Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 15

open your heart
open your hands
Do not leave others empty handed

[For full chapter, click here
Having closed the previous chapter with a discussion of the need to tithe produce of the Land, and the social responsibility for the poor, this chapter moves into a presentation of the Shemita Ilit. 'release') sabbatical year—the time where there is no tithing, and where the land becomes open to the dispossessed. On Shmita, all humanity is equally disposed, for “the Land is Mine” (Leviticus 25:23).
This is the third presentation of the Sabbatical year, and—as is usual in Deuteronomy, the “second-saying”—the reprise also changes the focus. If in Exodus, the focus is on transforming the relationship with God; and in Leviticus, the focus is on the relationship to the Land, in Deuteronomy, the focus of the Sabbatical year is the human other: “your friend, your brother”. The subtle difference in focus becomes clear when we look at the context: All three presentations come within a biblical pattern of sevens. Yet Exodus is presented within the context of the six days of labor, and the Sabbath: “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest your crops,  but during the seventh year let the land lie unused. Then the poor among your people may eat, and the wild animals may eat what is left. …Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work...”
Leviticus is presented within the discussion of the seven years of seven of the Jubilee: “When you enter the land that I’m about to give you, you are to let the land observe a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you may plant your fields...But the seventh year is to be a Sabbath of rest for the land—a Sabbath for the Lord.…Count for yourselves seven years of Sabbaths—seven times seven years. …Set aside and consecrate the fiftieth year to declare liberty throughout the land for all of its inhabitants. …Every person is to return to his own land that he has inherited.”
Here, the focus is on a human six and seven: the seven years that an indentured servant works, and the seventh when he is let free.”If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto you, he shall serve you six years; and in the seventh year you shalt set him free.”
Appropriately, then, the focus on this Sabbatical is not the land, or work, but rather the human elements of money and debt: it is a year of “releasing” one’s control over one’s money. All debt is to be erased. Again, and again, the chapter addresses the human connection to possession, acknowledging the difficulty of letting go: “do not harden your heart, or shut your hand from your needy brother…You shall open your hand to him… Beware that you not think the base thought: ‘Behold the seventh year of release is at hand…and you give your brother naught. You shall give him and your heart will not be grieved when you give him.”
The reprise of the laws of slavery likewise focuses on the need to let go of possession. Now one must not simply release the slave, but must also grant gifts: “When you let him free, he shall not go empty. You shall  give him a gift, from your flock, grom your threshing field, from your press.” And again the warning against the instinctive desire to hold on and possess: “it shall not seem hard to you, when you let him go free, for to the double of the hire of a hireling he served you six years; and God your Lord will bless you.”
This third presentation of the six and seven highlights the human aspect of the Sabbath that has reverberated in the background, translating fully within human relations.]

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