Monday, May 7, 2007

A Muse: B'har & B'chukotai

Parshat B’Har opens with the laws of the sabbatical (7th year) and jubilee (50th) years. For many, the laws seem to be removed from their personal experience because it refers to a time and place no longer relevant. Indeed the text tells us that on the sabbatical and jubilee years the land is supposed to remain fallow.

The text is interesting because of a certain consistency which follows throughout the Biblical text regarding our relationship to the land. In the creation story we are taught that we are but the custodians of the earth, and as such we need to protect it care for it and honor it. Later in Leviticus (25:2) and again in B’Har we are reminded of the need to honor the land. While in the creation story the need to honor and protect the land is universal, in B’Har it is referring to the land of Israel. In either case whether we live in Israel or any where else on God’s earth we are commanded to honor and protect it.

Some of the traditional commentaries like the Sefas Emes understand the commandment to symbolize our need to detach ourselves from materialism and to dedicate and cultivate ourselves to the spiritual side of life. However there are other commentaries like the Ashlich that believe the philosophy behind the commandment is the recognition that it is God who owns the land. Oftentimes, we forget this and abuse the land. By fulfilling this commandment we recognize that ultimately the land belongs to God. Hertz underscores our need to recognize that we are custodians of the land and as such we have the awesome responsible for maintaining it and perhaps improving what we received as custodians, but certainly not to diminish that which was entrusted to us by God.