Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

Torah Reading for Week of May 6-12, 2018

“The Practice of Being Enough”
By Chaplain Marita Anderson, ’16

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

Have you ever heard a person say, “I am a bad Jew”?  I hear it all the time, usually in response to something having to do with Jewish life or spirituality. Upon further inquiry, I usually find out what that statement means.  Sometimes it means, “I don’t know as much as I feel I ought to know.” Or, “I don’t go to synagogue, for various reasons having to do with finances, habits, or lack of time.”  Or, “Last time I thought about religion or spirituality, I was thirteen years old and I have not picked up a book about Judaism or had a teacher since because life is crazy busy.” Often times, it is also “one of my parents, or my spouse, is not Jewish and I have been made to feel less than.”

I recognize this issue, as it comes up for me in a multitude of ways. When am I enough?  What does it mean to be enough?  These questions are ubiquitous and come up for people in all concepts of their identity: parenthood, attractiveness, education, job success, and social status.  Usually, underneath all of it is a deep feeling of anxiety about lacking some aspect, some skill, or something that is necessary for satisfaction and a sense of belonging.

This issue often manifests in Jewish life in painful ways.  The well of knowledge is bottomless.  The landscape of experience is endless.  The opportunities for comparison with those who are more fluent in “fill in the blank” are also endless. And who gets to decide the measure of a human soul or it’s growth? Who deserves the title of a “good Jew”, anyway?

The essence of this week’s parsha, Behar (describing an encounter between God and Moses on Mount Sinai), seems to offer an antidote to clinging too tightly to the acquisition of material things and accomplishments of titles. Its narrative includes the laws of Shemitah, instructing the Israelites to take a break from working the land after six years of labor.  Behar expands on the meaning of Shabbat, which reminds us that God, whose power to create is infinite, saw creation as “enough” after six days of effort.  Even God, who is sometimes described as El-Shedai (he who said to the world, “enough”[1]), has the ability to discern when is “enough” and how to be satisfied in rest.

Behar picks up on the human tendency to focus on scarcity and offers an alternative.  I imagine the Israelites had to work hard to prepare and gather provisions, before allowing the land to lay fallow every seventh year and watching it turn wild with weeds and natural growth.  I also imagine that this Sabbatical period allowed for a time of contemplation, realignment of priorities, connection to nature, to family, to creative pursuits, and to a relationship with God.  It almost sounds like a spiritual retreat, offering the space and time to pay attention to the sacred amidst human life.

In modernity, most of us are far removed from the land and our food source.  Today, our seeds are sown in different ways and our work culture has no room for year-long retreats, or even week-long retreats.  The danger of our competitive and productivity-obsessed lifestyle is that many of us are spiritually starved or exhausted in a world of material abundance.

What if we created the time to focus on the non-tangible every day?  What if instead of cultivating the physical landscape of our reality, we allotted space and time to cultivate those things that are not quantifiable, don’t earn us certificates or bartering potential?  What if we chose to view the world through the lens of betachon, or trust, that our intrinsic value as human beings is enough?

The projection of self-judgment that one is not good enough often comes from a fixed mindset and a place of resistance. I see the contemporary spiritual challenge of Behar as a practice of self-forgiveness and a promise that when we honor the rhythms of working and menucha, (or profound rest, as if the “to-do list” is complete)[2], we are offered a return to our essence, which is always enough. I see it as a reminder that the challenge for clergy is to create Jewish spaces of belonging and non-judgment, where everyone deserves to relax into knowing that they are welcome just as they are.  And I see it is a call to letting go of fears of inadequacy or insufficiency while being grateful for all of those things that we have already been given.

I remind my friends that there is no such a thing as being a “bad Jew”.  There is truth in being disinterested, resistant, scared, lonely, tired, or hurt.  And there are also windows of truth that shed light on readiness, presence, blessings, trust, curiosity, and a deep sense of belonging.  If only we make the time.

[1]  Talmud, Hagiga 12a

[2] “After six days of creation—what did the universe still lack? Menucha. Came the Sabbath, came menucha, and the universe was complete.” (Rashi on Megillah 9a)