B’har-B’chukotai: Holiness in Small Acts

Each week we invite a different rabbi or Jewish thought leader to write a “Taste of Torah” on the weekly portion – always from a progressive, inclusive perspective. To receive LAASOK’s Taste of Torah by email each week, subscribe to our newsletter.

This week’s author is Rabbi Jason Rosenberg.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, FL. He loves Mindfulness, Social Justice, baseball, and being a mediocre drummer.

In Parashat Bhar-B‘chukotai, we read the law of Shmita, or Sabbatical. Every 7 years, our ancestors were to let their fields lie fallow. It’s a law which seems a bit…odd, if you think about it. Agricultural regulations aren’t what most of us would expect from a sacred book of law. Rabbi Daniel Gordis asks why such an insignificant mitzvah such as this even merits being in the Torah. The answer he finds in the tradition is that this law, and others like it, are in the Torah precisely because they are minor. Or, more accurately, because we think it, and laws like it, are minor. But, we can’t be sure that God does. 

The rabbis of old were pretty clear that it would be a mistake to try to rank the mitzvot, to say that one particular act is more important or more sacred than some other. We’re supposed to treat a “light” mitzvah with the same care and reverence with which we approach a seemingly more serious act, in part because we don’t really know what is and isn’t that important. I mean, most of us probably agree that “Don’t murder” is more important than “Don’t wear wool and linen together,” but outside of the extremes, it’s pretty much impossible to achieve any kind of ranking. And, in part that’s because the real value of a mitzvah might not be set in stone.

“The real value of a mitzvah might not be set in stone.”

Which is greater — $10 or $1000? Easy, right? But, if I give $1000 to a large charity, that money might be absorbed into a larger budget. Its effect might be negligible. But, if I give $10 to someone weak with hunger, it could change their life, at least for a moment. 

Pretending that holiness exists on some absolute, objective scale just doesn’t make any sense. Praying with my community on Shabbat certainly feels more important than saying HaMotzi before I eat some bread. But, there have been some Shabbat services which leave me cold, but some moments of quiet blessing offered before a meal which feel transcendent. 

The smallest thing—a piece of bread, a dollar given—can be exploding with holiness. We just have to be willing to see it. 

חֲזַק חֲזַק וְנִתְּחַזֵּקChazak Chazak V’nitchazek
Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.
With this parashah, we complete the book of Leviticus.

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