By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
This week’s Parsha Perspective is dedicated by Mr. Binyomin Philipson in memory of his late mother Mrs. Ellen (Elka bas Zisel) Philipson OBM
What is Judaism’s economic system? Is there one? Perhaps one might describe it as “capitalism with a conscience.” In promoting free enterprise, the Torah is clearly capitalistic. But it is a conditional capitalism, and certainly a compassionate capitalism.
Our Parshah this week, Behar, (Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:1-26:2) gives us a classic example.
Shemittah, the Sabbatical year, was designed, the Torah says, to allow the land to rest and regenerate. Six years the land would be worked, but in the seventh year it would rest and lie fallow. The agricultural cycle in the Holy Land imposed strict rules and regulations on the owner of the land. No planting, no pruning, no agricultural work whatsoever in the seventh year - and whatever grew by itself would be “ownerless” and there for the taking for all. The owner could take some, but so could his workers, friends and neighbors. The landowner, in his own land, would have no more right than the stranger. For six years you own the property, but in the seventh you enjoy no special claims.
This is but one of many examples of Judaism’s “capitalism with a conscience.” There are many other legislated obligations to the poor - not optional extras, not even pious recommendations, but clear mandatory contributions to the less fortunate. The ten percent tithes, as well as the obligation to leave to the poor the unharvested corners of one’s field, the gleanings, and the forgotten sheaves are all part of the system of compassionate capitalism.
Judaism introduced an open market system, where the sharing of blessings was not left to chance or wishful thinking, but was made mandatory. Judaism thus presents an economic system which boasts the best of both worlds - the advantages of an unfettered free market, allowing personal expression and success relative to hard work, without the drawbacks of corporate greed. If the land belongs to G‑d, then we have no exclusive ownership over it. G‑d bestows His blessings upon us, but clearly, the deal is that we must share.
Without Torah law, capitalism fails. Unbridled ambition and the lust for money and power lead to monopolies and conglomerates that leave no room for the next guy and widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Sabbatical year is one of many checks and balances that keep our capitalism kosher and kind.
Retain the traditional Jewish characteristics of kindness, compassion, tzedakah and chesed, generosity of spirit, heart - and pocket. May you make lots of money, and encourage G‑d to keep showering you with His blessings by sharing it generously with others.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Yossy Goldman)
A Meaningful and Uplifting Shabbos to all!