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BERESHIT: Genesis and Economic Justice

For myself economic justice is a deeply religious and spiritual issue. In our Torah portion this week, Bereshit/Genesis, we read the stories from our ancestors as to how they imagined/intuited/understood the world to have come into being. One key concept from these stories is that part of the foundation of creation and our reality as human beings is Shabbat, rest.

In our first story in the Torah we read that God spoke and the world came into being: earth and water, heavens and the celestial bodies, plants and animals and animals and of course the humans--who reflect and embody divinity in a special way in this Universe. All that is our reality, all that is described in this first story from light to whales swimming the sea. All that we understand as reality-that which is firm and unchanging (like the sun rising each day) is laid out before us. And then we get to day 7.

"And got sat down (yashav) and took a break (vayinafash)." One day out of every seven, according to the Jewish mythical/spiritual/ancestral understanding of how our world is built includes this-a time for rest and renewal. Without that distinct break we are less than human, we are not functioning at full capacity. This is how we got the idea for weekends- and we know how much people rely on those-ideally-to create balance and harmony in our lives.

But not everyone gets a weekend. So back to REST and economic justice.

In our society there are many people who work over 40 hours a week and they still cannot feed their families or live a life of basic comfort. Many cannot even have a day of rest. In our 24/7 world we value work but we do not value rest and renewal. And therefore many cannot afford to rest. They live a slaves to the values, or lack there of, within our society. We have weekends but there are not for everyone. We have holidays but they do not serve as respites from a life of continual work.

Shabbat is in our story for a reason. It is not just the random musing of our ancestors or some obsolete ancient factoid. It is a template for how to create a world filled with justice and compassion. Economic justice, creating a society free of slavery where all have enough and get to rest and celebrate with their family and friends, means that we ensure as a society that work six days a week is enough.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Shifting our values and our economic models to value both work and rest is essential to being partners with the Source in building a world that reflects Divine love. We have choices to make. People or profit. Life or literally working ourselves and the earth to death. Where is the balance? If you feel that our world is askew and that our economic system functions to dehumanize--you are right. This is not the way we are supposed to live and those who earn the least suffer much more than those at the top who glorify busy while paying for someone else to do their: laundry, childcare, house cleaning...

As I re-read Bereshit once again, this year through my 2016/5777 lenses, I feel that now is the time to bring biblical balance back into the world. To strive for economic justice as a spiritual and religious value and obligation. For without Shabbat, without honoring the essential need for rest and renewal what are we? And can we really call ourselves fully human and can we call our society civilized if that is not offered to all?

Rabbi Kinberg


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