HaMirpeset Shelanu 183: From Aviva Schwartz

Let me be honest, when I first sat down to read this week’s Torah portion, I was less than motivated. After all, I don’t live in the land of Israel and I definitely do not own my own plot of land. I struggled – at first – to determine how it relates to my life and the lives of those around me. The presence of mathematical equations further worried me. Parashat Behar begins by explaining the Sh’mitah (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Juiblee) years. Every seven years, a Jewish landowner in Israel is forbidden to work on his/her land. Every seven sabbaticals (meaning every 49 years for those of us doing the math) is considered a Jubilee year. Jubilee years are structured similarly to Sabbatical years when one is forbidden from working the land. In addition, during a Jubilee year, slaves must be set free and land rights shift back to the original owners. The Parasha continues to teach ethical business practices, taking into account being fair with regards to the Jubilee year. Business deals must take into account the proximity to the Jubilee year, as the land will go back to the original owner anyways. The price drops if the Jubilee year is near, and rises if it has just past. We are further reminded to continue helping someone in need, even if the Yovel year is coming soon.

On first (and second) glance, these teachings only apply to modern day farmers and gardeners in the Land of Israel. However, upon further exploration, this Parasha is about so much more. The message that the land must lie fallow every seven years teaches us to respect the earth and our resources. We are reminded that while we receive so much from the earth, it is not really ours. Our tradition tells us that we must care for the earth. During the six years we can work the land to reap its benefits, yet on the seventh we must leave it be. This seventh year, the sh’mitah year, serves as a reminder that it is our duty to protect and appreciate the land for what it provides us. We cannot take advantage of the land and forget its fragility.

Every Friday night, (weather permitting), the entire camp gathers together for Kabbalat Shabbat services in front of the lake. Watching the sun set amidst a community of over 600 singing beautifully together to welcome the Shabbat is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It is often a favorite part of the summer for each camper (and staff member). Like the Sabbatical year, this is our chance to appreciate the nature around us and remember the role we play in caring for the environment. But what most people do not realize (I myself forget all too often) is that the lake is also there the other six days of the week. And the sun sets on those days as well! Reading about the Sh’mitah year in Parashat Behar serves as a yearly reminder to recognize the role nature plays in our life and our responsibility to protect it. The fact that we learn this teaching each year, and not just during a Sh’mitah year, demonstrates that nature and the environment must always be on our mind, not just every seven years.

I like to make goals for myself before each summer. This year, one of my goals is to try to appreciate the sunsets each day of the week as well as the nature that surrounds us each and every moment we spend at camp. Just as there is Sh’mitah every seven years, I will still use Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evenings to heighten my awareness of the world that surrounds us and my continued responsibilities in it.

Let us appreciate the last few weeks of the nature that surrounds us before camp. That way we will be totally prepared to soak in all of the beauty that surrounds us next to Lake Buckatabon in Conover, Wisconsin.

Shabbat Shalom!

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