Topic: Shmita


Parshat Korach: The Taker, by Hannah Elovitz

“As the climate crisis worsens, the ground opening up and swallowing Korach’s band does not feel as far-fetched as it once may have. The earth is not an endless supply of resources for our consumption, and greed will only exacerbate the situation.” My grandfather, I am told, would say: “You know what Korach’s problem was? The Torah says, ‘Vayikach Korach.’ (‘Korach took.’) Korach was a taker.” The week of Parshat Korach this year marks my maternal grandfather Rabbi Mayer Weisenberg’s z’l fourth yahrtzeit. He modeled a life of Jewish values, leading by example for his family, community, and beyond. In many ways, he is the reason my life is grounded in yiddishkeit, and I dedicate this dvar torah to him. The Israelites journey on through the desert when Korach, from the tribe of Levi, gathers 250 people and provokes a rebellion. As one might expect, rebelling against Moses and by extension God did not end well: the very ground underneath their feet opens and swallows the rebels whole, along with all their possessions. The legacy of Korach’s rebellion does not end there. We learn later in the parsha that the tribe of Levi will not inherit its own portion of […]

Continue Reading 0

Shlach: Moving Forward with Faith, by Bruce Spierer

“Now if you should say to yourselves: What are we to eat in the seventh year? For we may not sow, we may not gather our produce! Then I will dispatch my blessing for you during the sixth year so that it yields produce for three years.” (Leviticus 25:20-21) The Torah understands that humans are risk-averse and afraid to change the status quo, even when it will lead to a great blessing. Shlach opens with G!d’s command to the Israelites to “Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people…” (Numbers 2:2). Twelve scouts or spies are sent out and report back to the whole Israelite community. They all agree that the land is good, “flowing in milk and honey,” just as G!d promised. But, except for Caleb and Joshua, the spies also report that their enemies are too strong, and some are even giants! The whole community becomes frenzied with fear that they cannot conquer the land and are being led to their death. G!d becomes angry with their lack of faith and declares that over the next 40 years, everyone except for Caleb and Joshua will die in the wilderness. As a result of […]

Continue Reading 0
Dr. Greg Mobley

Behaalotecha: Until Miryam Was Brought Back, by Dr. Gregory Mobley

“and the people did not set out until Miryam was brought back”  (Numbers 12:15) I have a thing for stories so the section of Behaalotecha that attracted my attention was the scene in Numbers 12:1-16 in which Miryam is struck by a skin disease for, along with Aaron, challenging Moses’ prophetic authority. We certainly didn’t read it in the Baptist Sunday School of my youth. Where to start? With the common but nevertheless grating idiom of marriage as a man “taking” (laqaḥ) a woman, or with the nature of Miryam and Aaron’s beef with Moses, that he had married a “Cushite” (Num 12:1)? Were they referring to Tzipora (from Midian) or to another wife? “Cush” in Biblical Hebrew usually refers to regions of east Africa south of Egypt. Were they upset that Moses had married an African? If so, it was more a matter of ethnocentrism than racism, because ancient Israelites did not view people in terms of “black” and “white.” This very text refers to Moses as the most ‘anav (“humble”? “god-dependent”?) of all the haʼadam ʼašer ‘al-penê haʼadamah, and the wordplay of ʼadam/ʼadamah itself refers to skin-color: the being (ʼadam) created from the terra rosa (ʼadamah) was reddish […]

Continue Reading 0

Naso: Disciplining the Green Eyed Monster, by Dr. Susan Eisenstein

At one time or another we have all been visited by “the green eyed monster.” Maybe you know someone who just bought a new car and you cannot afford a new car. Maybe a work colleague just received a promotion that you coveted. It can be almost anything. Jealousy is a powerful force and all too often, we compare ourselves to our friends and neighbors. In the competitive society in which we live, I have even witnessed women carrying on a one-upmanship conversation that went on for over an hour, about their grandchildren getting into law school. One woman would mention the name of a prestigious school her grandson attended and then the other woman would name an even more prestigious school that her grandson attended. Then they went on to internships and jobs. Each time trying to out do the other. Our children also fall victim to “the green eyed monster.” Parents can witness this almost daily. In this week’s Parsha, Naso, we read about the laws regarding a sotah. A woman whose husband has suspicions about his wife’s suspected infidelity. The Torah tells us of an elaborate procedure putting the jealous husband’s suspicions to rest. By doing this, […]

