Parashat Behar: “The Land of the Free” - Vital Transformation

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Parashat Behar: “The Land of the Free”

Weekly Pearl of Wisdom for Your Shabbat Table

Parashat Behar: “The Land of the Free”

This week we begin Parashat Behar. The portion of Behar, which translates to “on the mountain”- the mountain of Sinai where we received the Torah– contains Moses sharing the commandment of Shmita; the commandment for the farmers of Israel to take a one-year break every seven years from working the fields and share all its produce with all of the people. We let the land rest and trust in The Creator to provide in the seventh year.

Are we uniquely intelligent?

On Mount Sinai, the Torah beautifully writes that we camped together using a singular form of the verb camp. From here we learn that Israel camped together “Like one man with one heart”. We were on such a level of unity that it was as if we rested as one. Envision this sense of oneness! We learn that the people of the Jewish nation have a unique individual Jewish intellect. Jews are endowed by the Creator with powerful minds. Why? For us to study Torah in its depths together. Our souls are given high levels of intellect so we can reach the high levels of the Torah.

We see this unique intelligence clearly expressed in our overrepresentation. Jews make up only .02% of the world population, yet we are 22% of Noble Prize Winners, are displayed on every news channel, and are world leaders in every industry. We are small yet so mighty. To some, it seems as if we control the world. What is critical is that in our powerfulness, we must be unified. We can use our minds to advance or to criticize. We can fight one another or we can fight for Godliness. There is a Jewish saying; “If there are two Jews, there are three synagogues. One for each and one they both agree they would never step foot in”. We can certainly be prone to disunity.

How can we use this unique intellect to be unified?

We may disagree with each other more than against the rest of the world. This is a reaction to us thinking “I am right and you are wrong”. If we can realize the beautiful truth that we each have different intelligences for the sake of Torah, then the change begins! If we recognize we are blessed for the sake of a common purpose of understanding the Torah, we begin to unify. And when we connect back to Mount Sinai, we recognize we are part of “one heart”. Just as my right hand won’t fight my left hand, and just as my hands can’t walk and my feet can’t talk, so too each part of the Jewish nation has an individual job. We can tap into our intellect to unify for our common goal and “one heart”.

Why Mount Sinai?

The most elevated moment in Jewish history, the giving of the Torah from the Creator Himself, took place on the small mountain of Sinai. Not the tall elegant Mount Everest. Not the graceful beautiful Alps. Simply the tiny little mountain in the Sinai desert. This is because while the others are more beautiful, they have more pride. We learn everything in the world has an angel in heaven sustaining it down here. We learn that the mountains fought for the honor of hosting the giving of the Torah. And our little Sinai was the winner. When talking about the mountains competing, we mean their angels were conversing. And the angel of Sinai was not proud. It was modest and humble while the other tall mountains had loud, haughty pride. There is a balance of pride and humility; a healthy dose of pride allows us to strive to be better and some humility allows us to be modest. Yet too much pride, we learn, makes us blind.

How so? Proud people cannot see and cannot admit their faults. We all make mistakes. But if we cannot admit or see the mistakes, then we can never grow. Mount Sinai did not have excessive pride, because it was small. Practically a hill in comparison. Mount Sinai was the host of our greatest moment in history because we needed its humility. The people of Israel needed to be surrounded by the energy of the modest Sinai in order to be in the balanced conditions to get the Torah.

Cultivate your surroundings

Rav Ashlag teaches that the only free will we have is our surroundings. We are in control of where we live and who we are around. Who and what we are surrounded with influences us greatly. If our influence is negative, we are impacted by negativity. If our influence is positive, we can flourish in positive ways. Just as The Creator chose the balanced humility of Mount Sinai to influence us, so too we choose our influences in every place and community we are in.

Shmita; the land of the free

Parashat Behar details the commandment of Shmita; the one-year break where farmers cease working the Israel land and allow it to rest. Not only do they cease working, but they also open their fields for anyone to take from their produce. The land becomes open to all. It is not owned, not worked, and not prideful. Shmita cultivates humility. Here, landowners say “The land I own is not mine, it belongs to my nation. All I grew is to be shared with all of my people.” This obliterates arrogance. The farmer is called on to be strong and overcome their desire to own their land. They worked strenuously for six years and admit it is not theirs. They are a member of the nation and are committing to sharing since it belongs to everyone. They free their land and they free their pride.

Freedom to trust

Shmita grants freedom to trust in the Creator. Farmers give up their control and trust in God to provide for them after their year of break. They don’t work the land in year seven so no food is set in year eight. We learn that God blessed the produce of year six to provide enough for years seven and eight. God gives us the freedom to trust in Him to provide when we give up control of Him. The portion of Parashat Behar is about the balance of pride and humbleness. Shmita allows us to release our pride and release our control of the land so we can share it with our nation.

Shmita gives freedom to the land and freedom to the soul. Kabbalah teaches us that freedom is the ability to say no to the limitations in our lives. To control what I want right now. When farmers release their control of the land and its produce to God, they tap into the ultimate expressions of freedom; they learn to hold back from their desire to work the land and instead take a break. They learn to release their prideful ownership of the land and instead share their hard-earned produce with the nation. They open the fields to all which allows the soul to be open, sharing, and free.

May we all strive to balance our pride and humility, release control of our desires to experience true freedom, and cultivate our surroundings to receive positive influences and blessings.

Shabbat Shalom

-Rabbi Eliyahu Jian

Eliyahu Jian May 22, 2024

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