Parashat B’har/B’huqotai

By Rabbi Yechiel Buchband

In this week of Jubilee celebrations in our AJR community, it feels good to be so in tune with the rhythm of the Torah reading cycle: our first portion, Parshat Behar, includes the Torah’s teachings concerning the Yovel, the fiftieth year, made special by its unique observances (Lev. 25:8-13): the return of all land to its original owners and the return of slaves to their only true master, the Holy One. We build up to this climactic moment in the cycle by counting off seven sets of seven years, each set culminating in its own Shabbaton of rest for both land and people. Finally, when seven ‘weeks of Years’ each with its own Sabbath, are complete, we welcome the coming of the Jubilee year with a mighty shofar blast, bringing news of freedom and equality to every corner of the land: ‘You shall have the shofar sounded throughout your land.’ (Lev. 25:9)

Significantly, the portions which teach the counting of the days of the Omer (Parshat Emor ‘ seven times seven days – and the counting of the years (Parshat Behar) ‘ seven times seven years to the Jubilee – are read one after another at this time of Sefirah (counting) each year. Perhaps one message one may hear from this is that the ideals of freedom and equality must not be made to wait years and years for their fulfillment; we must act day to day, year in and year out, to bring the reality of a just society closer. And yet both perspectives are valued: the short-term perspective represented by the annual counting of the Omer, and the long-term perspective symbolized by the counting of Sabbatical cycles, culminating in the fiftieth Yovel year; we need to keep our fingers on the pulse of our progress in the nitty-gritty of ongoing struggles for more social justice, but we also need to climb up high and look back over the sweep of past decades and assess what transformation may have taken place. And by counting up, we can look forward to achievements far in the future which may take decades to attain their true impact.

Fifty years of life is a significant period of time for an institution, a society, or an individual. We are liable to lose our way, our sense of direction, our deepest beliefs and most profound ideals, and become like ‘messengers who have forgotten the message.’ So each year we count up to the fiftieth day, the festival of Shavuot, the day of Receiving the Gift of Torah (Kabbalat Torah) anew, which comes like the blast of the shofar, to remind us of our way, our direction and our destiny: to be guided by the teachings, ideals and spirit of Torah on all our journeys.