Last week we learned about the seven weeks of the Counting of the Omer (Sefirat HaOmer). We discussed how the number “seven” represents completion, and how Sefirat HaOmer commemorates our completion of the journey from the spiritual slavery of ancient Egypt to the spiritual freedom represented by the Torah. The Torah teaches us that real freedom is choosing to do good by serving God and humanity.
So we completed seven weeks of seven days each, we completed the journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, and we completed our spiritual journey by accepting the Torah.
This week, parsha Behar teaches us about two more “sevens,” the completions they represent and the freedom they bring.
We learn that, in Israel, every seventh year is to be given over to a rest for the land itself. We may not plant or harvest, though we are permitted to gather food that grows naturally. These plants that grow freely are likewise free to the poor and the landless, as well as to animals.This year is called Shmitah.
Also, in the Shmitah year masters free their “slaves” – servants who obligated themselves to stay with the master as a means of earning money. People who had borrowed money were released from their debts in the Shmitah year.
Thus, during the Shmitah year, people freed themselves from relationships based on money in order to build relationships with the Land of Israel and their neighbors.
After seven Shmitah cycles totaling 49 years, the people celebrated the Jubilee (Yovel) in the fiftieth year. In that year, land that had been sold went back to its original owners. In the parasha, God reminded us that the Land of Israel is only ours to use, and it really belongs to God: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine; for you are sojourners and residents with Me.” (Leviticus 25:23)
For me, Shmitah and Yovel remind me of my treks at Philmont Scout Ranch. At home, I have lots of “stuff” to keep me safe, comfortable, fed and entertained – this is like the six regular years. But my ten days on the trail at Philmont are like the Shmitah year. Everything I own is reduced to what I can carry on my back. I have to rely on what the land provides as I pass through it. I can take only what I can use for a short time. I can’t save anything for more than a day.
At Philmont, I have to rely on my surroundings and my community – my trek crew – for everything not to be found in my backpack. I have freed myself from material things in order to find a better relationship with my friends and nature. I am spiritually more complete.
It makes me appreciate how much I depend on my fellow Scouts, and on our Great Master.
©2014 Nelson R. Block