In modern metaphor, the earth is our mother. Like pop culture depictions of motherhood, our earth is nurturing and formidable, willing both to gently yield and strike with immeasurable ferocity. The tempo of our planet is cyclical, much like the rhythms of our lives and our bodies. As we move through the seasons, we watch new life take root in the earth, relax under clear skies, and fulfill ourselves with the bounty of a well-tended harvest. As we move through our days, we ride the ebb and flow of relationships, and confront the realities of our ever evolving physical forms. In this week’s parsha, the divine instructs Moses, “…the land is mine. You are but strangers resident with Me” (Lev 25:23), and proscribes a year free from labor in the fields, as well as the forgiveness of all debts. This s’hmita, or sabbatical year, is to occur once every 7 years. There is to be no sowing of seed, or harvest of crops. All that is owed, no matter how great the sum, is forgotten. It is a reminder to whom the earth truly belongs. It is a command to treat one another as sisters and brothers. S’hmita emphasizes the necessity of rest in a long cycle of activity.
Women throughout history and across the globe, have waged war for ownership of their bodies. Today, the bodies of women and girls are bought and sold. They are commodities in a trafficking industry that shows no signs of abating. In western culture, our bodies are vehicles for the sale of liquor, cars, and cologne. We have no space to acknowledge our own cycles. We have no system to recognize the value of maturity.
Our tradition teaches that we are crafted in the image of the divine. Our bodies are not public property, nor are they where our true value resides. Parashat Behar reminds us that the earth is a gift, the ownership of which ultimately resides with G-d. So too, our bodies are gifted to us as shelters for our souls. They are the means of bringing light to the darkness of our world. It is through our bodies that we do the work of tzedakah and chesed. It is with our bodies that we comfort, create, and build a better world for all.
Parashat Behar commands us to give heed to cycles. It teaches us that in the midst of activity, it is essential to rest and come together as one community. We can apply the same principle to our lives and bodies. We can honor both by recognizing their inherent cycles, and we can give ourselves the blessing of rest and supportive relationships. The earth benefits from support of her cycles, and we benefit from support of our own.
Akiva Yael is an enthusiastic participant in all that is holy, including Torah study, powerlifting, and the beauty of our world.