In this week’s double parshah, Behar-Bechukotai, the Israelites are instructed how to take care of the land of Israel.
The shmita year, the seventh year, was created to make sure that the land would not be worked continuously so that it could replenish itself. As an agricultural society, Israelites would grow crops to produce food for sustenance. Even though they worked the land, ultimately it was God who owned all of the land because God created the heaven and the earth during the seven days. Therefore, during the 50th year, the land went back to its original owner, God.
We understand that the Torah saw a connection between observing the mitzvot and reward and punishment. For an agricultural society such as in Israel, in its early days, having rain in its due season was essential for life. The expectation was that if the people of Israel observed the mitzvot, then they would be rewarded with a fruitful harvest.
However, sometimes sufficient rain didn’t come. But if they observed the mitzvot and didn’t get rewarded, I think the Israelites wouldn’t know how to feel. They would be confused, they would complain, and/or they would be angry at God for not getting what they deserved. Today, we understand that we must do mitzvot and realize that we are not always rewarded for our positive actions. Perhaps, in biblical days, the Israelites needed the connection between doing mitzvot and reward to encourage faith and belief in God.
The Torah portion is also concerned with the freedom of the people and with care for the land. In biblical society, people had to treat slaves and servants with respect and care. You were a servant to someone when you didn’t have enough money to take care of your family. Also, any slave owner had to release his slaves. If your family member was a slave, you must free him or her. In this parshah, we recognize a very important quote that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” Everyone in the land should have liberty. Liberty means respect, freedom, peace and kindness — characteristics that are needed in a community.
Ava Kazin is a sixth-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.