Friday, May 9, 2014

Parashat Behar - Shabbat

            This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Behar, tells us that not only should every person observe Shabbat, but everything, even the dirt, gets a Shabbat, a sabbatical, a reprieve. It happens to be a healthy environmental practice to let the land lie fallow one year in seven, giving the soil time to recharge, letting trees and plants already standing continue to bloom on their own, letting the fruits fall naturally, decompose back into the soil. But that really isn’t the point for the Torah. The point is that everything needs a Shabbat.  The Torah portion also teaches about ethical treatments of workers and fair wealth distribution practices. In the jubilee year, the seventh cycle of the seven-year cycles of halting work on the land (that is, every 49 years), lands are redeemed by previous owners forced to sell them in times of financial trouble, debts are forgiven, and people are equalized. Everything is turned back as it should be, the refresh button is hit, G-d blows a wind of relief for everyone to breathe in.
            The laws themselves only apply in the land of Israel, and there is, of course, more than one way to interpret what the laws mean. One very simple reading is the importance of Shabbat, of rest, of taking some time separate from the rest of your week, or year, to stop and rest. For us, as Reform Jews, maybe that means being here on Saturday mornings, then going home for a Shabbat nap or a walk in the park or family time. For some, it means a complete unplugging. For some, it means no cars or money handling, no talking about business. For some, it doesn’t even mean Saturday. Shabbat can be any number of things, as long as it means something different than your everyday routine. Havdallah, the service at the end of Shabbat, means separation, so we know that Shabbat and the rest of our week should be separate, different. Shabbat, whenever and however you mark it, should be holy and restful, a time to recharge yourself, a time to reflect on your week behind you and the week ahead without stress about what you did wrong or what you need to do next. The sabbatical year for the farmers of our Torah was the same thing. Although they also probably did not farm on Shabbat, one day of rest in a week does not really mean anything for the slow, cumulative work of commercial farming. So every seventh year, they stop for the whole year. The farmers need a long Shabbat; the soil needs to regain its nutrients. Every 49th year, lands are redeemed; the poor and the indebted get a chance to regain what they need. Everything needs a Shabbat.
            Tonight when the sun goes down, the twenty sixth day of the omer begins. The Sefirah for the 26th day is “Hod shebeNetzach,” “Humility in Ambition”. As I said last week, ambition is important. Without it, we would have no drive to make ourselves or our world better, we would have no interest in providing and caring for ourselves, and we would waste away physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, in our ambition, we sometimes lose sight of why we are working toward whatever end goal we have in mind, and we sometimes fail to recognize our limits. Humility in Ambition is recognizing that everyone has limits, everyone needs a break sometimes, and often we need help from others. Humility in Ambition is remembering that it will be better for your long term goals if you take the regularly scheduled time to stop and rest, reflect and look around. Take a deep breath, rest your body and your fields, reach out to someone in need, or accept help yourself if you need. Take a Shabbat. It will make your work that much more productive when you return rested.

            May you all have a restful Shabbat today, however you observe, and may you return to your work week refreshed and full of humble ambition! Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

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