The combined readings of B’har and B’chukotai mark the end of the Book of Leviticus. They provide the rules for responsibilities and observances in specific time frames with reminders about blessings and curses. B’har talks about the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year. This Torah portion explains that there are certain laws that regulate use of time. For example, the Torah says that some years are for working or growing in the fields, and some years are for resting. The Jewish people are told that for six years that they are to farm their land but during the seventh year the land should be given a complete rest. This also compares to when God created the world and commanded us to work for six days and to rest on one day. Just as people benefit from taking time off on Shabbat, the Earth also benefits from resting time.
This Torah portion is relevant to the environmental problems we face today because our resources are disappearing. Perhaps if we give the Earth periods of rest and don’t overuse its resources, the Earth will rejuvenate itself and produce more resources for the next generation.
We know we are responsible for caring for the earth because it is a gift from God. We are responsible for those in our community and need to be respectful and righteous. Mostly, we are responsible for ourselves and for the choices we make. Actions have consequences that enable us to gain self-awareness and determine who we are. We all have the freedom to identify our options, to speak our minds, to follow our own paths, and to live where and how we wish. We have many blessings for which to be grateful every day and, of course, responsibilities that accompany them.
B’har also states that every fifty years is a Jubilee year where no work occurs on the land during the whole year. During this year, all Israelites who were slaves are ordered to be free. Our land is so important that it is good to give it this extra rest every fifty years so we can be assured that crops will grow better in the future.
B’chukotai discusses God’s message to the Jewish people regarding the importance of faithfully observing all the commandments in the Torah. God promises to reward the Jewish people with blessings if they faithfully honor the commandments. For example, God promises prosperity, peace, good farming, safety from wild animals, and victory over their enemies if they are faithful to God. God threatens to punish Jewish people with curses if they do not honor the commandments. God threatens they will be punished with disease, death, bad farming, starvation, exile, and even the death of their children if they do not faithfully honor God’s commandments.
I can relate to the “jubilee” celebrations as this past year my Temple and sisterhood have been celebrating 100 years as a community. It has been a remarkable year celebrating the past and lighting the way towards the future.
For years, WRJ has been in the forefront of working with others to preserve our natural resources, safeguard our air, water, and land from pollution and other damage, support research and technology that will repair the damage done by past practices, and encourage a more sustainable lifestyle. We take pride in the advocacy and being in the forefront in the work of tikkun olam. Our voices are mighty and strong as we are stronger together to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves because of hunger, homelessness, and poverty. We are committed to ending these curses in our society and support all efforts to bring economic justice to all.
Linn Ullenbrauck is a WRJ Board Member, VP Marketing & Communications and Convention Co-Chair for the Midwest District and a past president of Sisterhood Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, IL.