Parshat Behar-Bechukotai, May 19
The two Parshios that comprise this week’s double Parsha, Behar-Bechukosai, seem to comprise a single thematic and literary unit. The mitzvah of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, during which ordinary agricultural activity was prohibited, figures prominently in both Parshas Behar and Parshat Bechukosai. Parshas Behar opens by introducing the mitzvah of Shemitah. In Parshas Bechukosai, while chronicling the punishments we should expect should we fail to obey God’s commandments, God mentions that should we be exiled for our sins, the land of Israel will make up for the Sabbatical years we failed to observe while living there.
This is, in fact, what would later come to pass. The first exile in Babylonia lasted 70 years, which we are told, correspond to the number of Sabbatical years we had failed to observe in Eretz Yisrael.
This warning means that God knew already when He commanded us to observe Shemitah that we might find this mitzvah challenging to fulfill. This is further evidenced by the fact that the Torah anticipates the hesitation people might have about keeping Shemitah, suggesting that one might ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?” (Vayikra 25:20).
What does it mean for God to command something that He knows we will struggle and likely fail to fulfill? Perhaps it means that sometimes failure is part of the plan. Sometimes God sets expectations for us knowing we won’t get it right on the first try. We should do the same for ourselves. Let us dare to hold ourselves to high standards, even if it means that we might fail to meet those standards.
At the same time, knowing that failure can be part of the process, that it might be built into the system, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves when we do fail. We must remember that it is worthwhile to aim high and risk much, even if we fail, even if the consequences of failure may be great; so long as in the long run, our failures help us grow and come closer to becoming who we were meant to be, to becoming who God wants us to be.
Rabbi Garth Silberstein