Behar-Bechukotai: atopia & utopia, freedom & rest

(כג) וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃

(23) But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.

What does it mean to tell a people who are on the move that, when they reach their destination, they will still be strangers?

What does it mean for our responsibilities to the land if we know ourselves to be strangers residing temporarily?

(ב) דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהוָֽה׃ (ג) שֵׁ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ תִּזְרַ֣ע שָׂדֶ֔ךָ וְשֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים תִּזְמֹ֣ר כַּרְמֶ֑ךָ וְאָסַפְתָּ֖ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃ (ד) וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר׃ (ה) אֵ֣ת סְפִ֤יחַ קְצִֽירְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִקְצ֔וֹר וְאֶת־עִנְּבֵ֥י נְזִירֶ֖ךָ לֹ֣א תִבְצֹ֑ר שְׁנַ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן יִהְיֶ֥ה לָאָֽרֶץ׃ (ו) וְ֠הָיְתָה שַׁבַּ֨ת הָאָ֤רֶץ לָכֶם֙ לְאָכְלָ֔ה לְךָ֖ וּלְעַבְדְּךָ֣ וְלַאֲמָתֶ֑ךָ וְלִשְׂכִֽירְךָ֙ וּלְתוֹשָׁ֣בְךָ֔ הַגָּרִ֖ים עִמָּֽךְ׃ (ז) וְלִ֨בְהֶמְתְּךָ֔ וְלַֽחַיָּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּאַרְצֶ֑ךָ תִּהְיֶ֥ה כָל־תְּבוּאָתָ֖הּ לֶאֱכֹֽל׃ (ס) (ח) וְסָפַרְתָּ֣ לְךָ֗ שֶׁ֚בַע שַׁבְּתֹ֣ת שָׁנִ֔ים שֶׁ֥בַע שָׁנִ֖ים שֶׁ֣בַע פְּעָמִ֑ים וְהָי֣וּ לְךָ֗ יְמֵי֙ שֶׁ֚בַע שַׁבְּתֹ֣ת הַשָּׁנִ֔ים תֵּ֥שַׁע וְאַרְבָּעִ֖ים שָׁנָֽה׃ (ט) וְהַֽעֲבַרְתָּ֞ שׁוֹפַ֤ר תְּרוּעָה֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִעִ֔י בֶּעָשׂ֖וֹר לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ בְּיוֹם֙ הַכִּפֻּרִ֔ים תַּעֲבִ֥ירוּ שׁוֹפָ֖ר בְּכָל־אַרְצְכֶֽם׃ (י) וְקִדַּשְׁתֶּ֗ם אֵ֣ת שְׁנַ֤ת הַחֲמִשִּׁים֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ לְכָל־יֹשְׁבֶ֑יהָ יוֹבֵ֥ל הִוא֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם וְשַׁבְתֶּ֗ם אִ֚ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּת֔וֹ וְאִ֥ישׁ אֶל־מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֖וֹ תָּשֻֽׁבוּ׃ (יא) יוֹבֵ֣ל הִ֗וא שְׁנַ֛ת הַחֲמִשִּׁ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔עוּ וְלֹ֤א תִקְצְרוּ֙ אֶת־סְפִיחֶ֔יהָ וְלֹ֥א תִבְצְר֖וּ אֶת־נְזִרֶֽיהָ׃ (יב) כִּ֚י יוֹבֵ֣ל הִ֔וא קֹ֖דֶשׁ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם מִן־הַ֨שָּׂדֶ֔ה תֹּאכְל֖וּ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃ (יג) בִּשְׁנַ֥ת הַיּוֹבֵ֖ל הַזֹּ֑את תָּשֻׁ֕בוּ אִ֖ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ׃

(2) Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the LORD. (3) Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. (4) But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the LORD: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (5) You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. (6) But you may eat whatever the land during its sabbath will produce—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, (7) and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield. (8) You shall count off seven weeks of years—seven times seven years—so that the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. (9) Then you shall sound the horn [shofar] loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month—the Day of Atonement—you shall have the horn [shofar] sounded throughout your land (10) and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee [yovel] for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family. (11) That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, neither shall you reap the aftergrowth or harvest the untrimmed vines, (12) for it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you: you may only eat the growth direct from the field. (13) In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his holding.

