Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Barley Offering: Mistress or Mastery

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Naso
Dealing with the Grabbing Instinct
Every Jewish holiday is an opportunity to practice holy eating. I just completed my annual six-day juice fast coming out of it on Shavuot. While watching everyone at the table enjoying their eggplant parmesan and cheesecake, I was happily munching away at my delicious organic salad. Juice fasting and coming out of it gracefully without throwing yourself into the food like an animal is quite an exhilarating restraint practicing experience. It is an amazing feeling to eat so slowly and mindfully, chewing every bite carefully, feeling satisfied with so little. I experienced that dealing with my grabbing instinct helped me get in touch with my neshama (soul), feeling so much more loving and giving. Victor Lindlahr said, “You are what you eat!” I’d like to modify this statement to, “You are how you eat!” We have a choice to behave like an animal grabbing the biggest piece first, gulping it down quickly before going for seconds, or patiently waiting our turn to eat for the sake of being healthy to serve Hashem. In Megillat Ruth, Boaz “gave her [Ruth] a pinch of parched grain, and she ate, was satisfied and she left over.” Ruth, the mother of kingdom, is a model for holy eating, rectified sexuality and selfless behavior for the sake of others. Note, that these are the very qualities that bring redemption. Together with Ruth, we have gone through the refinement period of counting the Omer of barley, which is considered animal food. During this period, we have worked on self-refinement, becoming less and less animalistic with every Omer count. When Shavuot arrived, we moved from barley to wheat, which is considered human food. The holiday of Shavuot is linked to wheat because two whole-wheat chametz loaves were sacrificed then. Not only food needs to be eaten in measured ways. Food and sexuality are two sides of one coin. How many suffer today in broken families because of unrestrained sexual behavior, when a married man or even woman inadvertently gave up eternity for the sake of a fleeting pleasure? Below I share with you more about the mystical and medicinal properties of barley part of which is excerpted from my book: The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties.

Animal Food
This week’s parasha tells of the suspected adulteress – סוֹטָה/sotah who secluded herself with a man whom her husband had specifically warned her not to befriend. Her sin offering is a barley sacrifice rather than the usual wheat because barley is considered animal food. The סוֹטָה/sotah brings a barley sacrifice. “Just as her actions were animalistic, so does her sacrifice consist of animal food” (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a). Her inability to protect the precious boundaries of her marriage is considered an animalistic act, as we cannot expect an animal such as, for example, an ox to be faithful to any specific cow. “The superiority of the human over the animal is nothing (אָין/ayin)...” (Ecclesiastes 3:19). The word ayin means nothing’ or ‘no.’ In addition to the accepted interpretation, that there is no difference between man and animal, this verse can also mean that the superiority of the human being over the animal is our ability to say ‘ayin’ (No!). (Rav Ruderman (1901–1987), quoted by Rabbi Frand, Parshat Naso http://www.torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5762/naso.html). Therefore, the suspected adulteress sacrifices an offering of barley in order to rectify her animal soul, and to ingrain within her the Gevurah of self-restraint and setting proper boundaries.

Our Actions Create an Inverse Reaction
In my book I link each of the Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel with one of the seven lower sefirot based on the teachings of the Arizal. It is interesting that in spite of the fact that barley is considered animal food and people and animals differ by the animals’ inability to practice self-restraint, barley corresponds to גְּבוּרָה/gevurah – restraint. The sotah brings a barley offering, for barley embodies the power of all the gevurot (Arizal, Sefer HaLikutim, Parashat Ekev, chapter 8). Perhaps, this teaches us that the nature of the world is such that our actions create an inverse reaction. For example, when we give of ourselves to someone, the recipient of our giving becomes the receiver. When we act unrestrained, we create a constricted reality. This explains that only when we keep the laws and rules in the Torah do we become truly free. Animals that do not have this ability are relegated to a world of limitations embodied by the constrained barley animal-food.

