Parsha Behar-Bechukotai has two sections. The first, Behar, deals primarily with the rules and regulations pertaining to the land of Israel. We read of the sabbatical (Shmitta) years, in which the land was to lie fallow one out of every seven years, and relate this to observing Shabbat each week. We also read that there was a Jubilee year every fifty years, which offered the opportunity for anyone who sold himself or herself into servitude, to redeem himself or herself. Leviticus concludes with a graphic vision of the desolation of the land of Israel and the dispersal of the people if, after entering the land, they failed to fulfill the Covenant obligations of the Torah. The land belongs to G-d, and must be respected in order to reap its bounty—though we own nothing, we must steward the gifts bequeathed to us.
The second section, Bechukotai, deals with the ways that we are required to treat other Jews and other people: we are commanded not to wrong each other, especially in financial transactions. Failure to abide these commands would result in exile and oppression, and are couched as a warning, where they are described in terrifying terms of suffering.
I often consider how I’d define Judaism. I’ve come to believe that our religion can be defined in one word: Shabbat. G-d commanded that we observe Shabbat above all other ‘holidays,’ and to remember and sanctify this day as a reminder that G-d rested after creating the heavens and the earth. Our labors are rewarded with rest in order to enjoy the fruits of our efforts and prepare ourselves to begin the cycle again.
The concept of a day of rest, where one is not required to perform the obligations of the other six days of the week, I see as a gift rather than a series of restrictions. We perform daily tasks and rituals to survive and we are blessed with a day of rest; similarly, we are commanded to allow the land bequeathed to us to also rest, so as to be nourished and re-fertilized before it must provide the bounty of grains, vegetables, and fruits that sustain us and all other beings on this planet.
My kavanah for this week is an invitation to look at our meditation practice as a little taste of Shabbat that we perform to center and restore ourselves in small measure before we enjoy Shabbat at weeks end. How will you use this opportunity to center and reflect on this day as you prepare for the next? What gifts come from this practice and ultimately, from the observance of a full day to enjoy the fruits of our labors?