...it is named yovel because of the blowing of the shofar.
- Rashi (11th c. France)

…our Sages of Blessed Memory explained that a yovel is a type of sheep, the proof of which is in the phrase “shofarot ha’yovelim,” so the year is named after the type of shofar.
- Ibn Ezra (12th c. Spain)

...the year [is called] yovel [....] because of the freedom it brings. [...] It says in this verse, “proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants,” because free people can live wherever they want, and then it calls it yovel because every person is conducted (yuval) back to their ancestral holding…and Scripture uses a similar expression in numerous places…it should be understood as a time of “conveying".
- Ramban (13th c. Spain)

Yovel teaches about dominion and freedom, it comes from the root “b.l.l. ב.ל.ל” just like “belulot b’shamen, mixed with oil,” having to do with mixtures. This is because in the year of yovel, there is a mixture because there is a blending of domains [i.e. of public and private property], there is a blending of the order of domains in fields and over servants, one who acquires becomes like one who sells…unified freedom implies one unified domain for all of us – there is no upper or lower hand, no more or less than one another. The tool we use to announce this blending of domains is also called a yovel, and this is why it is called “the horn of the yovel.”
- HaKetav V’HaKabbalah (19th c. Germany)

According to its simple meaning, it is an expression of moving from one place to another place. This is why the antelope is also referred to as a yovel, because it is always moving from place to place.
- Ha’Emek Ha’Davar (19th c. Russia/Poland)

(יט) וְנָתְנָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ פִּרְיָ֔הּ וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֖ם לָשֹׂ֑בַע וִֽישַׁבְתֶּ֥ם לָבֶ֖טַח עָלֶֽיהָ׃ (כ) וְכִ֣י תֹאמְר֔וּ מַה־נֹּאכַ֤֖ל בַּשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑ת הֵ֚ן לֹ֣א נִזְרָ֔ע וְלֹ֥א נֶאֱסֹ֖ף אֶת־תְּבוּאָתֵֽנוּ׃ (כא) וְצִוִּ֤יתִי אֶת־בִּרְכָתִי֙ לָכֶ֔ם בַּשָּׁנָ֖ה הַשִּׁשִּׁ֑ית וְעָשָׂת֙ אֶת־הַתְּבוּאָ֔ה לִשְׁלֹ֖שׁ הַשָּׁנִֽים׃ (כב) וּזְרַעְתֶּ֗ם אֵ֚ת הַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁמִינִ֔ת וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֖ם מִן־הַתְּבוּאָ֣ה יָשָׁ֑ן עַ֣ד ׀ הַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַתְּשִׁיעִ֗ת עַד־בּוֹא֙ תְּב֣וּאָתָ֔הּ תֹּאכְל֖וּ יָשָֽׁן׃
(19) the land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill, and you shall live upon it in security. (20) And should you ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year, if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?” (21) I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years. (22) When you sow in the eighth year, you will still be eating old grain of that crop; you will be eating the old until the ninth year, until its crops come in.

(כג) וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃

(23) But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.

שִֽׁמְעָ֥ה־תְפִלָּתִ֨י ׀ יְהוָ֡ה וְשַׁוְעָתִ֨י ׀ הַאֲזִינָה֮ אֶֽל־דִּמְעָתִ֗י אַֽל־תֶּ֫חֱרַ֥שׁ כִּ֤י גֵ֣ר אָנֹכִ֣י עִמָּ֑ךְ תּ֝וֹשָׁ֗ב כְּכָל־אֲבוֹתָֽי׃

Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my cry; do not disregard my tears; for like all my forebears I am an alien, resident with You.

Never say that you have arrived; for, everywhere, you will be a traveler in transit.
- Edmond Jabès

How do the shmita and yovel cycles affect our relationship to place and time?

If we see our selves as "strangers resident in You", how does that affect our relationship to place and time?

Are we searching for a utopian perfect harmony, or an atopian transitory state?

Atopia is the refusal of the place without hope of a place. The place of atopia is, radically, the nonplace (non-lieu). On the other hand, utopia is a temporary nonplace, linked to the place by hope, or by demand.

[...]

In our opinion, it is not only a matter of an ever-readiness for traveling, but, in fact, of continuous, perpetual, incessant movement. The Ark must travel because the Law, the Torah, is in becoming. Meaning is never there where it is given. [...] Being, for the Torah, is to be journeying. And the journey is not limited to a place. Journeying is a nonplace.

- Marc Alain Ouaknin, The Burnt Book

...in this respect [it] stands out against paganism: to be pagan is to settle, to plant oneself in the earth, so to speak, to set oneself up through a pact with permanency that authorises the sojourn and that certifies the certainty of the soil. Nomadism answers to a relationship that possession does not satisfy.

- Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation (as quoted by Ouaknin)


What does it tell us that respecting a covenant toward caring for the land is rewarded and punished by the land itself?

(ג) אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְוֺתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם׃ (ד) וְנָתַתִּ֥י גִשְׁמֵיכֶ֖ם בְּעִתָּ֑ם וְנָתְנָ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ יְבוּלָ֔הּ וְעֵ֥ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה יִתֵּ֥ן פִּרְיֽוֹ׃

(3) If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, (4) I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.

