At the Height of Power – Parshat Behar 5784

As someone who is (to use the euphemism) vertically challenged, I’ve been called “tiny but mighty” and reminded that “big gifts come in small packages.” It’s true, I often need to use a step so that I can be seen when I’m on the bimah, and I can’t reach the top shelf almost anywhere. On the other hand, I also have small feet and can wear kid-sized shoes, which saves me money and allows for more sparkles. Another advantage is I don’t usually worry about hitting my head on ceilings or not fitting into a seat on an airplane.

Sometimes our physical forms determine the challenges or advantages we face in the world, and there’s not much we can do about it. At the same time, often it’s the size of our hearts and the height of our intentions that make the difference.

This week we read from Parshat Behar, the penultimate section of text in the book of Vayikra. The text details the laws of the returning of the land in Israel during the shmita (jubilee year) and how slaves and land are returned to their prior status. We also read about what happens to Jewish-owned land in the diaspora in the jubilee year and how we are to help those who are in need within our communities. The text ends with another warning against idolatry.

In the Torah portion, the Israelite nation is noted as being a “small nation,” and the mountain that stands as our touchpoint of grandeur and godliness is described as being the smallest in the region. The name of the portion, Behar, means “on the mountain,” which refers to Moses talking to God on Mount Sinai. It is odd then that the laws specified in this section of the text are about agriculture and land ownership, none of which are part of the current Israelite experience as a nation. Why would they be given here?

Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to describe a system of law for a developing nation that emphasizes equality before land divisions and property ownership break people apart. Or, perhaps it’s because Sinai is the smallest mountain and Israel is the smallest nation in the region, yet both have the power to hold a place of influence, partnership, and justice in the world around them. Parshat Behar reminds us that physical size doesn’t matter; it’s how we make use of what’s given to us that’s most meaningful.

– Rabbi Eve Posen

Source: At the Height of Power – Parshat Behar 5784