Dvar Torah - Rachel Andrews - 12 May 2018
Shabbat Shalom! Thank you to everyone who has come here today. Sorry, if you are finding the service a bit long and you weren’t expecting to stand up and sit down so often. I hope you will enjoy my parashah (parashah means ‘portion’, as it is a section from the Torah that is read on this particular Saturday). We chose this Saturday for my Bat Mitzvah, as it is my Grandad’s birthday, who would have been 105 today. He was very connected to Judaism. Interestingly, my mum told me that he always took a nap every afternoon – which, in a way, is also the main theme of my parashah, the land taking a nap every seventh year. It is also very near to my other Grandad’s birthday, who is here today, so I would like to thank my Grandparents and my Auntie for coming all the way down from Birmingham. Also a thank you to my Granny and Uncle for making here from North Finchley. My parashah is from Leviticus 25, verse 1-13 . The parshah is known as Behar, which means ‘on the mountain’, which is one of the first words of my portion.
My parashah is about giving the land a rest, but also giving people a rest too. God tells us that 6 years you can do the work on your field, however, on the 7th year, you have to give the land complete rest. In those 6 years you control who gets the food you grow, but in the 7th year, it is available to whoever needs or wants it. In the 7th year, slaves can return home to their families and will be free.
When I first read this and saw that farmers got a year off work, I thought it sounded really great, but as I thought about it more, I realised that it would be actually really difficult. The farmers would have spent 6 years making their crops healthy and abundant, but then they have to leave them alone for a year. They have no control over what happens during that time. We know that it is good for the soil to have a year to get its nutrients back and that it will be good for the farmer in the long run, but it is really difficult for the farmer at the time.
Rabbi Yitzhak Nafkha, a third century rabbi, said that people who follow the rule of not working the land for a whole year are the ‘mightiest of creatures’. He said this because he thought it is easy to change your life for 24 hours, as we do this on Yom Kippur and on Shabbat, however, to do it every day for a whole year takes more planning and determination. I see what he means, as practising Hebrew just for a day is easy, but what makes a Bat Mitzvah especially hard is that you need to practise most days for nearly a year, even if you get bored and it becomes repetitive.
A different interpretation of this enforced rest from the rabbis is that we must depend on God and have faith that God will provide enough food for the 7th year. In fact, later in the parashah, a bit that I won’t be reading today, it says that in the 6th year God will provide enough food for 3 additional years. The idea that God will always provide is a challenging idea for modern readers, however the idea of leaving the land to rest, or even human beings taking a sabbatical, is actually something we can understand.
In the case of my mum’s allotment, not much has grown. To be fair, they have only had it for a year. My mum shares the allotment with our neighbour. I went to see it when they first got it and I thought it looked really nice. I always see them buying elaborate gardening equipment, which seems quite professional, so I went back several months later, but nothing had changed, it looked exactly the same, in fact, I think a few things might have died. It’s a year on and the only things growing were left over from the previous owner. I think this shows that it is not that easy to grow crops and you can imagine, if you are a farmer, who has worked hard to get the crops growing well, to just leave the land to rest for a whole sabbatical year might not be easy. Although, in my mum’s case, if she left the land alone for year, it might make very little difference.
The parashah also talks about sharing the produce of the sabbatical year with slaves, hired help, the stranger that lives with you, cattle and wild beasts. This shows that you should share resources you have with people around you, who may not have enough. It is fundamental to Judaism that you should treat people well.
Rabbi Hillel said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” It’s important to look after yourself, but it is still as important to look after those around you, because if they have no family or friends to help them, who will help them? People only seem to help a situation when they are personally affected by it, but by this time it is usually too late.
Many times in the Torah it tells you to treat well the stranger living with you. This doesn’t mean that they actually have to be living in your house to be treated well, it could mean they live near you, or even just that they live on the same earth. There are a lot of people who are ill on the other side of the world and people don’t help them, because they don’t think they are their responsibility, as they are not part of their own family and they are people they don’t even know (i.e. strangers.) A good example of this is malaria. In 2015, 429,000 people died due to malaria.
And this is why as part of my Tzedakah project I am going to raise money to reduce the impact of Malaria. I have also chosen this cause because last term at school, we learnt about diseases and when we were learning about Malaria, we were shown a video about how people don’t have things as simple as mosquito nets or insect repellent and so that is why malaria can spread so rapidly and also because it showed how quite young children and their families were being affected by Malaria and it was quite upsetting. I would like to give ¾ of the money I raise for prevention and ¼ for enabling medicine to be given to those who have already been affected by the disease.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to my mum and dad for reminding me to do my practise and organising my Bat Mitzvah. I would also like to say thank you to John for helping me to learn my parashah and all the prayers and Zoe for helping me to write my D'var Torah. And also, members of FPS, who have joined in and encouraged me throughout the service. Also thank you to Dean, Franklin and Rabbi Rebecca for being alongside me throughout the service.