Shteelim Explore the Idea of הפקר (Hefker – Ownerless)

This week in Shteelim, we were able to explore two of our areas of focus – the concept of הפקר (hefker – ownerless) and counting בעברית (b’Ivrit – in Hebrew) – at the same time!

In our farming play area, we set out with the new challenge of taking only as much as we need from others’ farms during שמיטה (Sh’mitah – release) year. Each child started out with his or her own farm, marked by rows of tape on the floor, where he or she could plant some annuals and some perennials. Each farmer took care to prepare for שמיטה (Sh’mitah – release) year by harvesting their annual crops and storing them in jars and cans, as well as planting perennial crops early on so they would grow strong by the time שמיטה (Sh’mitah – release) year came around. At that point, all the annual crops were gone and all that remained were the fruit trees and other perennial crops starting to grow.

This is when the interesting problems began. The farmers set out with the challenge of taking only as much as they need while leaving enough for everyone else. Since we went around to gather one and a time, the children who went last had to trust that the children going first would not take more than their share. The children going first had to eyeball the bounty of produce and estimate how much they could take. Each farmer walked around with a basket to gather from other farmers’ fields.


Gathering from the field during Sh'mitah.

Gathering from the field during Sh’mitah.


Once we came back together to see what we had gathered, Shteelim realized that some had more food than others, and those who gathered last did not have much left to choose from. I asked: “Even if it’s not equal, do you think you have enough food so you won’t be hungry?” After looking over what they had, the children decided that they did not have enough to eat. Those children who had more than their share began to give away some of the produce.

Sharing what was gathered.

Sharing what was gathered.

One of the things the children decided to redistribute were the “edible seeds.” We have been practicing counting בעברית (b’Ivrit – in Hebrew) a lot over the past few weeksin Bet Shteelim, and these farmers were eager to count out בעברית (b’Ivrit – in Hebrew) how many of each item there were and divide them evenly by three. We counted ענבים (anavim – grapes), תפוחים (tapuchim – apples), edible seeds, and more.

Counting out edible seeds.

Counting out edible seeds.

I asked Shteelim: Does everyone need the same number? Do you think some people are more hungry than others or have bigger families?

“I have five people in my family so I do need more,” one child explained.

Another said: “I don’t need as many because I only have three people in my family.”

Sharing and redistributing some food.

Sharing and redistributing some food.

We renegotiated a little bit, and then one child suggested that we need to still leave more of our produce out for “poor people.” The farmers had set up a section for food left out, and one child suggested we have a sign to label it so people know they can come and take as they please.

We set out a bounty of food and made a sign so hungry people would know it was hefker.

We set out a bounty of food and made a sign so hungry people would know it was hefker. (Sign reads: “This is a picnic.”)

By the end of our session, it children said that they were satisfied with what they got, seemed satisfied with what they gave, and fluidly incorporated the idea that what grows from the land is הפקר (hefker – ownerless) during שמיטה (Sh’mitah – release) year into their play.

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