Sunday, May 13, 2012

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

Parashat Behar begins with the laws of Shemitah, which is the Sabbatical – 7thyear, the year where the Jewish people are commanded not to plant their fields or work on them.  Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee Year, where the agricultural activity is also prohibited.

Parashat Behar describes 2 unusual Sabbaths—not the day of rest that we observe every week, but year-long Sabbaths. During the Shemitah, the land must not be planted, but rather, people must live off the growth of the earth while the land rests, and all debts must be canceled. In addition, the Shemitah relieves ownership of the land. As we rest on the 7th day, the land of Israel rests on the 7th year. All people have unrestricted access to the land, and individual owners must abandon their claims. Now, during the 50th year, things get a little interesting. Every 50 years, we celebrate the Jubilee Year, or the Yovel.
During the Yovel, Jewish slaves must be freed, and all purchased farmland must be returned to the family that originally owned it. The message is that the earth and all its inhabitants belongs to God.
Interestingly, the Jubilee year begins on Yom Kippur, which is a time when we undergo a moral assessment of ourselves. Its not about property during Yom Kippur, its about the Self.

We continue with Parashat Bechukotai, where we continue with the many blessings we will receive for keeping the commandments of the Torah. It also informs us of the punishments we will face if we do not follow. The blessings that they will receive will include: peace, prosperity, safety from wild beasts, fertility, and victory over their enemies. But, the punishments are more detailed, and they show that God is attempting to influence the people to return to the right path. With each punishment, God hopes that Israel will have learned its lesson.

With this double portion, we conclude the Book of Leviticus. We learn that the earth doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to God (we’re just borrowing it, and we’re expected to take care of it).  What we do DOES matter, and our actions reflect who we are. If we ignore God’s will, we risk losing everything in the future. May we always realize our obligation of tending the land and nurturing our relationships in order to make this world a better place.

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