year begins not at Rosh Hashanah when the fiftieth year itself begins, but ten days later, on Yom Kippur, when the community has already purged itself of guilt and rage. Only when the Days of Awe and Turning have already accomplished atonement can the Jubilee be proclaimed. Thus it is both the final healing gift of the people to God to complete the old cycle, and God's first blessing to the people in the new cycle.

But the Jubilee was not based only on recognizing God's image in every human being. It may have appealed to the class interests of a large group of independent small farmers who wanted to prevent the emergence of a permanent, ever fattening class of large landholders who could lord it over them, on the one hand, and a class of permanent slaves or debtors who would undercut their income, on the other.

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