Parshat Behar | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Emily Blustein – Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta – Atlanta, GA

Rest for the land, rest for the people, all will be provided. This week we are reading Behar which tells us about shmitah and jubilee. Shmitah is during every seventh year, you shall not work the land, and Jubilee which is the 49th year where shmitah is practiced along with setting all slaves free and all land goes back to its original owners. G-d reassures the people that they have nothing to worry about during shmitah as the 6th year of growing will produce more than enough until the 8th years yield is ready. That’s putting a lot of faith in powers other than your own hard work. What did the farmers do during the 7th year? Did they enjoy or lament it? As I have been dabbling in farming, the thought of not being able to grow food for myself and others for a whole year is a bit unsettling. Truly, if everyone practiced this, what would be there to eat? Or were we all on different shmitah schedules? Maybe my neighbor is only in their 5th year when I’m in my 7th and we alternate sharing… It’s all a bit unsettling. The portion also mentions how the land does not belong to anyone, people are merely leasing it for land is not something to be owned. I don’t know if I believe that g-d necessarily owns the land but I like the concept that we as individuals cannot own part of the world. What makes us think the land we live on, work on, grow food on, is ours? Can we care about something without having to own it or claim it? Of course! The land belongs to all of us and ultimately, the land belongs to the land itself.

It is also brought up that we are commanded to commit business ethically. Well, isn’t that nice. Sometimes things are just a little too obvious but I guess there are still those who need to be commanded in order to do the right thing. I’m curious about how we are to set slaves free during jubilee. There can be slaves but only for 49 years, how ethical is that? Committing business ethically brings me back to permaculture ethics; earth care, people care and fair share. If we farm ethically, we are not solely focused on what we are growing, we are focused on taking care of the earth and not just for the present but for the future. Promoting soil health, composting, crop rotation, we are not only taking from the earth but doing as much as we can to give back. When the permaculture principles are utilized, the land is not abused and pushed to its limits. The land is just as important as what is grown with it. So perhaps with permaculture or any sort of mindful, thoughtful farming, schmitah is not necessary for the land for the land has life, energy and renewal each and every moment. Just like what we as people need.


Emily Blustein is elated to be a JOFEE Fellow in Atlanta. She has always learned the most through experiential programs and can’t wait to offer that type of education to others. Since a young age, Emily loved teaching herself how to grow vegetables and attended multiple nature-based Jewish summer camps. Emily’s love of food led her to pursue baking and pastry arts at Madison College, and her love of nature led her to a National Outdoor Leadership (NOLS) semester in the Southwest. Emily brought her passion for experiential education to MASA Israel’s Eco-Israel semester at Hava ve’Adam Farm, during which she lived, worked and studied permaculture design on an ecological-educational farm in Israel. After returning to Boston, Emily was involved with the Jewish Community Relations Council, volunteering at a Jewish retirement home providing activities and preparing/serving meals at soup kitchen. Emily spent the past year as a Farm to School Americorps educator in Wisconsin teaching and coordinating programming in schools about nutrition, cooking, gardening, and the importance of knowing the origins of one’s food. Fostering a positive and enriching learning environment, Emily believes that being outside with our hands in the dirt is where we all can learn not only practical skills but about ourselves as well. Emily is wild about traveling, hiking, baking/cooking all things vegan, playing violin, meditation, and spending time with her three-legged dog.


Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent Hazon. Be sure to check back weekly!