This week’s Torah portion is mainly about the Jubilee year. This was important in ancient times, because every 50 years on the Jubilee year there were requirements about returning purchased property, or not returning certain purchased properties, what to do about forgiving loans, and more.
As I turned to the text, I heard myself say out loud, “But I don’t want to write about the Jubilee year.” I find it confusing and irrelevant to the world in which I live. I don’t even know if these laws were ever practiced. I will admit that when push comes to shove, I don’t care about the Biblical Jubilee year.
And then late last night I realized that when you set aside the details of how to behave during that year, the underlying message is one I care about deeply. Because the rules about the Jubilee year have to do with being part of a community.
The mechanics of the Jubilee year don’t interest me because they don’t pertain. The message that these rules convey however is quite pertinent. We are a community and we are in relationship with one another. We have “ownership” of other people’s problems, financial, emotional, spiritual.
We care if someone suddenly falls into poverty. We care if someone loses their home or has to choose between buying medicine and food. We notice if someone stops showing up for synagogue.
Even in this time of self-enforced isolation, we are behaving as responsible members of a community. By embodying the Jewish mitzvah of pikuach hanefesh, saving a life, we are consciously thinking about the greater community. We know that we are not only protecting ourselves when we stay home and wear masks when we go out. We are protecting everyone around us, stranger and friend.
What constitutes a community? Mainly, it’s people who have something in common. Take me for example. I belong to several: my synagogue community, the dog park community, the Sarasota community at large and the Sarasota Jewish community in particular, the rabbinic community, and more.
It often has nothing to do with money. I don’t pay to go to the dog park, although I do pay local taxes. I belong to that community because I have established relationships with people whom I met there, relationships which have extended far beyond the bounds of the dog park itself.
An example: Last month I hosted the aunt of a dog park friend at my home. The aunt had had a kidney transplant in January and had been back in the hospital. On the same day that she was to be released, her niece (and housemate) spiked a fever. Because of her anti-rejection drugs and other precautions, we knew the aunt didn’t have any communicable diseases. And because of her niece’s fever, she couldn’t go home. So I offered for her to come here. What brought us together? The dog park.
I am happy that my synagogue’s community continues to be strong and vibrant in a time that could just as easily push us apart. We have demonstrated that we are willing to go out of our way for each other and stay in touch despite the current limitations. People send food and messages of consolation when there is a death, and donations when there are simchas, joyous events such as my daughter’s wedding. That’s truly something to be jubilant about.
We have seen evidence of this across our nation and around the world — people stepping forward as members of supportive communities, reaching out, helping, applauding those who serve.
I was curious and checked to see when the next Jubilee year would occur. It turns out that the practice has gone by the wayside, for various reasons.
Since there is no specific date, I have decided to observe 2020, the year of the pandemic, as the Jubilee year, a year of individuals coming together as communities.