Behar: Resting for Success
Updated: May 27
This week’s Torah portion of Behar (Lev. 25:1-26:2) focuses almost entirely on the importance of the Sabbath. In addition, it discusses the “sh’mita” year: an entire year of rest that take place every seventh year; and the special “year of Jubilee”…an extremely special year of rest that occurs every 50 years (called “yovel”). These resting Sabbaths and Sabbath years are powerful especially in times of fear, and an important reminder of the depth of faith that Judaism demands of us at all times. It is a simple and clear statement that our real security is always in the hands of God. These laws of Sabbath, especially a Sh’mita or Yovel year, often seem absurd to non-observant Jews. Why should we take 1/7 of our time off and give it to God when we could be working and achieving our goals of financial security? The Torah’s implication is clear: it is not in spite of Shabbat that we gain security; but because of our Sabbath observance. True security doesn’t come from finances, masks, insurance, or from any source other than God. Real security comes from an awareness of our personal connection with God, which allows us to feel safe and be comfortable even when we are in uncomfortable circumstances. While tools like financial planning and insurance are needed and helpful, we must always remember that the only true and eternal security comes from God; and observing the Sabbath is the greatest single spiritual shield we can have in this world. This may seem like some sort of spiritual nonsense, but the concept of taking a day off per week; a year off of every 7; and a special year of resetting everything once per every 50 years (all debts, etc are forgiven during a yovel year); this is actually an important concept that leads to peak performance and excellence. By taking time off to recover and recuperate, we are more efficient when we are actually working. Educators know from multiple studies that students accomplish more in 45-50 minute sessions than in continuous hour long classes. Employers know how efficiency rates increase when workers have some time off. Our brains are hard-wired to have a “Sabbath”. But what if circumstances prohibit taking a full day off for Shabbat? Years ago, I read a book written by an observant Jew who served in the navy on a battleship. Since he was unable to take a Sabbath day of full rest, he decided that he would take Sabbath hours. Since he was typically working 14 hour days, he decided to take two hours per day (one seventh) as “Shabbat hours” in which he would study, meditate, and pray. In this way, he was able to stay conscious and at peak performance; and was constantly aware of his relationship with God. While many people might accept the concept of one day off per week; they may be recalcitrant to take a year off every seven. (Although tenured college professors are used to having a “sabbatical year”, which stems from this biblical commandment.) But a recent story in Israel demonstrates God’s visible support of this sh’mita year. In Israel, wheat is typically harvested in the summer and stored until winter when it is prepared for matza. In 2014, in preparation for the upcoming sh’mita year, two years worth of grain had to be harvested. Aharon Samet, the Badatz community supervisor for grain harvest, looked to harvest more wheat later in the season. He found a field of wheat in Kibbutz Sufa next to the Gaza border that had been sown in January, and was 2000 acres of green wheat that was perfect for this need. The wheat was harvested from this field. Two days after harvesting, 13 terrorists came from Gaza in a terror tunnel which opened in the fields near Sufa. The terrorists had built their tunnel with the intention of coming out in heavy wheat fields which would camouflage them. Instead, they came up with the intent of killing dozens or hundreds of Jews only to be immediately seen by military observers, who arrested them. The ritual observance of the spiritual commandment of sh’mita saved the physical lives of many Jews and prevented what could have been a horrible calamity. (For an amazing short video in this miracle, go to https://kerenhashviis.org/gallery/101/) Ahad Ha’Am famously said, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews”, and Talmud teaches that the Moshiach will come when every Jew observes two consecutive Shabbats. May we all remember that Shabbat is our prescription for health and well-being, and the real security found in this world and the next. Kavannah: Remember and safeguard the Sabbath more than you do. If you don’t currently do anything for Shabbat, then come to a Shabbat service; light Sabbath candles; and drink a glass of Kiddush wine. If you already do these things, then commit to taking on an hour of personal spiritual study during Shabbat. Take one more step to being “Shomer Shabbat”...a “guardian of the Sabbath”. Partake a bit more in “kvod ha’Shabbos”, honoring the Sabbath, and watch how your entire life becomes more full, safe, and joyous.
Rabbi Michael Barclay May 19th, 2022 18th of Iyar, 5782 33rd Day of the Omer