The LORD said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD.’” — Leviticus 25:1–2
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Behar-Bechukotai from Leviticus 25:1–27:34. Behar means “on the mountain,” and Bechukotai means “my decrees.” The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 16:19–17:14.
Immaculee Ilibagiza grew up in a town she loved surrounded by family whom she cherished. However when she went home to visit her parents in spring of 1994, everything changed. The next day, war broke out in Rwanda. Immaculee and her family were among the targets of the killers. Immaculee hid in the bathroom of a pastor’s home for 91 days with seven other women. More than once she was nearly discovered. But Immaculee survived and lived to tell her story.
Immaculee’s book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, is a beautiful testimony to the greatness of God, the power of prayer, and the persistence of the human spirit. But what’s amazing is that toward the beginning of her hiding, in the most terrifying time of her life, Immaculee asked the pastor if he had a French-English dictionary that she could borrow. She taught herself English in that bathroom. Somehow, she saw through to the future to the time when she would sit down, safe in the United States, and write her story.
This week’s Torah portion begins: “The LORD said to Moses at Mount Sinai . . .“When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD.’” The Jewish sages note that it’s strange for Scriptures to mention that this law was given at Mount Sinai. All laws were given at Mount Sinai. Why is that fact emphasized here?
The law being discussed is the law of the shmita year – a wonderful time that would take place once Israel was settled in their land. It would be a year of rest and growing closer to God. Why was it necessary to mention it in conjunction with Mount Sinai?
When the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai, they were at the beginning of a long journey. They would wander 40 years in the desert, during which most of them would die, and then they would have to spend years conquering the land. It was as if they were at the foot of a large mountain which they had to climb. Yet, even at the onset of this arduous journey, God was showing them their destination. One day they would be settled and at peace.
When we stand at the foot of our own mountains in life, we need to see through the climb to the other side. Keep the vision and goal in your heart and your mind. When you focus on where you are going, you can bear almost anything on the journey. Like Immaculee you can climb your mountain with faith and perseverance until you arrive on the other side in peace.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President