24 May 2024

Week of 19 May – 25 May 2024

Torah portion: Leviticus 25:1-27:34   Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6-27

Theme: The Land’s Shabbat

There is a place in New Zealand/ Aotearoa called Te Urewera, it is a big lake with forested mountains around it. It is a very beautiful place, but that is not what distinguishes it from all the other beautiful places around New Zealand/ Aotearoa. What makes Te Urewera special is that it has been given the same legal rights as any citizen in this country. Among other things, it means that this piece of land can sue people who harm it.

While reading today’s parashah I was thinking that the way the land (ha-aretz) is described in it, sounded very similar to Te Urewera. In these chapters God is acknowledging his land as having its own rights, most importantly – a right to rest. In Lev 25:2 we read: “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a shabbat…” A little further it repeats this command to make sure that the reader marks this point: “in the seventh year the land shall have a shabbat of complete rest…” (Lev 25:4) God’s land needs regular rest, just as God’s people do. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: “What Shabbat does for man and the animals, the sabbatical and jubilee years do for the land. We owe the earth its periodic rest.” (Sacks, Environmentalism)

We are required to regularly let the land be its own, without a constant human intervention in its being. In today’s world we hear stories on how in many cases a piece of land mismanaged by greedy humans can recover after it is left alone for long enough.

In parashat Behar we read that giving the land its shabbat rest is not something we can ignore and it is a very serious matter. Chapter 26 describes how God will provide shabbat rest for his land; if needed God will judge the people as guilty. The land will get its rest even if it will mean that the people will have to suffer: “And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you… then shall the land make up for its shabbat years…” (Lev 26:33-34) As Rabbi Adin Even-Israel remarks, the great section of reproofs in Leviticus 26 refers specifically to the laws of the land’s rest on the shabbat year and the Jubilee year. (Even-Israel, Whose Land Is It?) The consequences of not keeping the land’s shabbat can be catastrophic.

Looking at the news of constant breaking of monthly and daily temperature records, I cannot but wonder whether we are a living proof of what happens if we do not give our planet its shabbat rest. However, I am sure that in any case it is not too late to remind ourselves and the people around us that the land belongs to God and we are but strangers residing with Him (Lev 25:23).

For Reflection and Discussion:  Reflect on practical ways how we could give the land its shabbat’s rest!

Bibliography: Sacks, Jonathan, Environmentalism, teaching resources (https://rabbisacks.org/teaching-resources/environmentalism/); Even-Israel, Adin, Whose Land Is It? An Essay on Parashat Behar (https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/5111462/jewish/Whose-Land-Is-It.htm)

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone, New Zealand, Bat Kol Alumna: 2002, 2003


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