(יד) וְאִם־לֹ֥א תִשְׁמְע֖וּ לִ֑י וְלֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּ אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַמִּצְוֺ֖ת הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ (טו) וְאִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֣י תִּמְאָ֔סוּ וְאִ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֖י תִּגְעַ֣ל נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם לְבִלְתִּ֤י עֲשׂוֹת֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֺתַ֔י לְהַפְרְכֶ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִֽי׃

(14) But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, (15) if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant...

וַהֲשִׁמֹּתִ֥י אֲנִ֖י אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְשָֽׁמְמ֤וּ עָלֶ֙יהָ֙ אֹֽיְבֵיכֶ֔ם הַיֹּשְׁבִ֖ים בָּֽהּ׃ וְאֶתְכֶם֙ אֱזָרֶ֣ה בַגּוֹיִ֔ם וַהֲרִיקֹתִ֥י אַחֲרֵיכֶ֖ם חָ֑רֶב וְהָיְתָ֤ה אַרְצְכֶם֙ שְׁמָמָ֔ה וְעָרֵיכֶ֖ם יִהְי֥וּ חָרְבָּֽה׃ אָז֩ תִּרְצֶ֨ה הָאָ֜רֶץ אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתֶ֗יהָ כֹּ֚ל יְמֵ֣י הֳשַׁמָּ֔ה וְאַתֶּ֖ם בְּאֶ֣רֶץ אֹיְבֵיכֶ֑ם אָ֚ז תִּשְׁבַּ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ וְהִרְצָ֖ת אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתֶֽיהָ׃ כָּל־יְמֵ֥י הָשַּׁמָּ֖ה תִּשְׁבֹּ֑ת אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹֽא־שָׁבְתָ֛ה בְּשַׁבְּתֹתֵיכֶ֖ם בְּשִׁבְתְּכֶ֥ם עָלֶֽיהָ׃

...I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it. And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin. Then shall the land make up for its sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years. Throughout the time that it is desolate, it shall observe the rest that it did not observe in your sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it.

The broken covenant leads to environmental desolation -
or: the desolation of the environment is the breaking of the covenant... ?

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch!* Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! [...]

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

- from Howl, Allen Ginsberg

*A Canaanite God worshipped through idolatry and child sacrifice, whom we're repeatedly warned not to worship

Others see shmita and yovel as more of a spiritual practise of renewal and return. Look how shabbat's effect on the soul is seen in ecological/biological terms here:

צַ֭דִּיק כַּתָּמָ֣ר יִפְרָ֑ח כְּאֶ֖רֶז בַּלְּבָנ֣וֹן יִשְׂגֶּֽה׃ שְׁ֭תוּלִים בְּבֵ֣ית יְהוָ֑ה בְּחַצְר֖וֹת אֱלֹהֵ֣ינוּ יַפְרִֽיחוּ׃ ע֭וֹד יְנוּב֣וּן בְּשֵׂיבָ֑ה דְּשֵׁנִ֖ים וְרַֽעֲנַנִּ֣ים יִהְיֽוּ׃

The righteous bloom like a date-palm; they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are full of sap and freshness...
(Psalm 92, "A Psalm for the Sabbath")

...which, in turn, can place the journey of souls within a cosmic timescale:

וע"ד הקבלה יובל היא מלשון (ירמיהו י״ז:ח׳) ועל יובל ישלח שרשיו, וירמוז כי כל הדורות יובלו אל הסבה הראשונה, ולכך נקרא היובל בשם דרור כי הוא היובל אשר שם שרשי הדורות והנבראים כולן, כי משם נאצלו בברית עולם שנאמר (בראשית א׳:א׳) בראשית ברא אלהים

A kabbalistic approach to the words יובל היא: The word יובל is derived from the expression ועל יבל ישלח שרשיו, “sending forth its roots by a stream” (Jeremiah 17,8), a hint that all the succeeding generations are traced back to their original roots, to the prime cause which determined their development. This is the reason why the Yovel is called דרור, “freedom,” a reminder of when man was free from sin. All of mankind originated with the pool of souls at G’d’s disposal and eventually this is where the souls will return to.
Each one of the seven times periods of a cycle of 7000 years will perform the tasks assigned to the respective day of creation making a total of 49,000 years. When they have completed these 49,000 years the universe will revert to the Tohu Vavohu which preceded the words בראשית ברא (Genesis 1,1).

Next year (5782) is a shmita year (the yovel cycle has been lost). What can we do to give the land rest, to free those enslaved, to nurture our souls?