It's Mine, Kind of…
“Accursed is the ground because of you; through suffering shall you eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field.” (Genesis 3:17-18)
The only part of the curse that seems to apply to we, who can purchase our food at a supermarket, without ever planting a seed, is the part of having to eat vegetables. I’ve worked on a farm and have seen the “suffering,” the endless hours of work it takes to grow a crop. The farmers I met did not considered themselves to be cursed. In fact, they felt fortunate to work the land. Where is Adam’s curse? Does it still apply to us?
When the Children of Israel began to settle their land, only a generation after the slavery in Egypt, did they consider the all the work in their fields to be a curse? I imagine them celebrating the normalcy of working the land as compared to working as a slave, and even to the unnatural existence they lived in the desert, fed by the Manna, and drinking the water of Miriam’s Well. Where was the curse?
“1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in Mount Sinai, saying: 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD. 3 Six years thou shalt sow your field, and six years you shalt prune your vineyard, and gather in the produce thereof. 4 But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the LORD; you shalt neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.” (Leviticus, Chapter 25)
God is telling us, “You can work your field for six years, and you can prune your vineyard, but in the seventh year you will have to acknowledge that the land you work is not yours, but Mine.”
Adam was unwilling to accept that a single tree in the Garden was not his. He was encouraged to eat of every tree in the Garden, save one, at it was from that single forbidden tree that he chose to eat. Adam had to learn the lesson of God’s ownership. That was his curse, and that was the challenge of Shemittah, the Sabbatical Year.
I was studying the laws of ownership in the Talmud with a famous violinist, when he took out his violin and told me that he learned the true definition of ownership from his Stradivarius. It had been Jascha Heifetz’s and my friend spent a fortune to buy it. He told me that the minute he held it in his arms, he realized that he did not own the violin; he had paid for the right to be its temporary caretaker. The violin could not be owned by anyone. “It changed the definition of ‘mine’ for me. I looked around at many of the things I own, my home, my paintings, my furniture, and asked myself how much is truly mine. There are some things that cannot be owned by a human being. I was astounded to realize that I took better care of the things that are impossible to own than I did of my ‘own’ things.”
He made me wonder whether the lesson of the Shemittah year, that we do not “own” the land, will actually change us into better caretakers of the land. If he was right, it was not so much a curse, as a blessing.
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