Rabbi David Walk
Yeah!!! The Diaspora and
The description is very short, just 10 verses. Here it is in its entirety: "If you obey all of my commandments, I will give you regular rains, and the land will yield bumper crops, and the trees will be loaded with fruit long after the normal time! And grapes will still be ripening when sowing time comes again. You shall eat your fill, and live safely in the land, for I will give you peace, and you will go to sleep without fear. I will chase away the dangerous animals. You will chase your enemies; they will die beneath your swords. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you, ten thousand! You will defeat all of your enemies. I will look after you, and multiply you, and fulfill my covenant with you. You will have such a surplus of crops that you won't know what to do with them when the new harvest is ready! And I will live among you and not despise you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people. For I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, so that you would be slaves no longer; I have broken the bars of your yoke so that you can walk with dignity (Leviticus 26:3-13). There are three major features in this scenario. First of all the crops will be sufficient to feed the entire community. Secondly there will be peace and tranquility, without fear of violence from either human or beast. And, finally, there will be a sense of God's presence in the land.
What's missing from this picture? There is no promise that the country will be poverty free. There is no mention that no humans will be malformed or challenged. The discussion is about the perfection of society not the perfection of every individual within it. Actually the Kli Yakar (writing in the 17th century) wrote that the blessings are for the nation as a whole, not for the individual. Other attempts at formulating Utopia assured us that there would be no unsightly people blighting the beautiful landscape. We see this in many fictional Utopias like the recent movie Elysium or The Hunger Games. In these pieces the poor, the hungry and the ugly are just kept out of sight, so, the beautiful need not be offended by the sight of them. In the real world, the Third Reich promised a society of blond, blue eyed paragons through a combination of eugenics and mass murder. Not only does our vision not include any of these assurances, the Torah elsewhere promises us that there will always be the poor and helpless, as it says: There will always be poor people in the land (Deuteronomy 15:11). What kind of Utopia is that? Who enjoys encountering poor people with their hands out?
I think that the critical idea is expressed in the final verse of the blessing. God will break the bars of our yoke. What does that mean? Previously we were locked into two negative situations. First we were yoked like cattle to a strict regimen of controlled thought and outlook. We were shackled to the perspective of the ruling powers. Next, that strict control forced us to only look down at the lowest common denominator of societal norms. We could neither look up nor aspire to more than our enslaved place in the social hierarchy. With the exodus those yokes were broken and we could walk komemiyut or upright. This is the way humans should move about with the opportunity to see the sky. We could look up to new possibilities and prospects. In the translation above I called this 'walking with dignity.' This is referred to as 'walking with God.' Animals shackled to their place in the hierarchy of existence walk beneath God; humans who aspire to a life of morality and spirituality can walk with God.
The greatest challenge of this vision is guaranteeing that everyone can achieve dignity. Needing the help of others must not be viewed as a detriment to society but as an opportunity for society to engage them with dignity and afford them self-esteem. We don't want to hide or discard those who may require assistance. We want to embrace them and assure their self respect.
A society which has enough resources to share and then engages in this level of kindness and concern for all its inhabitants, both citizen and stranger, would truly be a Utopia. Our Utopia isn't perfect; it's a dynamic opportunity to strive for perfection.