The Boundaries of Measure
When we measure something, we determine its particular boundaries. Barley corresponds to the boundaries of measurement. The root of the Hebrew word for barley, ש-ע-ר /sin-ayin-reish with the ו, consists of the same letters as the Hebrew word for measurement, שִׁעוּר/shiur. This term is often used in Jewish law, as for example one needs to eat a certain שִׁעוּר/shiur – amount, in order to be required to recite an after-blessing (See for example Rav Shlomo Ganzfried, Ungvar, קיצור שולחן ערוך/Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 54:8). We also use the term שִׁעוּר/shiur to refer to a Torah class. Many people may not be aware, however, that a שִׁעוּר/shiur implies that the class takes place within a certain time frame, and must begin and end on time. It is also interesting to notice that a grain of barley is used to determine the minimum measure that negative spirits may control. Therefore, the Egyptians were unable to replicate the plague of lice, “for the demon is powerless over a creature smaller than a barley seed” (Rashi, Exodus 8:14). Perhaps the reason for this is that whatever is beyond measure belongs exclusively to the Divine domain.

In Praise of Barley
From what we have written so far, it seems as if barley is a lower kind of food not worthy for human consumption. However, this is far from the truth. By way of contrast, barley teaches us to behave like a mentch rather than let our impulses lose. Barley also has many nutritional benefits. In my book, I quote Rambam who teaches that barley cereal has cleansing properties. It cleans the respiratory system and dries up mucus. Barley is also cooling, especially for the eyes. Lentils have opposite qualities to barley and balance it. Therefore, a dish cooked from a mixture of barley and lentils is especially beneficial (Nisim Krispil, Medicinal Herbs of the Rambam, p. 208). I also explain there, how Barley is an excellent source of dietary fiber, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and thiamin. It is also a great source of niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B6.

Each of the seven fruits of the land has their own song in the פֶּרֶק שִׁירָה/Perek Shirah – Nature’s song. In my book I have a section from Nature’s Song, beautifully illustrated, for each of the seven fruits. I will conclude with the Song of Barley from my book.

The Song of Barley: “A prayer of the poor, when he wraps himself and pours out his trouble before Hashem” (Psalms 102:1). Barley is ‘poor man’s food.’ When a person is hungry and has nothing to eat, he is happy to receive even barley. From this we may learn that when we are, G*d forbid, in trouble, we must stand with a broken heart like a pauper who stands in the doorway all wrapped up. We must, likewise, wrap ourselves and pour out our trouble in heartfelt prayer to Hashem. Then Hashem will hear our prayer and redeem us (Album Perek Shirah, quoting Rav Ya’acov Emden, HaYa’avetz and Rav Moshe MiTrani, (Hamabit), Beit Elokim).

May Hashem hear our prayer and help us on the windy road to true freedom through exercising proper boundaries in our lives through mindful motivational mastery!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Whisper of the Wilderness

