Behar-B’Chukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34). Our Land, Our Life, Our Choice?

Time lapse photography of water ripple, Photo by Jordan McDonald on Unsplash
Time lapse photography of water ripple, Photo by Jordan McDonald on Unsplash

This double portion, which concludes this year’s reading of Leviticus, speaks again to ideas and issues that we are confronting every day. The Sabbatical and Jubilee years (25) send us the message that the land needs to rest. How strange to see pictures on TV of farmers plowing under their crops in a country that needs food during this crisis. We are reminded that the land, like our life, is a  gift from God and that we are charged with the responsibility to take care of it.

These chapters call to mind  an “ethic of responsibility” that is at the heart of Judaism. We are tasked to take care of the land, and equally, our own self. If we do not, then we run the risk of damage and disaster to our world and our self. The Torah places that in God language in the form of following Commandments. Chapter 26 is a stark reading of this theology. Some may see in this chapter a blunt and brutal type of theological challenge: do it My way and be blessed, not do it My way and be cursed!

Yet, let us step back for a moment and look at this portion from our perspective of having lived a while. What can we make of this? It is really an affirmation that we have the power, each of us, to create our own life. The ethics of Judaism does set out a path of living that allows society to function. There are limits and regulations, but, placed in context, these commandments allow for freedom and a path for righteous living. When you deviate from that path, you take the risk of self destruction and the downfall of society. Consider that this portion underscores the Jewish reality that the community’s benefit outweighs personal benefit. We are challenged to act responsibly so that all may live better and in doing so, we bring about a society of holiness. Isn’t that what we have tried to teach our children and grandchildren?

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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