Continue Reading 0
Susan Eisenstein

Bamidbar: Grow, Grow, by Dr. Susan Eisenstein

I have always loved land. Although a city kid, from the time I was five years old, I remember wanting to live on a farm. I loved seeing things grow and planting seeds for food and flowers. Every plant to eat and every flower grown was counted. All were loved. Planting had a pattern to it.  And certain plants and flowers yielded their fruit earlier or later than others. I had faith that all would grow in its time. Every summer I looked forward to spending time in the country and to this ritual and spirituality. The land was a living entity to me, to be respected. This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, finds the Israelites wandering in the desert. The excitement of escaping from Egypt and receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai are over. Now will come a time of growth. The people will test limits. And there will be a time for renewal. It is a time for the Israelites to consolidate their identity as a nation and their relationship with God. One of Bamidbar’s major themes is the census of its people. The members of the tribes are counted individually, as every Jew passed in front of Moses […]

Continue Reading 0

Shmita & Parshat Behar Bechukotai 5781

Please enjoy this week’s video newsletter message. Full text transcript is below.  We were thinking we might try and send out some videos as well as just written words, and this week’s parsha seemed like a great time to begin. (Leviticus 25:1) “Vayedaber adonai el moshe behar sinai leymor,” “And God speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai saying” “Daber el bnai yisrael”, “Speak to the children of Israel,” “V’amarta elehem,” “and say to them,” “Ki tavo el haaretz asher ani noten lachem,” “When you come to the land which I give to you,” “Veshavta haaretz shabbat laadonai,” “The land should be at rest, a shabbat for God,” “Shesh shanim tizra sadecha,” “six years sow your field,” “V’shesh shanim tizmor carmecha,” “Six years gather from your vineyard,” “V’asafta el tvuata,” “And harvest your produce,” “U’v’shana hashviit,” “And in the seventh year,” “Shabbat shabbaton,” “It should be a full shabbat,” “Shabbat shabbaton yihiyeh la’aretz,” “for the land,” “Shabbat ladonai,” “And a Shabbat for God,” “Sadcha lo tizra,” “Don’t plant your fields,” “V’charmcha lo tizmor,” “Don’t prune your vineyard.” Later on, by the way, in the same parsha, famously, we’ve got (Lev. 25:10) “V’kidashtam at shnat ha’chamishim shana” “You should sanctify the fiftieth year,” “U’kratem dror […]

Continue Reading
Yonatan Neril

Behar-Bechukotai: Letting the Land Rest, by Rabbi Yonatan Neril

Then shall the land make up for its Sabbatical years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; then shall the land rest and make up for its Sabbatical years. (Leviticus 26:34) Today, research on the benefit of keeping fields fallow shows an increase of around 15 percent in crop yields.¹ An additional benefit of conventional agriculture ceasing work for a period is reduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and not compacting the earth with heavy combines (large farming machines).  As this verse states, the punishment for not adhering to Sabbatical laws was banishment from the land. This exile occurred for about 70 years, which is 16 percent, or about one seventh of the time the Israelites farmed the land. (The period of Israelite habitation during the First Temple period spanned 430 years, and ended in 586 B.C.E.) As I mention in Eco Bible: An Ecological Commentary on the Torah, history seems to affirm that the land of Israel made up the Sabbatical years by being desolate for a similar amount of years that the Israelites may not have sufficiently observed the Sabbatical year.  Rabbi Dr. David Seidenberg notes, “The Torah portrays the […]

