Behar

Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2

(In the Mountain)
Behar extends the meaning of Shabbat by legislating the Shemitah, a resting year for the land every seventh year. The land is to lie fallow, released from cultivation. After seven times seven years, a Jubilee Year is proclaimed in the fiftieth year. At the time of the Jubilee, slaves are freed and property reverts to its original owner. The laws of Jubilee are instituted to correct the drastic inequality of rich and poor.

THE BLESSING

AFTER EVERY SEVEN YEARS, Behar tells us, the earth itself shall celebrate Shabbat. The land remembers its freedom. And the year after seven times seven years there shall be a proclamation of Freedom. Everyone goes home. Slaves go free. The rigid separations of class and wealth are softened and dissolved. The rich and the poor meet again and remember that they are equal.

The blessing of Behar is the lesson that the process of accumulating wealth and of owning property is all an elaborate game. God reminds us, “The land is Mine; it always has been and always will be. You are just passing through.” The Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee are God’s way of insuring that this game doesn’t get out of hand, that we play fair, that no one suffers too much for our ambition, that we remember that it is supposed to be fun.

WHEN THE LAND RESTS, we get to hear its voice. We get to experience its wild restless beauty beneath the surface of our cultivation. When we stop looking at the earth asking what-can-it-do-for-me-how-can-I-use-it? and instead open ourselves to its essential nature, we can begin to know the land and hear its voice. When we hear its voice, we can respond and become responsible stewards. As we respond, the earth becomes responsive to us in return, pouring forth its mystery and abundance.

The blessing of Behar is the promise that when we keep these sacred rhythms, we are granted safety, security, a sense of being at home.

THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

THE SECURITY THAT WE ARE PROMISED contains a spiritual challenge. The word in Hebrew is la-betach, which means “security,” “safety,” or “trust.”

So often we try to build a sense of security by acquiring possessions. Our search for security often becomes an impossible drama of “never enough.” As we acquire more wealth, nicer clothes, better computers, bigger homes, more knowledge — security continues to elude us. We are conditioned to become consumers as insecurity pushes us to acquire MORE.

Behar teaches us about a different kind of security that comes not from having, but from forging a deep relationship. During the seventh year when we let the land lie fallow and the earth experiences Shabbat, it celebrates its freedom. When the earth is no longer enslaved by our obsession for MORE, then we can truly come into relationship with her. We step into mutuality and trust is born.

ONCE WE HAVE HEARD THE VOICE OF THE LAND we will never be the same, even when we begin to play the game of possessions again. Once there is that flash of self-awareness that this is a game and all that we see is really God-in-disguise, our playing will be transformed.

And perhaps once, maybe twice in a lifetime, at the time of the Jubilee, all masks, all roles will for a time, fall away. Then we will know that we are loved by God not for the role we play or the work we do, or the knowledge or things we have acquired, but for our true essence alone. Knowing this allows us to see and love each other in the same essential way.

The Jubilee strips us down and teaches us the pure joy of existence. Behar challenges us and asks, “Are you ready to sound the shofar and call forth the consciousness of Jubilee? Are you ready to let go of everything and return to your true home in God?”

GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE

Conversations with the Land

CHOOSE A SMALL PIECE OF LAND — it could be your yard, or a wild corner of a county park, or an overgrown city lot, or a piece of woods down the road.

SLOWLY WALK AROUND ITS PERIMETER tuning in to the “spirit of the place.” Let that spirit begin to speak to you through the soles of your feet as you walk. Open up and fine-tune all of your senses.

THEN SIT AT THE CENTER of the delineated space and send your roots down into the depths of the earth.

WHEN YOU FEEL ROOTED AND COMFORTABLE, begin to speak your words of commitment to the indwelling Presence of God that is in that place.

I ALWAYS BEGIN BY VOWING that I will clean up any garbage that I find there. I talk to the rocks, to the plants, to the creatures large and small that call this their home.

I TALK TO THE ANCIENT ONES who have walked this land before me and to all future generations. I talk to the birds that fly over and the clouds that float by. I speak to the bedrock and to the underground rivers that flow unseen. To each of these I pledge my loving attention and care.

WHEN YOU FINISH SPEAKING, SIT QUIETLY, listen and watch for signs. Each breeze, each insect, each cloud, every sound and fragrance holds a message for you to receive and discern.

TAKE EVERYTHING PERSONALLY, knowing that when you do this practice of conversation with the land, it will speak to you in its own language.


Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.