Jewish Journal

Give Her a Rest

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)

by Rabbi Karen Deitsch

Posted on May. 10, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Fact: 54 percent of Americans worry about their daily stress levels.

Stress instigates anxiety disorders. Medically categorized as "neuroses," these nonpsychotic mental illnesses trigger feelings of uncomfortable inner emotional apprehension that dominate perception and impair thinking, judgment and functioning, even though there is no identifiable threat. The stress response to ambiguous danger activates what physiologist Walter Cannon termed "fight or flight." Hard-wired into the brain, this mechanism releases chemicals from nerve cell sequences for anticipated combat or escape.

Although there is no identifiable threat, more than half our population experiences daily life as if there were. To quote Leviticus 26:18, stress disorders cause us to "flee when no one pursues."

Deluded to believe our survival is being threatened, we exist in fight-or-flight mode: pulses quicken, blood diverts from the digestive and reproductive systems into hands and legs, and short-term thinking over-rides rationality. "Terror ... consume[s] the eyes" (Leviticus 26:16) as pupils dilate in narrowed perception of a reality where anyone may perpetrate. The autonomic nervous system creates "consumption and fever" as flushing, sweating and reduced immunity, and "sorrow to the heart" (Leviticus 26:16) as chest pains or angina.

God's warnings of consequence for disrespecting His orders in Behar-Bechukotai read like a psychiatric diagnosis manual's symptom list for neurotic stress disorders. The Israelites are beseeched to provide a "Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord" (Leviticus 25:4) every seventh year by not working Her. She is the Mother Earth: the Divine consort of Source. If disrespected; if misogynistic, ego-based desires for ownership or affluence give precedence to any "thing" over everything; "the sound of a shaken leaf will chase them and they will flee, as fleeing from a sword" (Leviticus 26:37).

We are paying the penalty for despising the Divine's statutes. God warned that our "strength will be spent in vain": while the human body is capable of withstanding considerable levels and durations of stress, eventually, sustained depleted energy reserves cause chronic fatigue, stamina and muscle loss, and brain cell toxicity.

He presaged we would: "sow [our] seed in vain" (Leviticus 26:16) -- average sperm count decreased 42 percent since 1940; and that our "skies [would be] like iron and our earth like copper" (Leviticus 26:18-20). In 1990, scientists discovered copper contamination in 7,000-year-old layers of ice in Greenland glacial caps and widespread copper smelting in the Bronze Age released enough copper into the atmosphere to contaminate ice thousands of miles away, causing iron-colored pollution and a poisoned ecosystem.

We have abhorred our Father and, more pertinently, exploited our Mother.

Persistence will ultimately render our heartbroken earth "forsaken by [us]" as She finally takes her Sabbaths "while she lies desolate without [us]" (Leviticus 26:43), mourning the children that deserted her in selfish greed.

Either way, Mother Earth must rest. She cannot bear the weight of our collectively disowned femininity much longer; Her burnout from such repression is inevitable, Her sabbatical inexorable. She implores us to attend to her ... before we disintegrate.

Physical systems must rest, in testament that no "thing" really matters. No thing restores wholeness. No amount of force compensates for an equal measure of submission.

Quick-fix prescriptions that inhibit symptoms and disregard underlying causes only exaggerate the very dependencies, weaknesses and insecurities we resist acknowledging.

We must sanctify Shechinah: Source's indestructible other half. She is the intuitive, the deep, the changeable; She is the sensual, the vulnerable, the dependent, the receivable. She is the passionate, nurturing, indistinguishable dream of darkness from which the light is borne. She is earth beyond reclaim. She must rest.

Cardiologist Herbert Benson discovered an antidote for neurotic stress disorders: the "relaxation response" hard-wired in the brain, releases neurochemicals almost precisely counteractive of "fight or flight." Induced by practices of consciousness, presence or surrender, it stabilizes brain waves and lowers blood pressure and pulse rates.

Nothing is what God commanded we do with earth every seventh year. Nothing is the reverence of Everything; it is Shabbat: the Jewish relaxation response that celebrates the completion, satisfaction and wholeness defined by the word shevah (seven in Hebrew). Sheva is the perfection of the manifest universe reflected upon.

Revering Goddess is something we literally cannot stress about. We need only let Her be -- within and without. And through our retreat, Her beloved, protective mate will shower His grateful providence into our relinquishment that we too may return to the peace we have co-created.

Now that's a fact.

Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officiant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at karendeitsch@yahoo.com.

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