Thursday, May 2, 2013

Receiving Torah by Tuning into the Soul of the Land

Beautiful day in Bat Ayin
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 Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel” likewise we can say, “More than the Land of Israel has kept the sabbatical year (Shemitah), the sabbatical 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 Shemitah year. For example, the victory of the Six Day War, which we will soon celebrate, took place in the year 5727, following the Shemitah year in 5726. Keeping the laws of the Land makes us worthy to deserve the Land of Israel. It is not by chance that we read Parashat Behar in proximity to the festival of Shavuot. Through keeping the mitzvot of Shemitah, we strengthen our faith and trust in Hashem, and engender unity among all of the Jewish people. In this way, we become similar to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai who received the Torah in unison. 

In this meditation, I will further clarify the connection between keeping Shemitah and receiving the Torah. 

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Behar: "Redeeming the Land – The Extension of Our Soul"

Parasha Meditation Behar
Vayikra 25:1-26:2
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, the Creator of the world, cannot compare to implementing our faith, by taking off an entire year from working the land. Keep 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 Sabbatical year (Shemitah) mentioned in this week’s parasha. If you live in NY, LA or Chicago etc., the only practical implications of the laws of Shemitah is to ensure 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 Shemitah year instills.

Relinquishing Ownership to the Land
The concept of Shemitah 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, added compost, and planted delicious grapes, as soon as the Shemitah 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 Shemitah Experience
I experienced this during my first Shemitah year on the land, when I looked out of my window one Thursday afternoon, and discovered to my dismay that my neighbor was helping himself to the most succulent grapes in my garden. I had planned to pick these grapes on Friday, to serve them fresh for my family and guests for Shabbat. My first instinct was to stop him, exclaiming, “What are you doing? These are my grapes!” Then the deeper realization of Shemitah 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 Mount Sinai.”[4] Rashi asks, “What is the connection between Shemitah and Mount Sinai? Behold, all the mitzvot were given at Sinai [but the Torah didn’t mention Mount Sinai in connection with any of the other mitzvot]. Linking the laws of Shemitah with receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, teaches us that the Torah does not separate between religion and the social relationships of daily living, through which we implement the general principles of Torah into the details of our lives. Moreover, the laws of Shemitah engender 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 Shemitah likewise requires sublime faith believing firmly that even when we abstain from work, according to G*d’s mitzvot, 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 seven cycles of the seven-year Shemitah 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] Shemitah and Yovel thus teach us to return to our essential selves, and let go equally of our attachments to ownership, and to being enslaved by others.

Now it is time to relax and allow yourself to let go. Make yourself comfortable in your space. Breathe slowly and relax even more.

1. Visualize an imaginary “Shofar of Freedom” and prepare yourself to blow it as you inhale, and imagine yourself blowing the shofar with every exhalation. The sound of this shofar will allow you to relinquish ownership to that which is not part of your essential being.

2. Inhale and imagine your home, and if applicable, your garden. Exhale, blowing your imaginary shofar into your garden if you have one, and then repeat, blowing into your home, relinquishing all your attachments, and making Hashem King over your garden and home.

3. 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.

4. Now move to your body. Blow the “Shofar of Freedom” into your forehead, crowning Hashem there. Let your shofar crown Hashem over your eyes, nose, ears, mouth, cheeks, and the back of your head, neck, and shoulders.

5. 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 diaphragm, allowing the shofar to cleanse away all the blockages you may be holding onto there.

6. Continue crowning Hashem while blowing your shofar into your small intestine, belly and colon, purifying them and making Hashem King over them. Blow your shofar into your liver, spleen and kidneys, while crowning Hashem.

7. 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.

Shemitah comes to heal the land and give us a taste of the Garden of Eden, where there was no ownership or 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 Shemitah year, the land gradually heals, as we learn that we are neither enslaved to working the land, nor its owner and master. Shemitah 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.
[2] Vayikra 25:23.
[3] Vayikra 25:6.
[4] Vayikra 25:1.
[5] Rashi, Shemot 19:2, learns this from the fact that the Hebrew word for “encamped” is written in singular language.
[6] Shemot 19:8.
[7] Devarim 8:17.
[8] Vayikra 25:9-10, compare with Shemot 19:19.
[9] See this week’s parasha, Vayikra 25:28-55.
[10] Bereishit 3:17-18.
[11] See Avraham Arieh Trugman’s beautiful article on Parashat Behar in his Orchard of Delight.

No comments:

Post a Comment