From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

The weekly Torah portion, Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23), describes festival holidays and the Eternal Light (Ner Tamid). One of its other important but often overlooked verses is Leviticus 23:10, “When you enter the land…” Though this verse appears in many places in Torah, the repetition is meant for emphasis. What follows it are commandments, prescriptions, and penalties that will be the obligations of the Israelites in the land that God is giving them. 

The verse “when you enter the land” is also a model for us. Rather than reading it as a prescription for arriving at the land of Israel, we can read it as a threshold before we begin any new responsibilities. The best example is that of a b’nei mitzvah. Before children arrive at the Torah to demonstrate their adult Jewish responsibilities, they spend years learning and practicing. Even fasting on Yom Kippur is done for part of the day to prepare for the time when they’re obligated to fast all day.

Beyond religious obligations, “when you enter the land” can serve as a secular threshold, too. At high school and college commencement exercises, graduation speakers often say, “When you enter the world,” to identify the threshold they’ll cross to enter the proverbial land where real duties begin. New jobs come with new obligations. Today, we grow disappointed with people who enter their new world of jobs and roles and fail to cross the threshold. Unfortunately, they hold onto young habits, immature attitudes, or old routines, and stumble into “the land” of high expectations, new schedules and hard deadlines. Those who can make the change thrive in their new environment. But those who can’t make the change or refuse to conform, even a little, might reject the “new land,” and retreat to working alone or not at all.

In Judaism, we don’t honor isolation. We don’t thrive on the margins of the community. So “when you enter the land,” is more than a time between preparation and obligation, it’s also an expectation. As Jews, our duty is to “enter the land” and build and support a community that provides education, healthcare, economic opportunity, and Jewish religious and social engagement. We’re specifically commanded not to live in places where these elements and institutions are unavailable.  

As we reach the end of May, our children will graduate from high school, college, and graduate school. We wish for them what they wish for themselves. But our preference is that they’ll “enter a land” with a focus on adult obligations and mature expectations in cities where they won’t lack for access to education, healthcare, economic opportunity, and Jewish religious and social engagement. Even those who return to their childhood home between new jobs and obligations should understand that the old house is also a “new land” with real adult responsibilities, even if it comes with free rent, utilities, and food.

Our rabbis taught, “Kol hatchalot kashot,” all beginnings are hard. We know that it’s true. But Torah is a book of teachings that move us along on our journey to “new lands” where we can become everything we’re intended to be.  


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