Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparing to Receive the Torah by Tuning into the Soul of the Land

It is so exciting that today, after having returned to the Land of Israel, we can finally keep some of the laws of the Land described in our weekly Torah portion Behar. Just as it is said: “More than the Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel,” likewise we can say that: “More than the Land of Israel has kept the Shabbatical year, the Shabatical year has kept the Land of Israel.” Actually all our exiles, and our losses or victories in the land of Israel took place the year following Shemita year (The sabbatical year for the land).

For example, the victory of the six day war, which we will soon celebrate, took place in year 5727, following the Shemita year in 5726. Keeping the laws of the Land of Israel makes us worthy to deserve the Land. It is not by chance that we read Parashat Behar in proximity to the festival of Shavuot. Through keeping the mitzvoth of Shemita, we strengthen our faith and trust in Hashem, and engender unity between all of the Jewish people. In this way we become similar to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai who received the Torah in unison. I will clarify the connection between keeping Shemita and receiving the Torah further, so please read on!

With blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Outside of Israel, Parshat Emor is read this week.  Click here for to read "Healing Emotions Through Speech" - Rebbetzin's Parsha Meditation Emor.

Click here for Rebbetzin's Haftorat Behar commentary 

Parasha Meditation Behar
Vayikra 25:1-26-:2
Preparing to Receive the Torah by Tuning into the Soul of the Land
Parashat Behar is all about Emunah. Taking one day a week off from work in order to celebrate Shabbat and demonstrate our belief in Hashem, as the creator of the world, cannot compare to implementing our faith, by taking off an entire year from working the land. Keeping in mind that essentially and historically, Israel is an agrarian society. For some people it may be difficult to relate to the concepts of the Shabbatical year (Shemita) mentioned in this week’s parasha. If you live in NY, LA or Chicago, the only practical implications of the laws of Shemita, is to make sure that vegetables and fruits purchased from Israel have proper kashruth (kosher) certification. Those of us, who live on the Land, are fortunate enough to get a taste of the emunah that the Shemita year instills.

Relinquishing Ownership to the Land
The concept of Shemita teaches us that we never really have ownership to the land, which essentially belongs only to Hashem. This is why it states, “…then the land shall keep a Shabbat to Hashem.”[1] We, the Jewish people are not in the center here, but rather the land has its own will and connection to Hashem. Even if I paid a lot of money, weeded all the thorns, worked myself to a sweat turning the earth, adding compost, planting delicious grapes, as soon as the Shemita year arrives, I am reminded how everything belongs Hashem. “…For the Land is Mine; and you are strangers and settlers with Me.”[2]

My first Shemita Experience
I experienced this during my first Shemita year on the land, when I looked out of my window one Thursday afternoon, and discovered my neighbor helping himself the most succulent grapes in my garden. I was planning to pick these grapes on Friday, to serve them fresh for my family and guest for Shabbat. My first instinct was to stop him, exclaiming, “What are you doing? These are my grapes!” Then the deeper realization of Shemita kicked in. Really whose grapes are they after all? Whose land is it anyway? It took some processing before I realized that all my hard work on the land, was really not just for myself, but actually for Hashem. He gives this land to all of the Jewish people to share and live in unison and harmony upon it, as it states: “The Shabbat produce of the land shall be food for all of you, for you, for your servant, and for your maid, and for your hired servant, and for your stranger that sojourns with you…”[3]

Unity Connects the Laws of the Land with Receiving the Torah
Parashat Behar opens by mentioning that the Laws of the Land were “spoken to Moshe on Mt. –Sinai.”[4] Rashi asks, “What is the connection between Shemita and Mt. Sinai? Behold all the mitzvoth were given at Sinai; [but the Torah didn’t mention on Mt. Sinai in connection with any of the other mitzvot]. Linking the laws of Shemita with receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, teaches us that the Torah does not separate between religion and the social relationships of daily day living, through which we implement the general principles of Torah into the details of life. Moreover, the laws of Shemita engenders unity among the Jewish people, which is essential in order to be worthy of receiving the Torah. Likewise, prior to receiving the Torah, the Jewish people encamped on the mountain in unison, “as one person with one heart.”[5]

