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Torah Commentary
B'chukotai (May 4, 2013)

Missy Bell,
Program Director
of Youth Learning and Engagement

THIS WEEK’S TORAH PORTION is actually two portions combined — B’har and B’chukotai. B’har begins with some of the many agricultural laws in the Torah. The Israelites are told of the Sabbatical year — that every seventh year, the land must be allowed to rest. We also learn of the Jubilee year, the 50th year. What follows is a long list of mitzvot that must be observed in the Jubilee year. In B’chukotai, the Israelites learn of a number of rewards and punishments that will fall upon them depending on whether or not they keep these mitzvot. Many of these, too, are related to land and agriculture.

Most of us here in New York City don’t own land or have farms. So how do these mitzvot fit into our lives? This exact issue came up earlier this month in our Seventh Grade Mitzvah Corps. During the final unit of the curriculum, the students learned about the mitzvah, or adult Jewish responsibility, as we define it, of being shomrei adamah — “guardians of the earth.” In the first lesson of the unit, the students learned about the various commandments in the Torah that relate to being a shomer adamah: the prohibition against waste and destruction, leaving the corners of our fields for the poor and the law of the Sabbatical year for the land found here in B’har.

For our Action Session, the hands-on service part of the unit, we traveled to Eden Village Camp, a Jewish organic farm and camp about an hour north of the city. There, we fulfilled the mitzvah of protecting the earth in a variety ways. We spent time weeding the calendar garden, a unique garden divided into 12 areas, with plants and herbs relating to each Hebrew month growing in the different sections. We also worked with compost and learned how compost helps us fulfill the mitzvah prohibiting wastefulness because it turns things that might otherwise be thrown out, like uneaten food and weeds, into soil. We spread the compost over part of the land that, like the land in the Sabbatical year, was being given a year to rest and to absorb nutrients from the compost. We also planted peas, carrots and onions, and some of the harvest will be donated to local food pantries. Eden Village also has a pe’ah garden, a garden in the corner of the fields where the harvest is donated completely to food pantries.

Now that we have returned from the farm to our classroom, we have been discussing ways we can continue to be shomrei adamah, as none of us will be able to plant, weed or spread compost regularly! The students came up with many ways that we can take care of our earth right here in New York City:

• Walk, bike or take the bus/subway instead of driving
• Turn off lights when we leave a room
• Use re-fillable water bottles instead of plastic disposable water bottles
• Recycle as many materials as possible
• Buy fruits and vegetables from farmer’s markets and other local sources

By doing these things, we all can incorporate the ideas from this week’s Torah portion into our lives!

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