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Bamidbar
(This article is inspired by student articles written by Aharona Ganz and Chaya Berdugo)
Hearing the Sound of Silence – the Divine Voice Within
The Judean Desert
Here in Bat Ayin we live at the edge of the wilderness. We have green springs and yellow summers. Just a 20 minute drive southeast will take us to the Judean desert where it is yellow most of the year with wisps of green. Here in Bat Ayin we enjoy the benefits of the dry rather than moist heat and the cool summer desert nights. Yet, we also enjoy the cleansing rain and soothing dew that caresses growing plants, from wild weeds to fertile fruit trees. While I love the lush green blooming fruitfulness of the Judean hills, I can appreciate the serene, silent, sandy, desert. The desert is a place so seemingly silent, and yet Hashem knows that it says so much. Therefore, He chose it as the backdrop from the giving of the living Torah, which is compared to black fire upon white fire (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishit 1). The Hebrew word מִדְבַּר/midbar – desert is related to מְדַבֵּר/medaber, which means ‘to speak.’ The wilderness speaks – When we enter the vast open empty space of the wilderness, we are able to hear the sound of silence. Without the humdrum distractions of technical devices, mundane chores that need to get done, the constant background noises of cars driving by, we can turn inwardly to the Divine voice within. We can re-evaluate who we really are and learn to live more meaningful lives. When we tune into ourselves we may become aware of some of the deeper processes we are going through which we often repress through overeating and “workcoholism.” In the desert we can experience the detachment needed to be able to speak to G-d from the heart, and attain the clarity of hearing His answers. The desert speaks to us if we can silent the ongoing chatter inside of us for long enough to hear the words that Hashem has been crying out to us for years, while we have been too afraid to listen. The desert gives us a glimpse of the infinite, the timelessness of Hashem’s beauty and the vastness of open space, which is so needed for those of us who have been swarmed with the commercial jingles of fluorescent lighting, traffic jams, billboards and skyscrapers that obscure the view of getting in touch with our core. Our souls are infinite yet trapped inside a finite body with restrictions of time and space. It is the spiritual and emotional baggage that blocks our souls from coming out to full expression, and our ears from hearing the silent song of our souls. Leaving behind all the flicker of our surrounding electronics from computer monitors to smartphones and going out into the wilderness can help us melt away any spiritual and emotional blocks and thus enable us to reconnect and recharge our souls. Now, before the giving of the Torah Hashem takes us by the hand, leading us to the empty space, which serves as a clean white piece of paper, where we can take time to contemplate let go of any attachments and prepare ourselves for receiving the black letters of the Torah. It is always so much pressure when Shabbat flows into the holiday. Yet on the other hand, it is a gift to enter Shavuot directly from Shabbat, the Shabbat of Parashat Bamidbar – “In the Desert.” This Shabbat give us the opportunity to take the time to listen to the silent whisper of the wilderness that pierces the soul.

Becoming Desolate like the Desert to Deserve Torah
ספר במדבר פרק א פסוק א וַיְדַבֵּר הָשֵׁם אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי
“Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai…” (Bamidbar 1:1).

The Torah was given with three things: with fire, water and wilderness. With fire as it states, “The entire mountain of Sinai was smoking because Hashem descended upon it with fire (Shemot 19:18). With water as it states, “Oh Hashem, when you came forth from Seir, when you marched forth from the field of Edom, the earth trembled; the heavens dripped, yea, the clouds dripped water” (Shoftim 5:4). In wilderness as it states, “Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai” (Bamidbar 1:1). Why was the Torah given through these three things? To teach you that just as these things are free for all people in the world, also the Torah is free for anyone who desires it. Similarly, it states, “Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water” (Yesha’yahu 55:1). Why was the Torah given in the wilderness, to teach you that a person cannot acquire Torah until he has made himself הֶפְקֶר/hefker – ownerless like the desert (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 1:7). The word hefker is hard to translate. It seems to me that in this context it refers to being free of attachments, like the empty desolate desert, which consists of nothing but a vast space of emptiness. This is also, why the Torah is compared to water, as water descends from a high to a low place. Similarly the words of Torah pass over the arrogant person and settles with the humble. For the same reason Hashem gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai – the very lowest mountain. Living in the desert or just spending some time there is truly a humbling experience. When we shed all the comforting trappings to be alone with the essentials and ourselves, we realize that money, possessions, career, title are only exterior wrappings. They do not entail any intrinsic value. It takes the humility of the desert to experience the greatness of ‘being’ rather than ‘having.’ Therefore, “the Torah was only given to those who ate manna” Mechilta b’Shalach 17). To those who do not seek luxury, but desire only the minimum to sustain their souls. “Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, ‘fortunate are you, and good is to you’ (Tehillim 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World to Come” (Pirkei Avot 6:4).

