Parsha B’har, the Torah portion translating to “On The Mounstain,” covers a dramatic narrative of behavior for the Israelites regarding the aspects of the Shmitah year, or the fallow time after seven years of farming. The land must be given a ‘Sabbath,’ just as we must observe Sabbath every seventh day. This parsha also outlines the behavior we must accord to each other, especially during this time of rest. The proscription that we must think, speak, and act responsibly to remain on the land brings to my mind the Eightfold Path of Buddhism – Right View, Right Intention, Right Action, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
If we picture a rock dropped into a still pond, a pattern of concentric circles emanate out from the place where the rock hit the water. The falling stone can be thought of as a metaphor for the Torah; the first ripple of water displaced by the rock is related to refrain from defrauding our neighbor in land transactions and curtail vengeance.
Wading to the next ripple can be related to the command to refrain from wronging ones neighbors with words to avoid embarrassing a neighbor. This command includes Lashon Hara, to desist from language that is hurtful when the person is not present to defend himself or herself. The power of words is quite strong and we must refrain from saying anything that will insult or anger someone.
Flowing to the softer circle, which is barely visible, we are required to refrain from any thoughts that might harm a neighbor.
We are reminded to be socially responsible by making socially mindful decisions, we must think before we speak or act. We must consider the larger consequences of our actions on the community. We can imagine the submerged rock as representing social responsibility and the water is G-d’s covenant.
This parsha illustrates the need for community, the need to reach out to others to achieve a spiritual connection as well as a the detrimental consequences that can occur when we turns away from the community or acts as though we have no need to connect with the greater society. Community plays a special role in the work we do as a people; our best moments often take place when we come together: when we push ourselves to go further and reach beyond our traditional base, we create a sense of a commonwealth and thus holiness that we can’t achieve on our own. I offer as my kavannah, or intention, to remember to think before we speak or act and to remind us to take a full breath first and be more responsible.