Like Moses, everyone goes through peaks, valleys


Sidrah Be-har is the penultimate Torah Portion in Va-yikra, the Book of Leviticus. This weekly reading from the Sacred Scroll focuses upon the Land of Israel, and prescribes the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee Year for the Land. According to our text, during the seventh year, the Land is to rest; during the fiftieth year, the Land is to lie fallow, revert to the families that originally held it, and Hebrew slaves are to be set free. Be-har concludes with a proscription of idolatry (which would pollute the Land) and a call “to keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary, Mine, the Eternal’s” (which would help to preserve the Land’s sanctity) (23:1-2).

The crucial and central principle in this Torah Reading is Leviticus 25:23: “The Land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the Land is Mine; you are sojourners residing with Me.” The Land belongs to God; the Israelites will become tenants in and custodians of the Holy Land for the Holy One. Time and again, our rabbinic sages affirmed and confirmed this point of view.

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Be-har is all about perspective. The Sidrah begins, “The Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai…” (25:1). Moses was called and charged to lead atop Mount Horeb. He encountered the Eternal One and the Divine Teaching at Sinai. And his life drew to its close on Mt. Nebo, the summit of Pisgah, overlooking the Land which he could view but not enter.

In the life of Mosheh Rabeinu there were exhilarating heights, but there also were deflating, depressing lows. The latter included the carping and kvetching of the stiff-necked people; their apostasy with the Golden Calf; family bickering on the part of his own sister; the jealous uprising of his cousin Korach and his followers; the deaths of dear ones; and the disappointment of being barred from the Land of holiness and promise. Through it all, however, Moses was not defeated. He carried on and persevered.

Moses was unique in Torah and Jewish tradition.

But the experience of life’s highs and lows was not his alone. Sooner or later, each and all of us go through emotional, personal hills and valleys. We often are well-served by the capacity to see the bigger picture and to envision the brighter day.

This world we temporarily inhabit, like the Land, belongs to God. Even if our years are many, our lives long, we are here merely for a relatively short time. Like the Land, we need our Sabbaths and our Jubilees, our times of rest, renewal, restoration and celebration. Like Moses, we traverse peaks and valleys on our journeys. And as was our Teacher, so may we be blessed with insight, prospect and purpose.

Rabbi Lane Steinger of the Midwest Council, Union for Reform Judaism is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.