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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador—From Generation to Generation since 1883
לדור ודור


This week our Torah reading, Parshat B’har teaches the principles of Land Tenure and the Shmittah (Sabbatical) year.  The Torah teaches that in ancient Israel every seven years, the owners of the land would allow it to lie fallow.  The purpose of allowing the land to lie fallow was to give it a chance to renew itself, to absorb new nutrients and to rest from constant use.  Spiritually, the landowners were reminded that their successes were blessings from God.  This Torah reading also gives us the laws regarding permanent legal rights of landowners, the legalities of sale and mortgages and the repaying of one’s own indebtedness.  Essentially, this Torah portion creates a framework of commerce which is both ethical and moral for the community and for the preservation of the land itself. Most importantly, we learn that not everyone is the same.  Each is unique and different and as hard as one might try the accomplishments will be different.  Some will get more and some less because that is the nature of the world.
Leviticus 25:6 teaches, “But you may eat whatever the land, during its Sabbath, will produce – you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you…  In our Etz Hayim Humash commentary, we use in synagogue, teaches:  Sometimes the wealthy don’t believe that poor people are actually suffering, suspecting that they are just too lazy to provide for themselves. Let the wealthy undergo the experience of not knowing whether there will be enough to eat, and their attitudes will change.
Recent events in our country lead me to believe that we no longer have any interest in the experiences of others unless those same people agree with our own current world view.  This “echo chamber” of belief causes me to wonder how many people have experienced another’s viewpoint or position and if they did, would they adjust their positions based on their experiences?
Last weekend, Robert F. Smith, a billionaire businessman, gave a commencement speech at his alma mater, Morehouse College, where he announced that his gift to the 2019 class was to pay off their student loans in full.  A gift that will run into the tens of millions of dollars.  He could have easily just said to them work hard and you too will become a billionaire, but he knew that is not the case.  Mr. Smith knew that many of these young people worked hard to graduate, some were able to focus on their studies, but most held down many jobs or survived on a combination of food stamps and food pantries to feed themselves and their families.  Robert Smith’s gift will be transformative for their lives.  I was fortunate, my grandparents were able help to help each of their grandchildren pay a portion of college.  At the end, I still had student loans.  But then again I was fortunate, Sharon and I had help to purchase our first house and we rolled my student loan into that mortgage and when we sold that first house, “poof” no more student loans.  However, students today face a difficult time because they are saddled with thousands of dollars of debt that will stay with them for years to come and they will not have the financial freedom to pursue their dream job or to comfortably start the next chapter of their lives.  Mr. Smith is paying it forward to 400 young people who will not have any student debt.  What more will these young people accomplish being debt free?  And how might they pay it forward to others thus transforming the lives of others.  Mr. Smith’s example reminds us that if we step back from our own place in the world, we may see another side of the same issue and recognize that we can transform another’s life for the better.
I pray that each of us will step back from our strongly held beliefs, see the viewpoint of another and adjust our attitude in a way that transform the lives of those around us.
Shabbat Shalom


Thu, May 23 2019 18 Iyyar 5779