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Parashat Behar-Bechukotai: The Sabbath of the Earth

As Shabbat is nearing today, think about what you will be doing to rest and rejuvenate this weekend. After a long work week, think about the things you need to refortify yourself for the week to come. Think about the gift of Shabbat, how we are commanded to, “cease from work and rest.” Think about what that does for you or could do, whether you actually take the time to rest or not. Now capture those thoughts, how can you translate those good feelings of rest and rejuvenation to others around you, to your environment, to the earth? How would that benefit the world, both the people and the earth in the long run?

In this week’s Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, G-d commands the Israelites to give their land a rest. Like we are commanded to do every seventh day, Shabbat, we must rest the land every seventh year, the Shemitah year. G-d says, “You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest, and you shall not pick the grapes you had set aside [for yourself], [for] it shall be a year of rest for the land (Leviticus 25:3-5).” What makes this command so special is, while the land rests and rejuvenates, people who are in need may eat from the fields. Resting of the land also means providing for ALL those in need. Produce becomes free for the taking, for humans and animals. There is no discrimination. No one can say “no” to sharing the bounty of the earth. The Minhah Belulah further illuminates this idea,“And the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord: This law was given in order that we may show sympathy for our fellow men who have neither land nor vineyards, and that they may be happy in the Shemitah year, as the rich are happy every year.” According to this point, the law isn’t just for the benefit of the land itself, it is also for people who normally not have the opportunity to partake of the treasures of the earth. Resting the land is a gift not just for the land, but for all people and animals as well. Not only do we show our love for the land by giving it time to rejuvenate, but we also show love for all people and animals. At this time we are given the opportunity to remember the responsibilities that G-d gave human beings after our creation, to tend to the wellbeing of the earth, the animals, as well as ourselves. Every seven years, the Shemitah year reminds us to do just that.

Today, the practice of the Shemitah year is a mitzvah that is still followed in Israel. The next Shemitah year will be 2021-2022. This evening at your Shabbat dinner table, explore what the Shemitah year could do for you. Think about what resting the land and sharing its produce could do for humanity and the greater world.

Shabbat Shalom!