Shabbat Consciousness: Behar-Bechukotai 5783
There’s an old routine I love by the comedian Emo Phillips. In his intentionally meandering style, he tells a story in which he finds himself damned to Hell for all eternity, and then digresses into a discussion of the definition of the concept. “You know what eternity is?” he asks. “Eternity is when you’re standing in the supermarket checkout line, it’s the cashier’s first day on the job, everyone wants to pay by check… and she doesn’t speak English.”
I was reminded of this definition of eternity as I stood in the security line at the Denver airport this week. It was 6 am and the morning rush was on. It was crowded and noisy, lots of hustle and bustle. Even with my TSA precheck, the line was proceeding at a glacial pace. The people in front of me moved slowly, and an elderly couple who weren’t experienced fliers were having trouble navigating everything (“Take off your belt!” “No, you don’t need to in this line!” “Oh, good!” But then he needed to take off the belt after all. If you know, you know.) And then, just as I got to the front of the line, multiple crews of pilots and flight attendants came through and jumped the line ahead of me.
I could feel my anxiety and resentment beginning to build. I sensed a judgmental streak coming up, with a little nasty voice composing an angry Tweet: “Hey Denver TSA: La Guardia’s checkpoint moves a lot better than you guys. Get your act together.” I was getting pissed.
And then my practice kicked in. I remembered a wonderful thing that Sylvia Boorstein, the great Jewish teacher of mindfulness meditation, told me when I visited her a few months ago. Sylvia said, “You know, at some point I realized, ‘I’m not happy when I’m pissed.’” I remember laughing out loud when she told me that. And I remembered Sylvia’s observation standing there in the security line in Denver. I realized, I’m not happy when I’m pissed. This self-righteousness doesn’t feel good. I breathed, I closed my eyes. I made an intention to access Hesed, loving connection, and I was able to show up more the way I wanted to. The angry mental tweet fell away.
Yet what I was also doing was recentering in a Shabbat consciousness, a consciousness that finds its fullest expression in Parashat Behar-Bechukotai. “When you come into the land that I am giving you,” the Holy One explains through Moses, “the land will observe a Shabbat to YHVH” (Lev. 25:2). This is the introduction to the mitzvot of the Sabbatical year (every seven years) and the Jubilee (at the conclusion of seven cycles of seven years). The essence of these mitzvot is a profound surrender of control. The practices of Sabbatical and Jubilee—not working the land, remitting debts, freeing slaves, and ultimately resetting the entire notion of land ownership—are invitations and challenges to us, to pull back the veil on the illusions on which we base our economies and live so much of our lives. “For the earth is mine,” says the Holy One, “and you are but strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev. 25:22).
Of course, these system-level corrections are an elaboration of the weekly practice of surrender we engage in during Shabbat. Every week we are challenged and invited to let the scales drop from our eyes, to see the deeper and truer reality in which we live—one that is not about ownership or control, but that is about abiding fully in the present moment. The Torah is all but explicit in drawing this connection, referring to the seventh year as Shabbat (a connection we find in English too: Sabbatical/Sabbath). The same spiritual move we make during the Sabbatical year is one we make every week.
And not only every week, but even in every moment. With every breath we have the opportunity to recognize the limits of our agency—and, through that, to recognize a deeper reality that is less about power and control than about attunement and alignment. This Shabbat consciousness, this beautiful kind of surrender into a deeper and more powerful truth, is what we practice for. And it is available to us not only every 50 years or every seven years, or even every seven days, but in every breath and moment—even in the airport security line.