Yesterday, one of the folks I’m following on Twitter posted a link to G-dcast.com’s Parshat Behar entry.
A parshah is a portion of the Torah. One parshah is assigned to each week, with the entire Torah being read every year. (The last parshah and first parshah are read together on Simchat Torah, the holiday celebrated on Tishri 22 or 23 to mark the end of the annual cycle of readings, and the beginning of the next cycle.)
Each parshah has a name, and this week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 25:1–26:2) takes its name — Behar (meaning “on the mount” in Hebrew) — from the fifth word in the text.
What struck me about this wonderful G-dcast animation was the emphasis on letting the soil rest: According to the Torah, a cycle of six years of successive planting and harvesting was to be followed by a year of rest, both for the earth and for the people who lived on it. This ancient agricultural practice allowed the soil to recover from its farming work, and the structure follows the story of Creation. Six days of work and creating, and one day of rest.
(I’ve mentioned the Creation story several times recently on this blog. I should clarify that I’m not a Creationist, and I don’t take the Genesis account literally. The theory of evolution makes sense to me, so that’s what I’m going with. I do think it’s a fun story, though, in keeping with my perspective on the Bible in general: that’s some good story-telling.)
Rest is something we’re not particularly good at these days. Even when the weekend rolls around and we don’t have paid work to do, we still tend to busy ourselves with other chores — cleaning the house, working in the yard, catching up on paperwork, running errands, etc. All this running around without taking a break does take a toll, and while we think our efforts are helping us to “keep ahead of the curve,” we’re more likely to instead be falling behind. We get burnt out, and we frequently don’t allow adequate time and space for recovery.
Admittedly, I don’t know a tremendous amount about modern agriculture. Are our farmers giving their lands a break every now and again? I know that crops are rotated to keep the ground from getting completely “burnt out,” but I don’t know of any widespread practice that involves a full year of rest for the soil.
Just like the rest of us, though, the earth itself can’t keep churning without interruption without finding itself, sooner or later, running on empty.