B'har – Time for a Shabbat

B'har, Leviticus 25:1-26:2

D'Var Torah By: Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg

Summer, also known by some as "road trip season," is almost here! When I think about car trips, I'm reminded of a legendary family vacation story: Many years ago, when my father and his three brothers were quite young, my grandparents decided to take a holiday without them. Why my grandparents would have wanted a vacation from four incredibly calm, quiet, and well-behaved young boys is beyond me…but for some reason they felt like they needed a break! So off they went, leaving their four angels with my Great Bubbie. By the time they returned, she was desperate for a vacation of her own! Apparently, her favorite phrase during the week was, "BOYZ, BOYZ, DON MAKE SO MUCH NOYZ!"

Our tradition emphasizes the importance of experiencing a true Shabbat, a day of rest set apart from the rest of the week. God invents it, implements it, and then instructs us to do the same.

We are nearing the end of Leviticus and have covered dozens and dozens of laws! Some of the most interesting laws around rest deal with the physical land. Just like we need to take a rest, the land too needs a Shabbat to recuperate. To paraphrase my Great Bubbie, "The Earth needs a vacation from the noisy boys!" We read: "Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield, but in the seventh year, the land shall have a Shabbat of complete rest." (Leviticus 25:3-4). This custom of letting the land rest every seventh year is known as shmitaShmita שְׁמִטָּהA year of “release,” described in the Torah (Ex 23:11; Lev 25:2,5-7; Deut 15:1-2) as occurring every seventh year, during which the land of Israel is not farmed, debts are remitted, and slaves granted freedom. .

Biblical commentators through the centuries have explained this passage through an agricultural lens. These scholars appear to intuitively appreciate the consequence of overusing our resources: wearing out the land. Maimonides, the 11th century sage, even teaches that giving the land a rest will reinvigorate it. By lying fallow, the fields will regain strength.

We have become too accustomed to warnings of the horrific consequences of global warming and are no longer shocked to hear of the impact. Species are becoming extinct each day and disappearing, but we typically only appreciate this too late. We are overusing the land's gifts until they are no longer plentiful. We're largely to blame for each of these phenomena, but it isn't too late, we can metaphorically impose the practices of shmita.

Further, it's as we pause that we have the chance to reflect on the worth of the land. For example, we like our toys - our phones, our cars, our jewelry. We're quite dependent on material goods. As humans, we like to think that we are all powerful. Lest we get too full of ourselves, the Torah portion this week reminds us that God is the ultimate owner of all. We are just borrowing all that sustains us, particularly the land.

We might be tempted to say that shmita is no longer relevant. It's interesting to note that shmita is still practiced in Israel, but never has been practiced outside the land of Israel. In the Israeli mindset, people are very attuned to a seven-year pause. As the shmita year approaches, goods need to be stored in advance since produce prices are inevitably higher every seventh year. Outside Israel, in the Diasporathe DiasporaתְפוּצוֹתJewish communities outside Israel. , our crops are cultivated year round without pause. However, we can still learn from the values of shmita.

It is important to hold space for rejuvenation. It is healthy to look to God for support. Vacations of all forms are so important. Our world is full of noise! I'm not just talking about the young boys! Let's all find ways to give the Earth a rest.

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