Judaism and Capitalism

Friday, 19 September, 2014 - 10:29 am

The most important principle to capitalism is private property. The most important principle to Judaism is unity. How can these seemingly opposing ideas co-exist? Private property, by definition, creates separation and division within society. How can Judaism, which at it's core is about the unity of the one G-d, the universe and the unity of all people created in the image of G-d, accept the divisions created by private property?

On the last day of his life, Moses is well aware of this seeming contradiction. His people are about to transition from life in the desert, where there is no ownership of land, to Israel, where for the first time the people become land owners. Moses knows he has one final opportunity to teach his people how to balance these two opposing ideals. That is why, on the last day of life, he commands his beloved people:

"At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Succoth, [after] the year of release,

When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord, your God, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears.

Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children, and your stranger in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your God, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.

And their children, who did not know, will hear and learn to fear the Lord, your God, all the days that you live on the land, to which you are crossing the Jordan, to possess.

Moses wants the people to understand that they are not defined, and should therefore not self define, by their material possessions and achievements. He wants to tell each individual: 'although your house may be nicer then your neighbor's, you are still one. You are one, because your soul, the core of your essence, is one with your neighbors soul. The material possessions that divide you are nothing more then an external garment, it is not who you are, and in can therefore not separate you from your friend.'

How can this message be instilled in the hearts of minds of people who will spend most of their time, energy and effort working their land? the only way to do so is through the commandments of "Shmitah" and "Hakhel", the sabbatical (when we are forbidden to work the land for an entire year) and the gathering in the temple after the sabbatical, in the beginning of the first year of the next cycle, when the people are headed back to work for the next six years.

During the seventh year every land owner takes a year long break from working the land, devoting his time to spiritual pursuits. During that year all produce that grows in the field is legally ownerless, and anybody is free to enter any orchard to enjoy it's fruit. This serves as a powerful reminder to the people that there is more two life then amassing wealth, that their true essence is the soul not the body, and they have to devote time to feed the soul, just as they devote tome to feed to body.

And then, at the end of the long sabbatical, just as everyone is anxious to get back to working the land, comes the Mitzvah to gather in the temple to hear the words of Torah. Moses tells the people that if they want to be able to juggle the blessings of private property and the truths of Judaism, then, BEFORE they get back to the field, they have to reenact the giving of the Torah at Sinai. They have to gather men woman and children. Why children? Because the children are crucial to the reenactment of Sinai. Sinai is the time when all our people, men woman and children, stood around the mountain, "as one person with one heart", united around the words and teachings of the Torah.

Moses understood that the future generations also need to experience this powerful feeling. The Feeling of unity that comes from self defining by the teachings of the Torah that unite, instead of by the material blessings we receive that can sometimes divide.

And then there is us.

We who's bodies did not stand at Sinai, and did not stand shoulder to shoulder with the entire nation of Israel at the reading of the Torah in the Temple. We too must mediate on this message each year, when the story of Moshe's last day on this earth is read in the Torah. We must close our eyes and imagine standing with all our brothers and sisters at the foot of Sinai, listening to the words of G-d.

Like one person with one heart.

Comments on: Judaism and Capitalism

Alex Troy wrote...

Bravo, Rabbi.
The Upcoming year is 5775. That's an interesting number. It's a palindrome; read it left to right (as we do in Galut) or right to left (Hebrew style) it's the same. Perhaps this signifies that this year in particular the Jewish people, wherever they live, will be of one heart.
Shabbat Shalom