From the Rabbi – Behar–Bechukotai

May 14, 2020

From the Rabbi
Behar – Bechukotai

In the first of this week’s double Torah portion, Behar – “In The Mountain,” God’s voice emanates from Sinai again, declaring that Sabbath rest be extended to the land, which must be left uncultivated every seventh year. The year of land-rest is called Shmita, and the rabbis ask: Mah inyan Shmita etzel Har Sinai?” “What does resting the land have to do with Sinai?”

The challenge of Shmita is to cultivate a rhythm of creativity and rest. We are asked to integrate periodic relinquishments and recalibrate our productivity. We strive and create and harvest within a system that provides regular and predictable opportunities to rebalance whatever becomes skewed in our sense of entitlement, and, consequently, in the health of our physical world.

The blessing of Shmita is that when we allow the earth her freedom to be wild, we are moved by her beauty and mystery. Indeed, we’re moved to care for her and be the stewards of God’s earth we are meant to be. It’s essential to maintain the equilibrium of nature, so the Torah shouts from the mountaintop, in the words of our parsha: “Proclaim liberty to the land!”

The covenant of Sinai is meant to foster harmony by addressing the possibility that we will pervert our world with greed. The Ten Commandments offers a set of values that shift our attention from personal needs to the needs of community and society at large. When we add the law of Shmita to the Ten Utterances of Sinai, we broaden the scope of our covenantal partners to include, not just God and other people, but also the land on which we live.

Shmita means “release.” As we approach a slow emergence from our shelter-in-place, let’s consider that, however forced upon us, we have, over the weeks of our self-isolation, released some of the human strain on our earth, incrementally releasing nature from our harness on her utility. Consequently, we are witnessing Gaia’s barest signs of self-restoration. May we hear her plea for further rest and restoration while we’re still quiet enough to hear, remembering nature’s vulnerability to the capriciousness of our human whims and our human demands. 

Mah inyan Shmita etzel Har Sinai?” “What does resting the land have to do with Sinai?” The answer is that the gravitas of Sinai is invoked as God imparts the laws of the Sabbatical year.