The haftarah portion (for Parashah Behar on leap years) chronicles Jeremiah and the purchase of a field in Anatot. A striking detail that cannot be overlooked is the Babylonian army was preparing her siege machines to take the holy city. In the midst of the famine, G-d provides a promise of redemption using His prophet: Jeremiah is instructed to purchase the field and he buries the deed in a clay pot so it will survive the passage of time. Has the deed ever been found? I don’t know, but if it was, it was probably retrieved shortly after our return to the Land under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah who would have wisely used the deed as a testament of G-d’s faithfulness. No matter the whereabouts of the bill of sale, G-d instructed Jeremiah to do this in the sight of everyone at the Courtyard for one reason: to provide a glimmer of hope in those terrible times. Hashem would not forget his covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a prophet of G-d buying a field as the enemy is laying waste to the walls is a great way to give comfort to His people – G-d will return us to the land once again.
In fact, our Torah portion provides comfort as well. Before the name of our congregation was settled, one of the working titles was Anshei Rachamim – the People of Comfort. Tikvat Shalom, the name with which we settled, the Hope of Peace, speaks to the same concept because one cannot find hope for comfort until we are a people of peace. The parashah begins with the phrase: “When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Shabbat rest for Hashem.” It ends with the phrase, “My Shabbats shall you observe and My Sanctuary shall you revere — I am Hashem.”
Why mention the Shabbat? Hoe does that provide us comfort? If you’re like me, you work hard and long hours Monday through Friday, you drive 2-1/2 hour home after Shul on Saturday, drive 2-1/2 hours back on Sunday afternoon, and get ready to do it all over again. When am I supposed to get my laundry done or go grocery shopping? When am I supposed to work on my book? All these things are suddenly supposed to stop because of the Shabbat? What kind of cruel joke is that??
This is the wrong view.
Shabbat is supposed to be a reminder that we are not to return to being slaves. What other people do you know who are commanded to take a day off and spend it with their Creator? This day is to provide us peace, comfort, and joy. The laundry will not take care of itself, but it can wait until dark. The kids will not be there forever and what batter way to spend time with them than on Shabbat when you can give them many hours of undivided attention. The Shabbat was given to us as a gift – as an island,of happiness, and this happy place is there as long as you don’t bring oars and sail away from it.
John Lennon once said, “When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote, ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
If you spend the Shabbat chasing after the needs of your boss, or your bills, or your laundry, G-d’s not going to strike you down, but you will miss out on that tiny island of time when you can be the prince or princess G-d has formed you to be. But the joy doesn’t stop there. Our portion instructs us to give the lands a Shabbat rest as well, but this Shabbat will last a full year.
Imagine, if you will. You’re in the Land, you decide to trust Hashem, and you plant your fields for six years. On that seventh year, you don’t go out to work your fields. You don’t plow, plant, fertilize, weed, shoo off the rabbits and deer, and you don’t harvest. What do you think you would be able to accomplish with that full year? What would you do with a year-long vacation after each six-year labor period? Wouldn’t that be the bomb? The Rabbis saw this as an opportunity for every field worker and field owner in Israel to spend a year in Yeshiva. Imagine what you could learn and accomplish for your G-d if you could dedicate one year to it.
This seventh year is called the smittah – the land-based Shabbat. For six years the land can be planted and harvested, but the seventh year we are to let the land lie fallow. This brings to mind Daniel 9:24, which speaks of seventy weeks being counted or determined. There are dozens of Christian ministries that deal with prophesy and all of them share Daniel as a common prooftext. However, let me give you a bit of insight into why each and every one of them are wrong. I hope this will give you a little comfort and allow you to wrest yourselves away from the grip of the prophesy peddlers. By the way, when I tell you what they do wrong, I would really appreciate none of you letting these sharks know; keep this as your little secret. Seventy septets or seventy weeks equal how many years…? Yes, 490 years is the common answer but it’s wrong. Let me read to you why it’s wrong. The end of the first Aliyah of today’s parshah (25:8-10):
You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.
So, with each seven septet or seven weeks of years, we are to add one year, which is called the Yovel or Jubilee. Therefore, if we have seventy sets of seven years, this means an additional ten jubilee years must be added to the calendar. Their counting is all wrong. They must go back and redraw their timelines to match the reality of G-d’s calendar.
The Torah was provided to us for our happiness and the happiness of everyone around us. Any other use of Torah is misuse and needs to be stopped. For instance the Midrash tells a story:
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel asked Tavi his servant, “Please go out and buy me a good food from the marketplace.” Tavi went out and purchased tongue for him. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, then, asked Tavi his servant, “Please go out and buy me a bad food from the marketplace.” Tavi went out and bought tongue for him.
Rabban Shimon b’Gamliel asked, “What is this? I ask you to buy me a good food and you bring me tongue, and when I tell you to purchase a bad food you buy me tongue….?”
How we use our tongue and how we act toward each other can either be for evil or for good. If we use them for good we participate in Tikkun Olam – repairing the world – and this is our duty.
Again, any other use of Torah is misuse and must stop. Moses said, “For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land.” Living long is not referring to existing until you’re considered ancient historical goods, but it speaks of the quality of life. May you live it well and in happiness.