empty time: Parashat B’har/B’huqqotai

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Parashat B’har/B’huqqotai
Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Our double Torah portions bring the book of Leviticus to a close. Yet, a major theme of these readings is a practice that does not center around the sanctuary rituals that occupy most of the book. Instead the Torah turns to imagining the settled life of the people in the Promised Land. The holiness that we are to pursue in our lives, and which is concentrated in the sanctuary itself, is extended into our experience of the land. We are commanded to give the land a year of Sabbath every seven years. During that year we are not to work the land at all.

That holy seventh year echoes the holiness of the seventh day of the week and the seventh day of creation, each called “Shabbat – Sabbath” – Day of Rest and Restoration. The manifestation of this holiness is found, to a large extent, in the emptying of time of all the constructive chores and tasks with which we usually fill it. Our days are filled with our work. In the Biblical picture this meant, chiefly, work in the fields. Working the fields was “our life and the length of our days.” Thus, a Sabbath of the land turns into a release, not only of space, but also of time. On Shabbat we are commanded to live through time without filling it with our usual projects. Because we are forced to stop using the land to fill up our time, we are forced to confront time stripped bare. What will we do with naked, empty time?

This question faces every person who tries to honor Shabbat in the traditional manner. The question is challenging when it relates to one day a week. How much more challenging it is when it applies to an entire year. Yet, the Torah never raises this question explicitly. Instead, it conjures up for us another possible worry: “And should you ask, ‘What shall we eat in the Seventh Year? After all, we will not sow nor shall we harvest our produce?’” (Lev. 25:20) The anxiety that the Torah anticipates is the fear of starvation that we might suffer from lack of food. We do not ask how we will fill up our time. We ask how we will fill our bellies.

To this question the Torah offers an answer, a promise. God assures us that our food yields will be blessed ahead of time so as to insure that we will have enough to eat for years (- vv. 21-22). God can answer the material question with ease.

But the Torah does not dare mention the spiritual question raised by our encounter with empty time because the Torah cannot answer it for us. Only we can find an answer to that question.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Greenstein


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image:  “Israel” © Nathan Congleton altered and used with permission via Creative Commons License

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Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein arrived at Shomrei Emunah in August 2009 with a rich, broad and deep background as a rabbi, cantor, artist, scholar, and teacher. Being Shomrei’s rabbi, he says, allows him to draw on all of these passions, as well as his lifelong commitment to building Jewish communities.
Rabbi David Greenstein

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