This week’s portion, Behar, contains a wealth of challenges. We meet again the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. (25) and a series of injunctions that relate to the land, its use and issues related to redeeming a “brother” who “is in straights” (economic difficulties). We see Biblical/ethical challenges and guidance on treating these people as we are reminded that you were strangers once yourselves.
In 25:23 we are reminded that ki li ha’aretz “The land is mine”. We humans are here just for a moment, the earth belongs to God and, as such, we are responsible, like a rentor, to make sure that the land is taken care of and not ruined. The current rise of Jewish involvement in the environmental movement can draw some of their Biblical basis for this understanding that we,in essence, are leasing this earth. Likewise, according to some of our tradtion, our bodies.
In our discussions this Shabbat of this portion, it may be interesting to ask those who attend their opinion of this broader concept: who “owns” your body, and thus, your life? This is especially relevant in the discussions surrounding medical ethics. What autonomy do we really have over our bodies and our lives? Do we concede, in some circumstances, that “God will provide” or do we see that we have the ownership over our lives and bodies and thus, the power to make the decisions, for good or not, over what we do with and to them? How far can we, or should we go, in our own autonomy of choice? The tradition, especially in the realm of medicine, has specific guidelines that can assist us in decision making; especially in the very personal area of end of life decisions.
These conversations about the extent of our autonomy and boundaries of choices are very needed as the arsenal of medical technology continues to push the boundaries of what may be possible. This raises again the gnawing question of just becausse we can do something, does it mean we should? Many of us who read this have walked this walk.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.