Ultimate Declaration of Faith
Israel expressed their ultimate declaration of faith, when they readily accepted the Torah with the exclamation, “We will do and we will hear.”[6] Keeping the laws of Shemita likewise requires sublime faith believing firmly that even when we abstain from work, according to Hashem’s mitzvoth, Hashem will take care of us. Through keeping the Laws of the Land, we ingrain within our entire being, that only G-d gives us the strength to accomplish anything in the world, rather than thinking that “My power and the might of my hand has gotten me all this wealth.”[7]

Freedom from Slavery
At the end of a seven cycles of the seven-year Shemita cycle, we “proclaim liberty to the land,” through the same Shofar that vibrated at the revelation at Sinai.[8] During this jubilee year (yovel), all the slaves go free, and every person returns to his original land and family. This way, by refraining from selling out the land and ourselves as perpetual slaves, we experience how both we and the land belong to no-one but Hashem.[9] Shemita and Yovel thus teach us to return to our essential selves, and let go of both our attachments to ownership and to being enslaved by others.

Now it is time to relax and allow yourself to let go. Make yourself comfortably in your space. Breathe slowly and relax even more. Visualize an imaginary “Shofar of freedom” and prepare yourself to blow as you inhale, and imagine yourself blowing the Shofar with every exhale. The sound of this Shofar will allow you to relinquish ownership to that which is not part of your essential being. Inhale and imagine your home, and if applicable your garden, exhale, blow your imaginary shofar into your garden if you have one, and then repeat with your home, relinquishing all your attachments, and making Hashem king over your garden and home.

Repeat this sequence of breathing, blowing the shofar, and crowning Hashem over any particular possession of your choice, as many times as you would like. Then move to your body. Blow the shofar of freedom into your forehead, crowing Hashem there, let your shofar crown Hashem over your eyes, nose, ears, mouth, cheeks, back of your head, your entire head and neck, and shoulders.

Make Hashem king over your arms and hands as you blow the breath of life into each of them. Crown Hashem over your lungs, heart and entire diaphragm, allowing the shofar to cleanse away all the blockages you may hold on to there. Continue crowning Hashem while blowing your shofar into your small intestine, belly and colon, purifying them and making Hashem the King over them. Blow your shofar into your liver, spleen and kidneys, while crowning Hashem. Finally bring the liberating sound of the shofar into your thighs, knees, calves and feet, making Hashem king over your entire being and everything you own. Keep breathing and enjoy the new freedom from attachments you experience, coming closer to your essential self.

Shemita comes to heal the land and give us a taste of the Garden of Eden, where there was no ownership and possession. Likewise, during the Sabbatical year, all the fruits of the trees become ownerless, belonging equally to all. By eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Chava, seized ownership, and breached their idyllic relationship with the land. As a consequence, the land was cursed as it states: “Cursed is the earth because of you… in the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground…”[10] Instead of living in harmony with nature, receiving sustenance directly from Hashem’s giving hand, humanity became enslaved to labor, in order to make the land yield its produce. However, during every Shemita year, the land gradually heals, as we learn that we are neither enslaved to working the land, nor its owner and master. Shemita teaches us that we are just custodians, enjoying the privilege to be able to dwell in Hashem’s Holy Land.[11]

[1] Vayikra 25:2.
Vayikra 25:23.
Vayikra 25:6.
Vayikra 25:1.
Rashi, Shemot 19:2, learns this from the fact that the Hebrew word for “encamped” is written in singular language.
Shemot 19:8.
Devarim 8:17.
Vayikra 25:9-10, compare with Shemot 19:19.
See this week’s parasha, Vayikra 25:28-55.
Bereishit 3:17-18.
See Avraham Arieh’s beautiful article on Parashat Behar in his Orchard of Delight.

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