Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh
Laws of Acquisitions (part 1)HAGBAHA (lifting)
Not only our “religious” commandments have an inner, spiritual element; the monetary laws also have profound transcendent significance, beyond their role in creating order in commerce and civil society.
Rav Natan of Breslav elaborates on the deeper significance of the laws of acquisitions. His mystical, Chassidic commentary can also be partially understood on a more basic human level. In the following weeks, we will present various aspects of Rav Natan’s commentary.
The basic rules of acquisition are as follows: Merely agreeing to transfer ownership of an object does not effect an acquisition (SA:CM 189). The original owner remains owner, though he is considered untrustworthy if he reneges on a commitment to sell barring some kind of duress (CM 204). An acquisition of movable goods is effected only through a specific act of kinyan.
Rav Natan begins by pointing out that the most fundamental acquisition is that of “raising” (HAGBAHA; see SA:CM 197:2). The reason is that the very essence of trade is to use our unique human power of instrumentality and judgment, signified by our hands, to elevate the physical world from a base, purely material status (signified by its resting on the ground) to a higher level where it fulfills a spiritual objective. (In Chassidic terminology, the sparks of holiness are strewn on the ground, and we elevate them.)
In non-mystical terms, we can understand that the material world attains elevation when it is used in the service of G^d. This may be through actual use in a mitzva, or through giving us physical or emotional strength to do G^d’s service in other ways, or perhaps through giving us some enjoyment that gives us a consciousness of His benevolence.
Of course, the original elevation takes place when something natural is transformed into an object of human use, for example through manufacture or cultivation. Rav Natan often refers to this process as the “39 labors” prohibited on Shabbat, which are the archetypes of all materially creative activity. But commerce also has a crucial role in this elevation. Even after an object has already been formed, there is generally one specific individual who can most enable it to attain its ideal Divine destiny. The process of exchange helps bring all the goods of human or natural creation to their ideal realization in the overall scheme of providence.
By raising up an object when we transfer ownership, we demonstrate that commerce also is part of the providential process of elevating the natural world from a fallen, wild state to directed use in service of the Creator.
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