By: Margot Sands – Ekar Farm – Boulder, Co
This week’s Torah portion, Netzavim, offers us the warning of risks and rewards that could result from engaging in Judaism.
See for yourself in a snapshot of this week’s Torah portion:
Moses delivers a message from G-d about the consequences that may be endured as a result of committing to the Jewish faith. What will happen if we do all that has been commanded of us as Jews? We are given the world. Protection. A full, happy life. Fruits of the earth, of the trees, of the next generation. G-d even offers to plot revenge against our enemies. However, the dark consequence bestowed upon us comes from an angry, spiteful G-d. If we don’t choose the faithful life, then we are choosing death and will perish by the wrath of G-d.
As I read this Torah portion’s translation, I was stunned by the dichotomy of choices. We can choose the path of a devout Jew, or we can choose to suffer dire consequences. The reward: a gloriously full life following the word of G-d; The risk: taking a misstep in devotion and enduring G-d’s wrath. This contrast of choices does not resonate with my experience of the world, one that is full of gray scales and a constant balancing act of making choices that fall in between the extremes. I even thought that questioning our faith and debating our Jewish laws wove the strong, colorful fabric of our culture. How have I not crumbled beneath G-d’s strict force with this less-than-faithful approach?
Maybe it’s because I still have chosen a path toward a Jewish life, based on my own perception of what that can be. I understand and relate to Netzavim’s main message of unfeathered commitment leading to unprecedented rewards through the process of farming. To truly receive the bounty and full benefits of farming during a growing season, one must go all-in. Taking a day off from cultivating the crops that constantly battle with the earthly elements results in less output and more stress (on both plants and the farmers!).
Wilting plants, strangling weeds, shotty soil structure: the tangible products of G-d’s fury. Experiencing this form of backlash and disappointment as a direct result of inconsistent practices on the farm teaches us the value of commitment. We can only reach the optimal rewards with a trial-and-error process that requires this slip of faith and its repercussions. Thus, we are continually shaping our meandering path toward balanced devotion–toward the earth, ourselves, and a higher power.
A message from Nitzavim that speaks to the special ingredient for maintaining strong commitment is “heart and soul.” Moses repeats numerous times that you must use all of your heart and all of your soul ( בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖) when fulfilling the commandments of the Torah. True commitment and powerful results happen when this special combination of passion and spirit exists.
Many natural spaces provide opportunities for our heart and soul to ignite. This is one of many reasons that Jewish farms thrive and inspire deeper connection to our faith. More and more, a Jewish farm, just like the task to be faithful to G-d, “is not concealed from you, nor is it far away” (Deuteronomy 30:11). This invitation to commit deeply and open your heart to it can be found in a communal growing space (like Ekar Farm!), a backyard garden, or even in the gardens we grow inside ourselves.
Netzvaim challenges us this week to go all in. As we prepare for the Days of Awe, this is a time to reflect on how we can be living out our Jewish values better, determining how to dig into Judaism deeper. So, dig into this reflection with all of your heart and all of your soul. Maybe even find a Jewish practice, prayer, or tradition to focus on as a way of re-committing to a spiritual, intentional path. Let this investment in re-discovering Judaism enlighten and support you, and harvest the bounty of its rewards along the way.
Margot Sands grew up in Phoenix and Las Vegas. Her desert roots made her ripe for being amazed by nature and farming cycles. This amazement thrived in Boston at The Food Project where Margot found her calling of growing food, building community, and teaching young people. As a 2013-2014 FoodCorps Service Member at The Food Project, she realized the power and pleasure of connecting children to their food and wanted to expand her skills in this kind of transformative education. She gained the foundational tools of an emerging JOFEE educator from the Urban Adamah Fellowship and Arizona State University’s M.Ed. in Elementary Education program. Margot is ecstatic to join Hazon’s JOFEE Fellowship as the Lead Educator of Ekar Farm in Denver, CO, and looks forward to building the Denver community toward a more sustainable and spiritual future.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent Hazon. Be sure to check back weekly!