Decluttering Desert Drive
The Torah was given in the bare wilderness to teach us that in order to become steeped in Torah we need to live simple lives devoid of luxuries. However, today even the bare necessities like good bread without toxic additives and good chlorine-free water has become a luxury! It is hard to return to simplicity in a world where we are so bombarded with advertisement for endless amounts of items, which supposedly will enhance our lives. The secret is to minimize what we buy and bring into our space and just keep a few quality items that we enjoy. For example, instead of all kinds of cosmetic products, I stay with basic stables like coconut oil, which is a perfect makeup remover, body lotion and even face-cream. I use shea-butter as a heavy hand and foot-cream that protects the skin before and after gardening and doubles up as a lip balm for parched and sundried lips. I would love to learn to minimize other areas in my life; being a collector, this is not easy. We tend to collect too many words as well. Who has time to read all of these emails and articles in our excess overflow society? Each time I sit down at the computer to write my weekly Nature in the Torah, I decide I am going to keep it brief, but somehow the words sneak in. I think my writing is not good enough if I don’t add more. Perhaps this insecurity about our own self-worth is the underlying reason why we think we need so much. It is possible that the desire for excess expensive pampering comes to fill the void feeling of unworthiness. Allowing the Torah to fill us with value and meaning may help us appreciate the free pleasures such as taking a brisk walk with our loved ones. When it really comes down to it, we can manage with so much less than what we have. We spend the first half of our lives accumulating things, then the rest of our lives trying to rid ourselves of all the extras. We all know what happens to the things we put in storage. When we find these boxes a year or so later, we can’t believe we ever needed any of this stuff. Driving through the desert, we pass numerous Bedouin enclaves where families live in bare minimum tent colonies, a remnant of how people used to live thousands years ago. I’m always amazed and in awe of how these people can live this way today in our modern world. Somehow, the desert is conducive to deep decluttering.

Walking in Avraham’s Path of Simplicity
The numerical value of the word מִדְבַּר/midbar – desert is 248. This is the number of positive mitzvot in the Torah. The concept of the desert facilitates our receiving the Torah and its mitzvot. It teaches us to be like the desert free of distractions that takes us away from keeping the mitzvot of the Torah. The name אַבְרָהָם/Avraham also shares the gematria of 248. Avraham was like the desert because he needed nothing for himself. In this way, he was like the sand of the desert that absorbs nothing, recharging with every day in the sunshine. Avraham became recharged through his constant giving to others. Becoming like the desert is like being an empty channel – a clean conduit without sediments for Hashem’s goodness to flow through. Avraham perfected the level of loving Hashem. He had no unrectified fears. It is our fears that makes us hold on to things, like holding on to a rope or a stick that we think may save us from ourselves. Sometimes, we cushion ourselves with layers of excess stuff, because we are afraid to face our naked selves. The desert is a powerful place to discover the pieces inside of our true selves. Here we can strip ourselves of all the non-essentials and allow the daily complexities to settle into simplicity. In the desert, we can reconnect with our soul – the part of us that guides the journey into truth – Avraham’s journey of understanding, love, connectivity and healthy relationships.

May we merit to walk in Avraham’s path of simplicity feeling perpetual fulfillment through keeping Hashem’s Mitzvot. Shavuot Sameach!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Desolate Land from Desert to Bloom

