“Why do the Jewish farming projects get all the grants?” A friend of mine asked me over coffee one day.
I did that thing where I sound like I know what I’m talking about but I’m really just pulling it from out of thin air. “Oh, because of Parshat Behar.”
“What’s that?” She asked.
“Oh, you know it’s about how the Hebrews are tied to ha-aretz (the land) and how we have to give the earth time to heal itself after the harvest and how we have to leave the corners of our field for strangers and the poor. Stuff like that.”
“OK, but what does that have to do with locally sourced turnips in urban neighborhoods?”
This conversation about locally sourced, organic and free range-ness reminded me of a sketch on my new favorite TV show Portlandia…
I don’t think that Parshat Behar’s original intention was to make us work at a food co-op and get masters degrees in eco-psychology from hippie liberal arts colleges. Remember, this parshah was written by people who survived on subsistence farming and herding animals. The ancient Israelites weren’t shopping at Whole Foods and blogging about genetically modified corn.
But Behar does tell me something important about the Jewish People: we’re ahead of the trends. Our strength, whether its in farming, learning, praying, surviving, fighting, or what have you, is that we look ahead at the future to try to figure out the right way to do things. The Torah is filled with things that the Jewish people rejected (child abuse, idolatry, needless animal cruelty) and replaced those “pagan” trends with something better.
So while I laugh at nerdy kids from Brooklyn trying to grow radishes on land that once was a crack den, I have to check myself and realize that they are a lot smarter than I am. One day, I hope to be the kind of person who will lend a hand.