May 15, 2015 admin


Two questions accompany our lives, though often unconsciously: ‘what belongs to me?’ and ‘to what do I belong?’ The former question fills much of our immediate concern. What am I getting paid for this? Can I buy that item? Is this mine? Even in the world of emotions the great romantic question is sometimes put as ‘will you, my beloved, be mine?’
The latter question may be more subliminal, but suffuses our concerns nevertheless. Life can be unbearably lonely. Those hours in which one feels that one is utterly cut off, that the distance between oneself and the next person is immeasurable, that some impermeable membrane seals one in, so that one is left alone in the anguish of one’s consciousness with one’s torments, fears and griefs, – such hours are among the most unbearable in any human life. However much we may also be afraid of it, we also want to belong, to other people, to life, to the world, perhaps to God.
We are currently in the midst of a sabbatical year, the seventh year in the cycle, when the land is not worked, the poor are released from their debts and servants set free to re-establish their own lives. Although the Torah calls it the sabbatical, shenat shabbaton, the rabbis preferred another name, the shemittah, from the word which means to release; they called it the year of letting go.
It’s more than the release of loans and pledges, as required by the Torah. It is a deeper letting go of boundaries, both practical and existential. It is a year when we relinquish the primacy of the concern with ‘what belongs to me’, in favour of the more profound ‘to what do I belong’. ‘What the land produces in its rest shall be for you to eat, for your servant, maidservant, hired worker, fellow citizen and the stranger; for your cattle and for the wild animals in your land.’ (Leviticus 25:6,7) Gates must be opened, or fences taken down. For at least one year out of seven we can’t say ‘Get off my land!’ Instead, the great community becomes apparent in the midst of which we have been living without necessarily noticing all this time: workers alongside landowners, the dispossessed next to those in possession, citizens next to wayfarers, animals together with humans, the wild together with the tame, a vast companionship of being.
The seventh year is not just a removal of boundaries but a re-organisation of consciousness, the restoration of a more embracing awareness. From an ‘I’ struggling for what is mine, we move to a ‘we’ which includes all life, an ecology of being united by the simplest common denominators of breathing the same air and needing the same earth and water for food and drink.  
If I am part of something, I am also responsible towards it. Does the family of life to which I belong find hospitality in my home, or thoughts, or in the time-slots of my diary? Yesterday when I went to buy challah for Shabbat Rabbi Herschel Gluck stopped me and asked in his customary charming and warm-hearted manner: ‘What are you doing for the refugees in the boats on the Mediterranean?’ After all, we agreed, that’s just what happened to our parents or grandparents, sailing in scarcely sea-worthy over-loaded ships for the shores of hope in Palestine. What am I doing for the lives of other people, and for the animals and birds, for life?
For one year in every seven the primacy of the preoccupation with what’s mine must yield, and not just in moments of kindness, generosity and prayer, but profoundly, to the deeper concern: to what do I belong and what can I give?
The reward is that very sense of belonging, that we do not suffer existence in isolation, but as a breathing, vital part of the sacred bond of life.

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