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat B’Chukotai 
Berot trip helping at a Gush Katif nursery in 2005
From my window I am greeted by blooming pea-flowers, roses and jasmines. Their pleasant scent enthralls me as I walk to my backyard to pick a full basket ripened loquats, the first fruits of the holy shemitta crop. I thank Hashem for the abundance on our land, which just 20 years ago before we settled here, was a dry disarray of thorns and prickles. It is amazing to have experienced this transformation from desolation to fruitfulness. As a teenager, surrounded by pro-Palestinian propaganda, I recall an exhibition at a hippy dippy café, called “The House,” which was the gathering place where my friends and I used to hang out. The exhibition was called, “The Desolate Land.” Its aim was to disprove the notion that ‘Palestine’ was desolate prior to Jewish settlement at the end of the 19th century. I remember viewing walls lined with photos of nomads and other ‘Palestinians’ who were farming a fruitful land of ‘Palestine’ before the Jewish emigration and subsequent establishment of the State of Israel. At that time, I felt an identification with the poor ‘Palestinians’ – the true indigenous people who lived in harmony with nature for generations, cruelly expelled and made into miserable dejected refuges by self-absorbed Zionist imperialists. Until this day, many of my old friends in Denmark, even the Jewish ones still feel this way. But is it true that the land of Israel indeed was flourishing during the Islamic rule? The Torah teaches us otherwise. The fate and fruitfulness of the land of Israel is totally dependent on its relationship with the Jewish people. As part of the many curses enumerated in this week’s Torah reading, if we don’t follow Hashem’s directives, the Torah tells us that the land of Israel will lay completely fallow and desolated to the degree that people will be astounded by its desolation:
ספר ויקרא פרק כו פסוק לב וַהֲשִׁמֹּתִי אֲנִי אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְשָׁמֲמוּ עָלֶיהָ אֹיְבֵיכֶם הַיּשְׁבִים בָּהּ
“I will make the land desolate and your foes who dwell upon it shall be astonished at it” (Vayikra 26:32).

The Silver Lining in the Cloud of Desolation
Rashi explains that this curse is a blessing in disguise, “This is a kindly measure for Israel, that the enemies will find no satisfaction in their (the Israelites) land, and so it would become desolate of its inhabitants (the enemies) (Rashi, Vayikra 26:32). For centuries, the Christian church claimed that the desolation of the Land of Israel was proof that G-d had rejected the Jewish People. Ramban testifies to the contrary. He elaborates on the good tidings that Hashem is telling us that within all of our exiles, our land will not open herself to receive our enemies. This is a great proof and promise for us. “In the entire world you won’t find a land so good and so wide open, which had been settled from the beginning of time, but then became so desolate. Since we were exiled from it, it didn’t allow any other nation to settle within it, even though everyone kept trying unsuccessfully” (Ramban, Vayikra 26:16). Indeed, throughout the millennia – as numerous empires conquered the Land, and fought countless wars for its possession – astonishingly, no conqueror ever succeeded in permanently settling Israel or causing the desert to bloom. This made it easier for the Jewish people to return and resettle their homeland – what a hidden blessing.

From Fruitfulness to Wasteland Testimonials
Prior to the Roman exile, Josephus Flavius testified to the abundance in Eretz Yisrael: “For it is an extremely fertile land, a land of pastures and many varieties of trees.... The entire land is planted by her inhabitants and not one stretch of earth is left uncared for. Because the Land is blessed with such goodness, the cities of the Galilee and numerous villages are densely populated. Even the smallest of villages boasts of at least 15,000 inhabitants” (Josephus Flavius, The Jewish Wars).

In 1260, the Ramban, writing to his son from Eretz Yisrael, gave a very different picture: “What shall I tell you concerning the condition of the Land... She is greatly forsaken and her desolation is great... That of greater holiness is more desolate than that of lesser holiness. Jerusalem is most desolate and destroyed” (Ramban, Letter to his Son).

Six centuries later, in 1867, Mark Twain found the Land in similar condition: “A desolate land whose soil, though more than sufficiently rich, produces only thorn bush and thistle – a silent mourning expanse. There exists here a state of neglect that even the imagination is incapable of granting the possibility of beauty of life and productivity. We arrived in peace to Mount Tabor...we did not see a soul during the entire journey...everywhere we went there was no tree or shrub....The Land of Israel dwells in sackcloth and ashes. The spell of a curse hovers over her, which has blighted her fields and imprisoned the might of her power with shackles.” Twain saw the desolation as so great that he wrote: “The Land of Israel is a wasteland...The Land of Israel is no longer to be considered part of the actual world...” (Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim’s Progress 1867). This statement by Mark Twain is a complete fulfillment of the astonishment over the desolation of the Land of Israel that our Torah verse predicted.

