The Torah’s Vision for Life

Posted on May 20, 2022 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

The Dubner Maggid told a parable about a champion marksman who was passing through a tiny village when he saw a hundred circles drawn on the side of a barn, and in the center of each circle was a bullet hole.

The man was so amazed, he stopped his horse and yelled out: “Who is this expert shot? A hundred perfect bullseyes! That’s incredible! Even I can’t do that!”

Just then, a boy walking by looked up at the man on his tall horse and snickered, “Oh, that’s Nar, our town fool!”

“I don’t care what he is,” interrupted the man. “Whoever can shoot one hundred perfect bullseyes must have won every gold medal in the world! I must meet him and shake his hand!”

“No, no, no, you don’t understand,” laughed the boy. “Nar doesn’t draw the circle and shoot. He shoots first, and then he draws the circle.”

Judaism teaches us to draw the circle before we shoot. It offers us a vision for life, a target to aim for. This vision is of a perfect world, and our mission is to be God’s partners in creating it. To fulfill this task, God gave us a complete blueprint with guidelines. That blueprint is the Torah.

Central to the Torah’s vision is the institution of the Sabbath, which, as described in this week’s Torah portion, Behar, has three forms, each of which represents a different dimension of perfection.

The first is the seventh day of each week, which is a day of rest. The second is the seventh year, a time of sh’mitah, of relinquishing control over the land. And the third is the fiftieth year, the Jubilee, a time of restoration of all property. Each of these institutions serves to establish a world of harmony and peace.

On the seventh day we cease from all creative endeavors and rest. We do this not because of fatigue, but because on Shabbat we imagine that the world is complete and perfect and needs no further intervention. Servants and even animals share in this rest, making them our equals, breaking down social distinctions and hierarchy. Our tradition calls Shabbat a foretaste of the world-to-come, an experience of what God intends for us in the messianic time.

In the seventh year, the land is allowed to lie fallow, so that it and we can be rejuvenated. We neither sow nor cultivate. Debts are cancelled, which restores a measure of the equality God intends for us. During this year, our humanity is not measured by what we have or produce, but by the very fact of our being. We relinquish control over the earth so that we may live in harmony with each other and with God.

In the fiftieth year, land that has been sold is returned to the original owner so that no one becomes too rich or too poor. This was such a radical reset that it became unworkable, and its practice was suspended over time. But it remains “on the books,” so to speak, for an important reason, because it serves to remind us of the essential equality and dignity of every human being. It teaches us that the goal and purpose of life is not to acquire but to exist in loving relationship with each other, with the earth, and with God.

Nar the village fool shot first, then painted the target. In so doing, he sanctified the status quo. Whatever he did was good enough. He aspired to nothing more and sought no improvement. But we Jews are different. We have a vision of perfection to which we raise our sights and toward which we strive — a vision that ennobles our days and gives meaning to our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck