Here’s what I like about Behar, this week’s parasha. There’s a lot to like, but these days the ideas of judicious behavior and equality are all over the place…sometimes in the breach, agreed, but nevertheless, all over the place. And Behar is all about that.
In Behar, the parasha starts out talking about the Sabbath for the land. When they finally enter the Land, the people are supposed to observe a “Sabbath of the God/Sabbath of the Land”. After six years of tilling the soil, they are to give the land a complete rest, “You are not to sow your field or prude your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.” (Lev 25: 4-5)
The people can eat whatever they want that the land produces during this rest; that is, if something grows on the fields, have at it. And that “free growth”, by the way, is free for not just you, the one who works the land, but for anyone. Rashi says you can’t claim possession of it as you might with an ordinary harvest.
Notwithstanding the logistics of how this would actually work, it’s still worth noting some underlying concepts here. There is total equality presented here – you, your slaves, hired hands, anyone is to be treated alike in getting the food that’s available during this year. Take what you’re going to eat, what you need. It isn’t about ownership, it’s about knowing for yourself what you need – no more, no less. As Mary Poppins always said, “Enough is as good as a feast.”
Just like manna.
In Chapter 16 of Exodus, we read of the appearance of manna, and we are told the manna will appear for them, for them to gather as much as they needed for one day. If a person gathered too much, and left any over for the next day, it became rotten and inedible. The only time more than a day’s worth of food could be gathered was on the day before the Sabbath, so that on the Sabbath, a person wasn’t out there gathering food.
This is very public, self-regulating behavior. If it happened often enough, one would presume, the person who gathers too much would finally get the picture and take only what was needed.
How many of us have enough self-awareness to be able to curb our “manna gathering” in life, to take only what’s needed and not more? How many of us could withstand the public scrutiny of taking too much, being too focused on what we own vs. what we need?
I’m all for working hard, earning what you have worked hard for, and I’m not advocating that everyone gets “according to their need” as a way to run a society or an economy. And neither does Torah. But every once in a while, (every six years, for example….or, every six days) it’s good to step back from the gathering, gathering, gathering. We take the time to think through what we really need, what happens after the gathering. We engage in a little self-reflection. We take the opportunity to examine our needs…not our wants…and look around to see others who have needs, too, and make sure that they have what they need, too.
That actually is a pretty good way to run a society. Mary Poppins knew that.