Behar / Bechukotai – Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Facebook_CoverDesign_Behar-Bechukotai"Sowing the seed,
my hand is one with the earth.
…Hungry and trusting,
my mind is one with the earth.
Eating the fruit,
my body is one with the earth.
"

Wendell Berry’s poem "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer" asks us to consider how the farmer is like the farm. Similarly, the strong language of covenantal prohibition in Leviticus calls on each of us as conscious consumers to draw boundaries around how we use and transform the natural world.

Transformative cycles of seven in biblical literature, in general, and here in Leviticus, in particular, recall the grandeur of creation that continues its unfolding revelation daily. That revelation is taking place every seventh year for the Sabbatical year, when all work on the land ceases so that its fruit is free for the taking, for both human and animal kingdoms.

Seven Sabbatical cycles (forty-nine years) culminate in a fiftieth year, crowned as the Jubilee year, on which work on all land ceases, all indentured servants are freed, and all ancestral estates in the Holy Land of Israel that have been sold will then revert to their original owners. Additional laws governing the sale of lands and the prohibitions against fraud and usury conclude the reading of Behar.

The whole purpose of creation is to recognize our complete embeddedness in everything, including all other sentient beings. Lines of filiation run most directly through our own awareness of the transformative cycles that embrace us. If a human intelligence of the earth and sensitivity to its needs is one that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace, then perhaps Wendell Berry’s "mad" farmer is not so mad after all!

It is also illuminating to consider our network of intimate relationships and cycles in the context of charity. If you still haven’t had a conversation with a Mormon, try talking about tithing. Observant Mormons unflinchingly give ten percent of their pre-tax dollars to the church. And Jews? Not so consistent – perhaps this is why Jewish institutions continue to struggle as they do all across America. Why is it that a Mormon feels more commanded than a Jew to fulfill a biblical precept?

Earning material well-being is a necessity for the survival of civilization. But how often do we linger in the passionate embrace of the culture that is the fruit of our labors? Wisdom comes with an ability to both earn and enjoy.

In Parashat Bechukotai, the Israelites are promised that if the commandments are kept, they will enjoy the material prosperity they have rightly earned in addition to dwelling securely in the Holy Land. Conversely, should this covenant be abandoned or abrogated, there is a harsh rebuke, coupled with a warning of exile, persecution, and other manifestations of evil. Here, in Bechukotai, we also encounter a variety of pledges made as divine offerings, as well as the aforementioned spiritual practice of setting aside a tenth (tithing) of firstlings and first fruits.

True wisdom then comes from earning material well-being through civilization as well as the passionate embrace of culture so that we may enjoy in sharing this well-being with others. The understanding that in giving, you receive more than you give could not be more true or urgent today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork depicts the arrival of the Jubilee year. Because the Jewish day begins at nightfall, the land is shown scattering rays of Jubilee joy at dusk. "And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you..." (Leviticus 25:10) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Shemini – Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Facebook_CoverDesign_SheminiYou are what you eat, so they say. But more importantly, as Jews, we eat only in the context of creation.

In this week’s reading, Shemini, aside from Aaron’s mysterious silence in the face of his sons’ immolation, we are drawn into the distinctions conveyed through our dietary laws. The laws of kashrut are commanded, identifying permissible and forbidden animals for consumption, including: (1) land animals only with a split hoof and that chew their cud; (2) fish with scales and fins; and (3) appropriately listed birds and insects.

As we read in Leviticus 11:1-2, the divine imperative for conscious consumption brings awareness that "you may eat out of all the domestic beasts that are on the earth." This phrase "on the earth" appears seven times in this chapter (11:2, 21, 29, 41, 42, 44, 46) – why? It is a reminder taking us back to the sixth day of Creation, when the Earth was first covered with plants and mobile creatures, and the humans were blessed as stewards of "every animal that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:28).

Finally, distinctions relating to ritual readiness are recounted, including the laws relating to the immersion pool known as the mikveh. All these rituals are based on the ancient wisdom of distinction(s); while they continue to evolve, they still have resonance today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration is inspired by fire's central and ambivalent role in Shemini. It goes "forth from before the Lord and consume[s] the burnt offering" (Leviticus 9:24) and also "forth from before the Lord and consume[s]...Nadav and Avihu" (Leviticus 10:2). It is difficult to read of the horrible fate of Aaron's sons without considering the English name for the Shoah – "holocaust n 1. a burnt sacrifice: a sacrificial offering wholly consumed by fire 2. a complete or thorough sacrifice or destruction esp. by fire." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Rabbi Glazer Reviews Kabbalah and Ecology

Kabbalah&EcologyIt's Earth Day! What better time to highlight Rabbi Glazer's review of Rabbi David Seidenberg‘s book Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image In The More-Than-Human World (Cambridge University Press, 2015)? The book review was published in the March 2016 of the journal Theological Studies, but can read it in full by clicking here.

In the write-up, Rabbi Glazer suggests that Pope Francis’s 2015 Papal encyclical Laudato si’ (“On the Care for Our Common Home”), while a laudable "watershed," includes one "potential shortcoming." Pope Francis focuses on reassessing the relationship and differences between "dominion" and "stewardship," but Rabbi Glazer and Rabbi Seidenberg worry that casting humanity as Earth's stewards is too limiting an understanding of the human place in things. From the review's conclusion:

"Rabbi Seidenberg brings a bold eco-theology of the more-than-human world of nature that seeks to 'be directed toward the future,' one that must 'not only push us to evolve theology, but also to illuminate for us, in critical ways, the meaning of ancient texts and ideas, and the history of those ideas and texts.' While Laudato si’ should be captivating our theological attention, Rabbi Seidenberg’s theology contributes to the emergence of eco-theologies that reach beyond stewardship into a robust, devotional engagement with a more Gaian spiritual activism emerging from Jewish mystical sources."

USY Ocean Beach Cleanup

SFUSY 2015 Beach CleanupThis Veterans Day, CBS Youth Advisor David Herrera and eight SFUSY teens spent the school holiday morning collecting litter at Ocean Beach.

Good stewardship and citizenship are universal values, but our Jewish texts teach us to prioritize sh’mirat ha'teva, meaning protecting or taking care of the Earth.

According to Jewish tradition, a critical part of humankind’s purpose is to take care of the world in which we live. In B'reshit, the first chapter of Genesis, it is written that G-d created man to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

"Dominion" can be interpreted in different ways, but most Jewish sages explain that along with the gift of human intelligence, which gives us the power to lord over all other species, comes the responsibility to preserve the Earth’s resources. In other words, we Jews are called upon to choose thoughtful stewardship over domination.

So, yeah, that's a rather formal way of saying, "Hooo yeah! Kol hakavod to David and the USY crew!"