Returning to Bloom – the Most Revealed Sign of Redemption
During all our exiles, our Land has never accepted our enemies. It has refused to be fertile, so that no other nation would settle in it permanently. An army may conquer territory, but to establish a permanent settlement requires the co-operation of the Land. This explains why Rabbi Abba said, there is no more revealed end [of days] than that which it states: “But you, O mountains of Yisrael, you shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel….” (Yechezkiel 36:8; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a). Maharsha explains, “there is no more revealed end of days than this for as long as Israel does not dwell on its Land, the Land does not give her fruits as she is accustomed. However, when she will begin to flower again, and give of her fruits, this is a clear sign that the end – the time of the Redemption – is approaching, when all of Israel will return to its Land” (Maharsha, Sanhedrin 98a). We are fortunate to thank G-d, having experienced this return and this blossoming of the land in our recent time.

Agricultural Paradise
I personally heard from a previous Gush Katif resident that when the first tomato plant sprouted forth in the desert of Aza, all the surrounding Arab farmers clapped their hands in praise and amazement. They had tried for decades, but were unable to grow even a mustard seed in these sand dunes. Gush Katif’s agriculture achieved international recognition and was a significant part of Israel’s export. The Gush Katif farmers were determined to make the desert blossom against all odds, in a desolate, bare and sandy place. The land of Israel responded to their efforts, the unique conditions, the challenging reality, and the connection between the farmers and the Rabbis brought about Halachic innovations, and the development of new agricultural methods which stood up to the highest standards – including Halachic ones. Unfortunate as soon as the Israeli army carried out the Cabinet's decision and forcibly remove the 8,600 residents of Gush Katif from their homes in August 2005, the blossoming agriculture of the area went down the drain. This is in spite of the fact that The Economic Cooperation Foundation, funded by the European Union purchased the greenhouses for $14 million and transferred ownership to the Palestinian Authority, so that the 4,000 Arabs employed to work in them could keep their jobs (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/18/nyregion/18donate.html?_r=1).

Dramatic Downturn of Agriculture in Aza
In spite of the efforts and donations to help the Arabs keep the successful agriculture going in Aza after Israel’s withdrawal, fewer people are able to sustain their source of livelihoods from agriculture in the area. The percentage of Arab labor force working in agriculture went down from 12.7% ( 2007) to 7.4% (2009), (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PBCS). 2009). (I cannot find more current statistic about the agriculture in Aza but I am positive that it keeps declining after the Jewish people no longer live there). This stands in sharp contrast to the agricultural abundance prior to Israel’s withdrawal, when the agricultural produce of Gush Katif represented some 10% of all agricultural produce raised in Israel; accounted for 65% of Israel's organic export industry; 90% of Israel's bug-free leafy vegetables; 45% of tomato exports and 95% of Israel's cherry tomato exports; 60% of Israel's herb exports; (http://www.jewishagency.org/ disengagement/content/26369). Ironically the decision of the farmers of Gush Katif to leave their greenhouses intact in Gush Katif, was initially greatly opposed by agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz who argued that leaving the greenhouses to the Palestinians would lead to a tough competition between Palestinian and Israeli produce in Europe's markets. (http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/gush-katif-s-farmers-to-leave-greenhouses-to-palestinians-1.164847). It seems like Yisrael Katz could have saved his worry had he studied the Ramban on Vayikra 26:16 regarding the desolation of the land.

Sign of the Rightful Suitor of the Land
Eretz Yisrael is compared to a faithful wife told that her husband suffers in a foreign jail from which he will never return. Nevertheless, she waits for him, accepting no suitor in his place, convinced that one day, he will return. The following metaphor also applies to the relationship of the Land of Israel with the people of Israel: Two different young suitors requested the hand of a young woman from her father. He told them to ask the young woman directly to make her choice. When one of them turned to her, he got a slap in the face, whereas the young woman responded with a smile to the other. Many nations came to the Land of Israel but she gave them the cold shoulder, yet she receives the Jewish people with the greatest smile. Is there a clearer sign who is her rightful suitor? (Rav Shlomo Aviner, Planting in the Land of Israel, a Messianic Sign, part of Planting in the Land, The Institute of the Torah and the Land, (Hebrew) p.122).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Redemptive Secret of the Yovel Year

