Don’t Forget Yourself – Parshat Behar
It can be confusing. We hear so much about how important it is to do for others and 'paying it forward' and karma that we tend to believe that our whole existence has no validation in and of itself unless we are totally focused on others with no regard to our own needs. How about my needs and 'looking out for number one'? Isn’t that important too? Or is that too selfish? And isn't it good to be selfish sometimes?
Shemitta, discussed in this week's parsha, is a fascinating mitzvah. (To tell a businessman to shut down for a year and that you don’t get to choose which year demands a high level of trust. But that’s a blog for another year.) The Torah tells the farmer that he must allow his land to lie fallow for one whole year and that he may not even guard the land. In fact, he must allow anyone who wants, to enter his land and pick produce from his land if they so wish. There is, though, one addendum here. The farmer himself may also enter his land and pick food for himself and his family.1 Rashi points out that the land is not totally forbidden to the owner; it is simply forbidden to behave as owner of the land. So, in addition, the owner may even be the first to harvest – if he wakes up early enough. And if we look at the list of people who may eat from this owner's land, the owner is listed first. Just as you are commanded to allow the rest of the community free rein in your field, you are also allowed to care for yourself and your household.
So who comes first? The community or myself? Hillel, the great tannaitic sage and teacher, tried to teach us the proper order. "If I am not for myself, who will be? And when I am only for myself, then what kind of person am I?"2 We need to care for others. It is important on many levels. But first, excluding extreme circumstances, you must care for yourself.
This does not at all mean not to engage in community work. Community work is necessary and, I believe, it is incumbent upon us all to work for the greater good. Part of that, however, is also showing by example how I balance that and that I care for myself and my family, too.
When giving instructions at the start of an airplane flight, the flight attendants tell parents with children on board that if there is a need to use ventilation masks, put on your own before you help your child. One of the reasons given is that when you take care of yourself first, then you will be available to help others.
You have a life to live. Part of that includes doing for others.3 But if you neglect yourself, you will not be able to help anyone.
Find your meaning, live your life, do for others and care for yourself.
In memory of my mother, Hentcha Leah bat Yitzchak Lipa, hk"m
and Reb Chaim Moshe ben David Melech
Have A Great Shabbat!