Archive for the '3.07 Behar / Behukotai' Category

In the Details

From reading the Torah it seems that the foundation of Jewish living is the fact that God freed us from slavery in Egypt. It is clear that Egypt was not the end of our slavery. While it is clear that there is still slavery, the end of it is never the goal. And this is not just for the poor. All of us transition from being the slaves of Pharoah to the slaves of God. What kind of freedom is that?

In Behukotai, this week’s Torah portion, we read;

I am the Lord your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the pegs of your yoke, and made you go upright. ( Leviticus 26:13)

The image of this yoke is compelling. The slave like the ox is just schlepping along carrying the weight of his owner’s burden. While God removes that yoke, it seems like a temporary respite from God’s yoke which we are still schlepping along. But when you go back to this passage we read that God just removed the peg that held it all together. The yoke did not change from, God just removed the lynch pins. The divine is truly in the details. There is a world of difference between having to do something and wanting to do something.

The lynch pin of religion is belief. Without it we are  still just schlepping along. We have to acknowledge that religion cannot claim credit for transforming the world. God did not destroy the yoke, just make it lose enough to transfer masters. For better and for worse religion might just be holding it all together. In this sense maybe the ” devil” is in the details.


This week’s Torah portion, Behar Bechukotai, starts,

God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for God. For Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyards and you may gather your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for God, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. ( Leviticus 25:1-4)

Rashi asks the oft quoted question, ” What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Or in other words, why is this Mitzvah getting top billing at Sinai? Was not the whole Torah given at Sinai?  What is so special about a Sabbath for the land?

God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. We are instructed to imitate God. We are supported to work for six days and rest on the seventh. So, now I am sure that we are all Shomer Shabbas. How many of us have created a universe on Shabbat? In making the world, God made a place for us to live. In making the Mishkan, we made a place for God to live with us. We keep Shabbat by not doing the work involved in building the Mishkan. It would make sense that we would keep Shabbat when we get into the land of Israel in that we would have built God a permanent home there in the Temple. But this still does not answer why the land itself should have a rest? It seems at some level we are personifying the land itself. People rest, how does the ground rest?

While on Passover we were slaves, by the time we reach Shavuot we ascended to the level to receive the Torah at Har Sinai. At this level we might have thought that we could actually be like God. While we were traveling around in the desert as refugees it is hard to forget that we were a band of lowly liberated slaves. It is Gods world and we were just drifting through it. The challenge is how we would maintain the right balance when we enter into the land. We might actually mistakenly think we are truly gods in a home that built for ourselves. I believe the laws of Shmitah are to remind us of our humble beginnings. This is not just as guests in the house that God made for us, but as dirt itself.  As we read at the start of the Torah, “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”( Genesis 2:7) The laws of Shmitah personify dirt to remind us that we ourselves are just that, animated dirt. Adam and Adama are both God’s creation. The Voice from Sinai rings out that we have divine potential, but the law of Shmitah reminds us that we need to stay grounded.

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