Wednesday, May 25, 2022

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

In rabbinic and talmudic circles, it’s fashionable to ask how two connected ideas really aren’t connected at all by plagiarizing the question numerous commentators posed on this week’s Torah portion, where God teaches the laws of shemitah, requiring all farmland lie fallow every seventh “Sabbatical” year to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Ask the commentaries: how pray tell is shemitah connected to Sinai? As for the commentaries, you’re on your own; we’ve got a different lesson.

In life, as Mr. Twain notes above, perhaps especially so in politics & statecraft, knowledge (what Jewish tradition calls chochmah) doesn’t equate with wisdom (da’at). Tradition teaches, joining knowledge and wisdom is binah, understanding (aka, the acronym CHaBaD).

Sinai was knowledge. But as C.S. Lewis’ Professor Digory noted, schools don’t teach everything one needs to know.

God knew that. He intended mankind internalize the lesson that sometimes the only way we make judgments on what were the right choices is by letting time tell. Thus Sinai is where we learn of shemitah.

Land recharges when it lies fallow; rejuvenates and even grows in ways it never would if “worked.” Same for our minds, bodies and souls; that’s why one of the great rabbis of the last century, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, required his students to take a walk by themselves each day.

President Ford, pilloried by his decision to pardon Richard Nixon, in the short term saw it contribute to his electoral defeat. Seen from the rear view mirror decades since, it was prophetic; exactly the right move.

In our personal, communal and national lives, the lessons of Behar are that we don’t always know, time does heal (almost) all and our bodies, minds and even our body politics all benefit from sabbaticals.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder — politics and the parsha.

Howie Beigelman works at the intersection of nonprofit advocacy and Jewish communal affairs. Follow him on Twitter @howielb.

By Howie Beigelman

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