Continue Reading 1

Emor: Holidays For The Haves – And The Have-Nots, by Dr. Jeremy Benstein

Parashat Emor includes one of the Torah’s major accounts of the festival calendar. In Leviticus chapter 23, after the description of the Temple rites of Shavuot, the text repeats the commandments of peah and leket, to leave the corners of the fields and the unharvested gleanings of the crops for the poor. Given the ritual focus of the chapter, this ethical addition is even more remarkable. Is this just a simple mental association with the harvest season of Shavuot, or is there a deeper reason? In the context of the pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, with its unleavened bread and arduous dietary restrictions is clearly in some profound way about food. Sukkot, second only to Pesach in strenuous preparations, focuses on where, in what, and how you live — its theme is shelter. Both mandate a form of enforced poverty – eating matzah, the bread of affliction; living in a shack, the most modest of dwellings. These holidays are great social equalizers: fulfilling their two central obligations make the wealthy more like the poor, and no one, rich or poor, is excluded by the celebrations. The Biblical Shavuot is different. The celebration focuses on the first fruits and newly harvested grain, and the main celebrants are […]

Continue Reading 0
23. Anna Dubey (2021)

Acharei-Kedoshim: Love is a Clean Slate, by Anna Dubey

This week’s parsha, Acharei-Kedoshim, focuses on a number of ordinances about sanctification and holiness. Buried among laws of purification is a central tenet of Judaism: “ואהבת לרעך כמוך,” or “Love your fellow as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) In a Talmudic story I learned in school, a man asks both the great sages Shamai and Hillel to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one leg. Shamai grows angry and refuses, insulted. But Hillel accepts the challenge and tells the man, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary— [now] go study.” (Shabbat 31a) The idea of treating our fellow as ourselves is ingrained in Jewish thought. Yet what’s always seemed particularly daunting to me is the specifics: How do we love our fellow as ourselves? How do we love ourselves in the first place? While the notion of treating our neighbor with kindness and empathy is heartwarming, the commandment lacks specific guidelines. Clues about how to interpret the phrase “Love your fellow as yourself” lie in its context. In the same pasuk, G-d commands, “Do not take revenge on or bear a grudge against the members of your people.” This idea connects to one […]

Continue Reading 1
sue salinger

Tazria-Metzora: Seedtime, by Sue Salinger

Let’s locate ourselves in space and time to enter this poetic, symbolic story for personally reconnecting with the divine and repairing breaches to the god-field. Tazria-Metzora is the instruction manual for holy personal, communal, and sacred repair — for restoring wholeness and balance. It’s no surprise that we read this in week three of Counting the Omer. “Omer” is a measurement, the size of a sheaf of wheat.  It is also Emmer, ancient farmed wheat that is bread, food, and culture itself.  Its harvest — abundant or scant — is what we’re counting our way to. Omer is also Amar — speaking — the creative act that calls all into be-ing. The sephirah is Tiferet, beautiful balance. Tazria-Metzora offers the cure for when we’ve become out of balance, broken the container, and the holy has ‘broken out’ all over us, as ‘leprosy’ — an outbreak of unbalanced holy power. So what IS Tazria-Metzora?  When looking for a key to open a constellation of meaning, Reb Zalman z”l used to suggest going to the shoresh, the two- or three-letter root. The three letter root for Tazria and Metzora is Zayin-Resh-Ayin (ז-ר-ע), which means ‘seed,’ and is related to terms like seed-time, a strong outstretched […]

Continue Reading 0

Shemini: Respecting the Sanctity of Life, by Rabbi Miriam Midlarsky Lichtenfeld

Back in my teen years, at our pre-Prom gathering at my friend’s house, I didn’t eat any of the shrimp cocktail that she had put out for us to eat. She praised my self-discipline. To me, though, this seemed natural as it was an essential part of our religious tradition.  One thing that defines us as Jews is the requirement to give thought to what we put in our mouths. This act of restricting our eating can help us work towards creating a world where we show respect for the sanctity of life helping create an ideal expressed in the Torah.  Originally, the Torah’s ideal was for us to be vegetarians. In the creation story, humans are only allowed to eat fruits and vegetables: “God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29) The Torah later compromises by allowing us to eat meat. As imperfect beings who also need protein, God permits us to have meat. Yet, since eating requires the act of taking another’s life, restrictions are put upon what animals we are allowed to eat.  Our parsha, […]

