We Are God’s Handiwork

Yael Eckstein  |  May 13, 2020

Close up image of a candle and book on a patterned tablecloth.

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. — Leviticus 25:10

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Behar-Bechukotai, from Leviticus 25:1–27:34. Behar means “the mountain,” and Bechukotai means “My decrees.” The Haftorah is from Jeremiah 16:19–17:14.

Every Friday evening before sunset, Jews welcome the Sabbath by lighting candles, signifying the onset of the holy day. When the Sabbath is over on Saturday night, we perform a ritual service called the Havdalah, which indicates that the Sabbath is over, and the new week has begun. In our family, we often accompany this service with singing and musical instruments. The goal is to capture the spirit of the Sabbath and bring it with us into the week ahead.

As part of the Havdalah, we light a candle with intertwined wicks. This symbolizes that we have become closer with family and friends through the Sabbath day and that we begin our week more unified than before. During the service, we bless the fire and turn our palms toward us with our fingers curled downward. When our fingers are straight, they all stand at different heights. But when they are bent down, they are all the same length. We do this to symbolize the equality of all people, and we begin our week with respect and caring for others.

This week’s Torah portion deals with the commandment for the Jubilee Year. Every 50th year was a year of celebration in the Holy Land. Slaves would go free. Property would go back to its original owner. People would return to their ancestral territory. Loans would be forgiven. Everyone would return to his or her original state of freedom and equality. The Jubilee Year was the great equalizer. No matter how society may have been shaped over the 50 years preceding the Year of Jubilee, it would return to its original state in the fiftieth year.

The message for us today is that no matter how things may appear, we are all equal and worthy before God. We all came into this world the same, and we will all leave it the same. We dare not look down on anyone; nor must we ever feel inferior ourselves. We are all God’s handiwork, and we must treat every human being with the respect, dignity, and kindness befitting a child of God.