Parshat Behar From NCSY Torah Matters Online

Posted on July 21, 2008

Spirituality or Materialism? How about Both?

The Jews are a unique people. Unlike many other religions, we do not believe in monasticism. Our great spiritual role models practice kindness to others, not self-flagellation. They rejoice as Hashem commanded on his holidays, and don’t only eat bread and water. In Judaism, we believe that spirituality should be interspersed with materialism, as evidenced in this week’s parsha.

Behar’s first commandment is the commandment of “Shmittah”, the sabbatical year of the land. During shmittah, we do not work the land, nor do we own what grows naturally. Anything that grows can be eaten by anyone who wishes to eat it. The laws of shmittah are complex and intriguing and come to teach us an important concept.

The near-abandonment of the fields during this year demonstrates our realization that materialism is not the epicenter of our lives. There are times when it is important to stop striving for material goals and devote oneself to spiritual pursuits. Therefore, shmittah comes every seven years like clockwork, because spirituality is a fixed piece of our lives.

The verse itself teaches us something more – “For six years you shall sow your fields, but the seventh year shall be a rest for the land.” The sentence seems redundant; if the land rests every seven years, obviously it must be worked in the meanwhile. However, the first phrase comes to teach us something very important. It is just as necessary to work for six years as it is to rest on the seventh. The spiritual break is no more important than the material, working life that immediately precedes it. We work for 6 years to celebrate the beauty of G-d’s creation, and to put the tools he gave us to good use. That is why we do materialistic things – we buy good food for Shabbat and beautiful etrogim, we appreciate all the beauty and goodness in G-d’s world in addition to the learning of Torah. In this world, spirituality and materialism go hand-in-hand in order to fully appreciate how fabulous the world G-d made for us truly is.