Parashat B’har-B’chukotai

Friday, May 7, 2021/25 Iyar, 5781
Parashat B’har-B’chukotai Leviticus 25:1-27:34

There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope. – Spinoza

This week we conclude the book of Leviticus with a double Torah portion called B’har-B’chukotai. It begins with a discussion of shmita, a practice of letting the land lay fallow rest in between harvests. The Torah explains that “in the seventh year the land should have a sabbath of complete rest.” During this year, landowners could not sow the field or prune the vineyard. They could not harvest or sell that which grew on its own. He could only eat what grew naturally on its own.

Shmita was, in some ways, frightening. The landowner would have even less control of his food than usual. He may wonder if he would have enough. Such fears might lead him to guard his produce with renewed zeal to ensure that he could provide for his family. The Torah instructs him to do the exact opposite.

Ibn Ezra explains that when the Torah says, “You can eat the aftergrowth,” the word “you” is meant to be expansive. “You, the owner of the field, are entitled to eat its aftergrowth just like anyone else.” They could eat from the land, but only if they were willing to share. As Rashi explains, no one could act as if they owned the land; it simply belonged to God. During the shmita year, everyone—from the landowner to the poor stranger—would have equal access to the land’s produce. Not only could there be fewer crops, but the land owner’s access to them would diminish.

For an entire year, every community member would take what they need from the land. If they wanted to survive, they needed to work together to ensure that every human being had what they needed—their sphere of concern needed to expand. They needed to be generous with one another.

This past year has been filled with uncertainties for many people in our community. Some of us lost jobs or worried about how we might cover basic expenses. We all know how serious of a problem homelessness is in the South Bay. When the Pandemic began, the San Pedro Faith Consortium quickly came together to respond to the challenges in the greater San Pedro community. As a member of this consortium, our temple community has helped provide over 3,000 meals over the past year, from Sandwich Saturdays to Wednesday Burritos to hot holiday meals on Christmas and Thanksgiving. We supported the Harbor Neighborhood Relief Fund, offering small grants to families with immediate unmet needs, and Family Promise, supporting unhoused families with children. We helped a young woman to get off the streets. We provided career counseling for people who needed work. We responded impressively to drives for shoes, socks, toiletries, jackets, and blankets. We made meals and baked desserts for those in need and provided classes for children at Family promise. The list goes on.

On May 27, the LA County on Human Relations will honor the San Pedro Faith Consortium for the work we have done in the past twelve months. The group couldn’t have accomplished all it has without your generosity, dedication, and support.

It may not have been a shmita year, but you have responded at a time of uncertainty with compassion and love. You have helped transform a time of fear into one of hope.

This Shabbat, as we study the holy teachings of shmita, may we renew our resolve to care for our fellow human beings. There is so much work yet to be done. As Rabbi Tarfon taught, “It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail