Utopia. Dystopia. Somewhere in between lies: Reality.
That’s the message of this week’s Torah portion Behar-Bechukotai.
Torah dreams: An ideal society would have a built-in economic reset button. The rich could not keep getting richer at the expense of the poor. Every seven years, debts would be forgiven. Land sold by desperate families would be returned to them. Cultivated fields would rest. Nature would cooperate. No one would go hungry. Rich and poor, human and animal would forage, and be satisfied.
I note: Reminds me of the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the lion and the lamb. A total transformation of human and animal nature.
Torah challenges: What if the transformation didn’t happen? Could we really implement the seven-year debt forgiveness? Who would ever lend money? Well, maybe we could pro-rate the payback. Could we really implement the land take-back? Who would ever buy a house? Well, maybe we could have different rules for rural fields and urban dwellings.
Torah concludes: Compromise, compromise, compromise. That’s real world justice. Is economic revolution too idealistic? Don’t give up! Try reform instead.
Torah continues: Submit to a Higher Power. Curtail greed. If we can’t agree on reforms, we are doomed. Anxiety, stress, scarcity, crumbling infrastructure, foreign invasion, death will come.
I note: Reminds me of the prophet Zechariah’s final vision of total war.
Torah consoles: Human action is never final. Humans are impulsive. They covet and grab; repent and restore; swear fealty to God; forget and sin again. Accept what they can contribute. Some progress is better than none.
I note: Reminds me of Professor Allen Grossman’s vision of time. We live between two imaginary poles: arche, the ancient Golden Age, and eschaton, the final future Golden Age. Between two shining fantasies lies a world of alloys. A world of mixture and compromise. A world of action, and a world of hope.
For more perspectives on Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34), click here.
Image: Class notes, “Inter-Religious Visions of the End Times,” Vancouver School of Theology, May 2017.