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat B’Har
Personal Plot of Land for Expressing Spiritual Essence
ספר ויקרא כה:י
 וְקִדַּשְׁתֶּם אֵת שְׁנַת הַחֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה וּקְרָאתֶם דְּרוֹר בָּאָרֶץ לְכָל ישְׁבֶיהָ יוֹבֵל הִוא תִּהְיֶה לָכֶם וְשַׁבְתֶּם אִישׁ אֶל אֲחֻזָּתוֹ וְאִישׁ אֶל מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ תָּשֻׁבוּ
“You shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants: it shall be a jubilee for you; each of you shall return to his estate, and each of you shall return to his family” (Vayikra 25:10).

Although I have returned to what I believe is my personal estate in Israel, I have still not returned to my family. The challenge of being far away from family is an unnatural painful situation. When we reach the final redemption, all family members will live close to one another, even within our extended families, as we all come from the same soul group and our destinies are intertwined. During my childhood in Denmark, I was also separated from family, as my maternal grandparents made Aliyah to Israel. Wherever we lived, I enjoyed being surrounded by pleasant gardens. I remember, as a child, planting my own vegetable garden, and praying to Hashem that the seeds would grow and show the way to freedom and peace, chasing away all evil and hatred. This was my debut connecting gardening and spirituality. After my two sisters and I left the nest, my parents moved into an apartment with only a balcony for flowers. Meanwhile, my husband and I received a nice piece of land in the heart of Israel – the Judean hills.

The laws of Yovel (jubilee) Year, which only applies to the Land of Israel when the majority of Jews live here, teaches us that each family had an allotted plot of land in Israel that they would return to every fifty years during biblical and temple times. Even if they had sold it or rented it out in the meantime, when Yovel Year kicked in, each family was to return to their own inherent land, and this is called “liberty” in the Torah. Actually, people would know in advance to sell their land only until the Yovel Year, the value of the land would decrease based on the proximity to the Yovel Year. “In buying from your neighbor, you shall deduct only for the number of years since the Yovel, and in selling to you, he shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. The more such years, the higher the price you pay, the fewer such years, the lower the price, for what he is selling you is a number of harvests (Vayikra 25,15-16). This implies that when all Jews return to live on the land of Israel, we are bound to our particular plot of land, and can never sell it for good.

Why is this principle called “freedom” in the Torah? It seems like the rules of being unable to sell one’s land is a limitation rather than a freedom. When the land of Israel was originally conquered in the time of Yehoshua, it was divided between the tribes and within the tribes, each family had their own particular plot to call theirs. This plot would be like their extended self an indivisible part of themselves, which would outlive them and extend their memory as we learn from Megillat Ruth 4:5 “To establish the name of the dead upon his inheritance.” Just as every person has a body and soul, and the body encases the soul and helps it ambulate within this world, a Jew has a body to his body, which is his piece in the Land of Israel. This plot is his extended self through which he can truly manifest the essence of his soul. Actualizing and manifesting ourselves in full by means of our personal piece of land is the true expression of our freedom.

The Yovel Year and Counting the Omer
There are several parallels between counting towards the Yovel Year and counting the Omer. Both Mitzvot are introduced with the directive to count וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם/u’sefartem lachem – “You shall count” (Vayikra 23:15), וְסָפַרְתָּ לְךָ/u’sefarta lecha –”You shall count” (Vayikra 25:8). In both cases, we count seven sets of seven in connection with Shabbat. We count seven shabbatot in counting the Omer, whereas the count of seven Shabbat years leads us to the Yovel Year. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch notes that by counting the Omer, Am Yisrael highlights a major difference between Judaism and other religions. Upon leaving Egypt, B’nei Yisrael have accomplished physical liberty, and when entering into Eretz Yisrael they have the opportunity to achieve prosperity. The annual celebration of Pesach would therefore seem to be the celebration of having accomplished our ultimate goal. However, for Israel, this only represents our starting point, from which we begin to count towards our true goal of receiving the Torah. It is the ethics and morality of the Torah, which creates the foundation of our nation, independent of material needs.