Continue Reading 1
shoshana gugenheim

Tzav: Hiddur Mitzvah – Are My Hands Clean? by Shoshana Gugenheim Kedem

We named our daughter Hadar.  She was born on Shabbat of parashat Tzav which contains a small and precious passage detailing the garments with which Moshe adorns Aharon for his service at the Temple.  The name Hadar shares a root with the word hiddur – beautification. In naming her Hadar we were invoking a blessing that she, like the women who spun, dyed and wove those sacred vestments, be forever engaged in the work of bringing beauty into the world. Furthermore, we were invoking the sensibility within Hadar, and within our family, of hiddur mitzvah – the beautification of a mitzvah (commandment). This concept of beautifying a mitzvah traditionally refers to the objects of ritual practice, to the sacred objects through which we choreograph our Judaism—a sukkah, a lulav, a tallit, parchment, ink, quill, a mezzuzah, a chuppah etc. In my practice as both a studio and socially engaged conceptual artist, I am consistently examining and redefining the meaning of hiddur mitzvah. Over 25 years ago when my return to an engaged Jewish life was taking shape through artmaking and my studies at the intersection of Judaism and ecology, I was introduced to the song, Are My Hands Clean? by […]

Continue Reading 0
gila caine

Vayikra: Call Them In, by Rabbi Gila Caine

וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר׃ “And He called to Moshe and Adonai spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying….” (Lev. 1:1) Why first call and then speak? Why not go right to speaking? Talmud suggests that in this, the Torah was trying to teach us etiquette, that a person should not say anything to another person before calling him first (Talmud Bavli, Yoma 4b). But why is this good etiquette and what can we learn here as we work to promote a Shmita conscious and Earth focused culture? Moshe is called to speak within the Tent of Meeting, a place built by the community in a bid to create a sacred center for themselves. Incidentally, that place is also representative of Creation itself, and by taking care of their sacred Center, Am-Israel is also taking care of the world. But that’s for another time. For now, it is important to notice that when Adonai wants to speak to Moshe, God first calls to him and by doing so is teaching us an important lesson in bringing people into the causes and places we deem important. We can’t assume people hear us. And even when they hear us, […]

Continue Reading

Vayakel-Pekudei: Work on Your Connection by Eli Weinbach

Rest requires work. Without putting in the prep time, we may find that a day off is spent thinking about what has yet to be done. Without planning, vacation may not be much more exciting than staying home. Extended conversation with friends about where to go for dinner cuts into dinner time if plans aren’t made ahead of time. When hosting a guest, we make sure their stay is easy, but that ease is the result of extra work. Vayakhel and Pekudei are accounts of work done by the Israelites to ensure that God would have a resting place in their midst. Moses gives many instructions, and Betzalel the architect orchestrates production with his assistant Ohaliab. The population is galvanized to contribute either their materials or time. In the final chapter of Exodus, the monumental work is finished. The nation watches with baited breath, and their hard work is rewarded. The Shechina descends upon the newly built Mishkan (Exodus 40:35), and divine respite in the physical realm is achieved. All that planning and work seems like so little when the payoff arrives. An immanent God! The Most Holy, right in the middle of the camp! And all that had to […]

Continue Reading 0
dvir cahana

Ki Tisa: Believe in Equality and Leave the REST to G-d by Dvir Cahana

The story beats of Parshat Ki Tisa teach us two Shmita-esque concepts. The Parsha begins with the democratized call to cooperatively erect the Mishkan, where each individual was commanded to evenly contribute a half-shekel to the project. The purpose of this census, says the commentator Chizkuni, is to atone for the sin of the golden calf, found only a chapter away in this very Parsha. Examining these nation-wide aggregations of funds to build something to worship — seen in both the establishment of the Mishkan and the sin of the golden calf — will reveal their shared relationships to Shmita. Shmita conjures up the importance of rethinking ownership. It is easy to get swept away and lose sight of our humanity when each individual places the expansion of their grasp on material culture above all else. Capitalist forces have rooted the “worship of possession” so vigorously in our collective psyche that it is almost unfathomable to institutionalize a national Tzimtzum (constriction). The lesson found in the Machazit Hashekel, the half-shekel collection, is that it undermines of the value of possession. By forbidding anyone from contributing more than anybody else, the holiness of the Mishkan gets spread evenly throughout the camp. […]

Continue Reading 0