D'var Torah Parshat Korach

 

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Jacob Fine

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A d'var torah about the importance of agriculture and it's link to spirituality. Originally distributed on the Hazon CSA listserve.

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As a young teen, I was moved by a belief that was shared with me in the name of Native American spirituality. A budding environmentalist, I found compelling this teaching which asserted that the earth did not belong to humans—but that rather we were beholden to the earth. In a world in which human mistreatment of the natural world seemed to me, at least in part, to result from an unhealthy dose of anthropocentrism and a human sense of entitlement, I was deeply moved by a perspective which viewed the ownership of the earth as outside of human hands. 

It was not until many years later that I was happily startled to discover that Judaism, my own tradition, in fact affirmed the same belief. I do not remember precisely which source first raised my awareness to this Jewish outlook, but it very well may have been the first verse of the 21st psalm which reads, “The earth is God’s and everything in it, the world and all of its inhabitants.” It couldn’t be much more explicit than that!  Once I started looking, I noticed that this point of view was actually a primary element of the biblical and rabbinic worldview, and that it was evident everywhere. 
One of the best examples of how this worldview manifests in our tradition is in the realm of agriculture. The Torah is replete with a wide diversity of agricultural laws which require the grower of crops to set aside a designated portion of his or her produce which is then unavailable for sale or consumption by the grower. Some of these laws designate setting aside produce for the poor in the community, others for the Priestly classes and yet others require leaving crops in the fields for wild animals, as is the case during the sabbatical year. 
In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, we find examples of such agricultural laws in the form of required gift offerings, tithes and sacrifices. In each case, these laws function to transfer a designated amount of produce or animals from the Israelite farmers who grew them, to the Levitical Priests who by God’s legislation own no land of their own and who receive this free food in exchange for the priestly services that they perform.     
The profoundly radical element of our agricultural laws is that they tell the farmer that even though you have worked hard with your own two hands to grow crops and livestock, this does not mean that you have total and complete rights to all the fruits of your labor.   You are required to share your harvest with the poor, the landless and the animals. At the core of these counterintuitive laws lies one fundamental assumption—God is the only true landowner. It is therefore not in fact your produce that you must share but rather God’s. The farmer, himself a beneficiary of God’s bounty, functions as God’s hands in the world, growing and distributing food as a partner with the Creator.
CSA seeks to honor this aspect of our tradition by integrating a form of tithing into the very fabric of our project. In addition to paying the farmer for delicious veggies which you yourselves enjoy, you have all generously contributed money towards the purchase of additional shares which we are weekly donating to a local shelter in our neighborhood. In the spirit of our tradition we are not calling this “charity,” which implies giving away something which is ours. Instead, following the wisdom of our tradition, we are sharing a portion of produce which does not belong to us—but that is entrusted to us to pass along to others in need. 
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