Blog BeHar Iyar 20 5779 בבלוע בְּהַר, כ” אייר תשע”ט
This parashah began with the Creator speaking to Moses who was told to speak to the people. The Torah is still speaking to us today!
I am perplexed about how students of the Scriptures regard this book Vayikra – Leviticus as a banquet of theological ideas, which is why I prefer to develop it as an application for our daily lives. It is extremely important to remember that the Torah is not a chronological, historical, philosophical or theological book. Although it contains all these elements, our Bore Olam, the Creator gave it to us as a book of principles for us to live by. For that reason, I emphasize time and again, that we are made in His image with the special gift of free will.
The golden nuggets of this short portion, BeHar, are revealed within the two regulations regarding the land of Israel – the Shmittah – שְמִטָּה (the Sabbatical year for the land) which can mean “release or let go” and the Yovel – יוֹבֵל (Jubilee year) carrying the idea of “being redeemed”. The land of Israel belongs to the Creator and He gave it to the people of Israel who were and still are only tenants. Their responsibility was to take care of His land. In spite of the many people who have been fighting for ownership of that small piece of land, we know its true owner from the Torah.
The idea of Shmittah – שְמִטָּה caused great problems for the farmers whose income came from the land. How would they survive for three years? The first year they had to allow everyone including animals to eat freely from the land; the second year they could plant and at the end of the third year, they could harvest it once again. The Bore Olam clearly told them that He would provide enough for them in the sixth year to last for the three coming years. The issue is simply in whom did they trust – themselves or the Creator? This process would demonstrate who was willing to move from faith (emunah) to trust (bitachon). A very important element in the Shmittah has to do with “release”, letting go the ownership of the land and trusting in the Provider. The land was not the property of the Israelites, but they were like two-year-old children who wouldn’t share their toys. How many of us are like that when it comes to what we own, including our very being? Most people today feel that they are entitled to receive everything from society while giving back very little. In contrast, the Creator is telling us to release ourselves from our own egos, not to hold back and to be less self-centered.
This is followed by the Yovel, יוֹבֵל the Jubilee which carries the idea of being redeemed. In the fiftieth year, we would reclaim ownership of our property and resume the responsibility for its upkeep. The land was to be treated as a living being. Many cultures which call it mother earth, understand this concept. Sadly, the Shmittah has become a mockery. The owners of the land sell it to a Gentile in the seventh year and in that way, they do not need to deal with what God is asking of them. We cannot fool the Creator; He knows our intentions.
The most important issue, however, is that there are the principles we can learn from Shmittah and Yovel, without drowning in the literal regulations given at that time. These involve “to release and to redeem”. How many of us feel oppressed, limited by our fears and phobias? Many people live in a state of depression because they live in a box and do not know how to be liberated. Are you holding something? What is it? It might be that you don’t like change, or you don’t want to move out of your comfort zone. We limit our capabilities because we don’t want to take any risks. How many of us refuse to try something new because we don’t think we can do it? We need to release ourselves from ourselves. Once we are able to release these deep-rooted fears, the doors open for us to be redeemed.
Without exception, we will all go through many experiences in our lives and we will make many mistakes. No one is exempt and no one needs to tell us; we know. Sometimes we blame ourselves or others and hold it deep within our beings. The idea of Shmittah is that once we have accepted our mistakes, we need to release them, to let them go and to do our best to learn from them and not repeat them. If we don’t let them go, we are only hurting ourselves because we are locked in the notion that we cannot begin again in a new way. We do it to ourselves. Once we acknowledge it, there is room for redemption. The Torah teaches us principles that allow us to live and to grow.
Why does the land need rest every seven years? Couldn’t the crops simply be rotated? The Creator wants us to learn to trust Him. That is not easy! It is a long and difficult process. In my counseling sessions, I ask about people’s upbringing. They have mental blocks from their childhood. They become very emotional once they remember difficult situations but once they verbalize them, they can be released and enter the process of healing. We hold many things deep within from the past without realizing the damage they are doing to our present. The Shmittah and the Yovel represent new beginnings. Everything returns to the owner. Our God is the God of beginning again! He doesn’t want us to be held back but wants us to move forward in strength and be released to be who we need to be with all the potential that He has given to us, to be the best that we can be.