Parshat Behar-Bechukotai: Letting Go & Being Held
“וַעֲשִׂיתֶם, אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי, וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם–וִישַׁבְתֶּם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, לָבֶטַח.”
“And when you do My statutes and keep My laws and do them; and you shall dwell in the land securely.” (Leviticus 25:18)
Every time I come across this verse in the Torah, I am overwhelmed by its power. I just want to read it over and over again and wrap myself around it in a desperate attempt to internalize all that which is contained within these holy words.
Since the moment we stepped foot into this sacred land thousands of years ago, we have yearned and struggled to simply live here in peace and quiet. From biblical times until this very day, we have been faced with a never ending stream of existential threats to our physical security.
This very week, there were two terror attacks in the Gush Etzion area where I live and numerous others throughout the land. Just a few hours ago, we received the devastating news that Yehuda Guetta z”l, a 19-year old yeshiva student, a beloved son, brother, and friend, died from the wounds he sustained in a drive-by shooting earlier this week.
And, of course, the entire nation is still reeling from the unfathomable incident that took place in Meron on what is usually one of the happiest days of the year. This horrific tragedy claimed the lives of 45 pure souls who travelled across the country to pray, sing, and dance together on the mountain. An event like this challenges our security in an entirely different manner; it is a direct attack on our world of emuna, reminding us that all of the inhabitants of this land are also simultaneously engaged in a war of a spiritual nature.
And in a spiritual war, those on the front lines are not carefully selected by their generals because they have the skills and experience to defeat the enemy. They are not chosen because they know what to do, but because they have the humility to recognize that they do not.
As one of the victims, Rabbi Shimon Matalon z”l, wrote in a letter that became his parting words to the world:
Instead of drowning in water,
Know it’s all from G‑d.
Instead of blaming everyone,
Remember Who is the greatest of all.
Because G‑d decides what’s going to happen,
But you decide what your attitude will be.
This week more than ever, it seems like the only way to emerge victorious from this spiritual war is to join forces; to come together as brave and humble soldiers on the front lines, to collectively raise our eyes to the Master of the World and cry out:
Hashem – what we know, we know. But what we don’t know, we really don’t know.
First, we must reluctantly accept that we will never understand why such a tragedy befell our people. Nevertheless, what lessons can we learn from such a thing? Where do we move on from here? How can we, such sensitive souls, hold on to so much pain in such a fragile world?
In the beginning of this week’s parsha, God teaches Moshe the laws of shemita and yovel – the Sabbatical and Jubilee year.
“כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם–וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ, שַׁבָּת לַה’.”
“When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.” (Leviticus 25:2)
The first thing God teaches the Jewish people about their place in the land, is that it does not really belong to them. Every seventh year, we must let the land lie fallow; we must take a break from sowing and pruning and harvesting and gathering to allow the land to rest. And every fiftieth year, not only must the land be free, but each person as well, every slave returned to his home and family.
Only then, say the profound words of the Torah, will we dwell securely in our land. It is no coincidence that both verses quoted above contain words with the root ש-ב-ת – referring to the peaceful rest of both the people and the land, the serenity of the holy Sabbath as experienced by all of Creation.
On Shabbat, we cease from our own work and remember that it is God who created the world; everything is perfect as it is. During the shemita year, we refrain from working the land and remember that it really belongs to God; he will surely take care of all of our physical needs. During the yovel, we let each person go free and remember that no individual has ownership over another; we all stand equal before our Creator.
These particular mitzvot are lifelong exercises in faith and humility; they force us to relinquish control and remember that everything in this world belongs to the One above. It is only once we have internalized these profoundly challenging lessons that we can truly dwell securely in our land. When we let go of our need to know, to understand, and to own our experiences in this complicated world, the land – and its Creator – will hold us in an embrace of love and protection.