This counting includes he seven-fold reference to Shabbat, which bears the message of refraining from work, thus freeing us from the materialistic demands that the drive for prosperity places upon us. By constantly referring us back to Shabbat, we are reminded of the basic message of Shabbat, the fact that G-d created the world and that He is intimately involved in its workings. The aspiration to individual greatness implicit in the counting of the Omer parallels the counting of the Yovel on the national level. After fifty years, we reach a level of social perfection, characterized by the release of slaves and the return of land to its original owners. Once again, we see a seven-fold counting of Shabbat, but this time the Shabbat of Shmitta (sabbatical year), when we acknowledge that the land is not ours but G-d’s. We are to disengage ourselves from a more materialistic outlook, and focus on building our moral status. In our time when most of us live in relative prosperity, this message of counting is more relevant than ever. The counting reminds us that physical freedom is not an end goal in itself; it is only the means to receive the spiritual freedom that the Torah and the Yovel Year engenders (Based on, Rav Michael Sussman, & http://harova.org/torah/view.asp?id=982).

The Secret of the Torah and the Land
We count the Omer in order to reach the fifties gate from where the Torah was given. It consist of five books corresponding to the five parts of our soul. There are forty-nine gates of understanding created in the physical world, and all of them were given to Moshe Rabbeinu, as it states, “You have made him a little less than Divine” (Tehillim 8:6). Yet, the fiftieth gate has not been handed over to any human being, since this world is created in seven days, and when you complete the seven by squaring them, they amount to forty-nine, but the fifties gate is not attributed to this world (Maharal, Orh Chadash p. 174).

Just as number eight corresponds to the miraculous level being beyond the seven days of creation, number fifty being beyond seven times seven is associated with the supernatural realm. The secret of the fiftieth is very deep we can only scratch the surface of what the Kabbalist have to say on the topic. The reason for the counting until fifty both of the Omer and towards the Yovel Year is one. The counting of the forty-nine corresponds to the seven lower sefirot, whereas the fiftieth corresponds to Binah (understanding). It is through Binah that we are sent into freedom, and it is from that same Binah that we received the Torah. Therefore, this number is sanctified (Torah Ohr of Maharam Paparish, Parashat Emor). Whenever it mentions counting in the Torah, it centers around arriving at the fifties Gate which correspond to Binah. Therefore, it also states that Israel rose through the fiftieth from Egypt (Shemot 13:18). Likewise, the redemption from Egypt is mentioned fifty times in the Torah. The goal is to arrive at the Yovel Year when each person returns to his estate (Vayikra 25:13). “He will be redeemed, and in Yovel he will emerge” (Ibid 24), (Sha’arei Orah, The Eight Gate, The Third Sefirah). Each step that we count towards freedom brings us closer to our ultimate redemption. True redemption is to return to our essential element – to the root of our creation – the place of the emanation of Torah completely beyond nature. We are created within the seven dimensions of the physical world in order to perfect it and then eventually surpass it. Both receiving the Torah and returning to our inherent plot of land are interconnected sides of one coin in the ultimate goal of redemptive freedom for every Jew.

True freedom is not necessarily the ability to do whatever we feel like as the term is understood in the Western world. True freedom is the ability to return to our essential abode both spiritually and physically, as an individual and as part of the entire unified nation. Our redemptive freedom warrants the ability to express the Divine Torah within the physical framework of the Holy Land. We will ultimately return to this land, divinely designed to encompass the Torah of our soul as a glove fits the hand. When we count the Omer, we are not just counting towards receiving the Torah. Super-consciously, we are counting towards the Final Redemption, when we will all return to complete actualization of the Torah in the Land of our Soul.