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The Earth’s Shabbat

Posted on May 13, 2020

by Hazzan Barnett

As you read this on Thursday, we are concluding the fifth week of the Omer. (It hardly seems possible that Pesach, is far back in the rear view mirror. That the beginning of the virtual lockdown and beginnings of virtual—everything even further back then that…to just after Purim.)

The mitzvah of counting the 49 days (seven weeks), known as Sefirat Ha’Omer, can be viewed as an invitation from the Torah, inviting us, as Jewish mystical practice suggests, on a journey into our relationship with God, each other, and the world around us.

Each new week bids us to explore one of seven themes, from the basic decency of lovingkindness (Chesed) framing week one, to the final week (seven), with its theme of Malchut—nobility and leadership. Our Shabbat Siddur Lev Shalem (p. 63) offers a beautiful explanation to help you count the seven weeks of the omer within this framework.

This week’s framing concept is Hod—glory, splendor.  

At first blush, there is little glorious about the world these days: we’re stuck at home, the weather has been mostly awful, so even a walk outside is less than inviting. Yet… Here we are mid-May. In my garden, the flowers are beginning to come up, the trees are beginning to blossom, the world is greening. A step outside my house on a blustery day brings the awesome power of wind (ruach) and water to my ears as the waves crash onto the rocks just to the east. I can’t help but stop and simply listen (even at the risk of getting drenched by the rain!). A deer makes its way to my yard, and the (okay, they can be annoying) woodpeckers clack away just beyond the garden. The earth goes on, as it always has and always will, independent of our intervention, perhaps better for the lack of traffic and pollution in our current environment. Its own beauty and splendor on display—on its own clock, counting the days and season.

Thinking for a moment, “How glorious is this day!” is not such a hard thing to say.

In this context, I am drawn to a short section in the first part of this week’s double Torah portion Behar-Behukotai, which has always reached deep into my environmental soul. 

Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the

field. But in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath of the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:3-4

The earth (and all it contains) is there for us to use—to a point. Not to exploit or despoil, but (as we are told in one of the very early verses of Genesis) “to till and to tend.” Yes, by all means, use the land for what it provides, but we must be mindful that the earth, too, needs its rest—it’s Shabbat—for it to continue, and in this effort, we are God’s partners.

There is a Chassidic tale of two men were fighting over a piece of land, each claiming ownership and offered proof, to boot. They asked their rabbi, who wisely said, “Since I cannot

decide to whom this land belongs, let us ask the land.” After putting his ear to the ground for a moment, he said, “I am sorry to say that the land insists it belongs to neither of you – but that you belong to it!”

As it says, going back to the text of this week’s Torah portion, “The land is Mine: for you are strangers and residents with Me.”

Viewing our relationship to earth in this way, that the earth is God’s—not ours—teaches us humility and grants us a new appreciation of the earth’s glory—hod—and God’s.