Parenting By Parsha: Behar-Bechukotai

Sometimes, I just need a nap. Don’t we all? If there’s something that living through a pandemic with a kid and a full-time job sans enough childcare has taught me, it’s that you have to take a rest when you can get it. Sometimes that’s at night, as it should be. Sometimes, not so much. 

That’s where the nap comes in. Wow. That golden moment when you sink into the bed and breath in the smell of clean(ish) sheets. Exhale the stress of the day. Pray to whomever you believe in that your kid will stay asleep for a little longer. 

Of course, these naps don’t happen every day, or even every other day. My little one sleeps in the afternoons, but that doesn’t mean that my wife and I get to rest. There’s some complicated math that goes into deciding whether we get to rest and, if so, for how long. Add the number of emails you have to the project deadlines that are (inevitably) whooshing towards you. Subtract the exhaustion, maybe nausea, and multiply by how much you care about the laundry and dishes. 

It’s not that I just want a nap, though. I need one, and I’m not exaggerating. Sleep is a crucial part of anyone’s wellbeing, both physical and mental. It’s how we process the sensory input we’ve received, it’s when the brain files information under ‘urgent,’ ‘not so urgent,’ and ‘can be completely forgotten.’ Without sleep, we will simply overheat and shut off. If only the world would align itself to allow us all the rest we need to be truly healthy and, therefore, to be great parents, creative people, friends, and more. 

The Torah gets it. This whole portion is about resting, albeit the resting of the land. It’s kind of a radical approach to our approach to the Earth. Or, to put that more precisely, it’s a radical approach within the constraints of a society that expects everything to be available to it forever without stopping. 

The Torah, in this portion, says to stop. “Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield,” says Leviticus 25:4, continuing, “But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.”

That’s not it either. You also have to stop all agricultural activity every 49 years (this is called a jubilee). Anyone who works for you (or is enslaved by you) gets released every seven years, and every 49 years as well. All contracts over land are voided, too. “But houses in villages that have no encircling walls shall be classed as open country: they may be redeemed, and they shall be released through the jubilee.” (Lev. 25:31) Stop, says God, it’s not good for the land, and it’s not good for you. Count to seven, and restart the whole game. 

Why is it not good for you? Easy. Because if you don’t respect the land God will smite you so much you won’t even know your own name anymore. “I will loose wild beasts against you, and they shall bereave you of your children and wipe out your cattle. They shall decimate you, and your roads shall be deserted.” (Lev. 26:22)

I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but sometimes when the lack of sleep adds up it sure feels like being decimated by wild beasts, insofar as I can imagine. My kiddo feels it, too. I’m not present, I can’t focus, I can’t run around the playground and climb the jungle gym. When I don’t sleep well (say, cause I’ve been cleaning the house, answering emails, or worrying about the state of the world), I’m cranky, and impatient, and clumsy.

How can one strike a balance? We can’t do it all, and I resigned myself to that truth a while ago. Still, I want to have a clean house and an empty inbox and a happy child with a fully present parent. Is that so much to ask?

It’s easy to feel a lot of shame around not doing it all. I, for one, excel at Guilt and Shame, particularly as they pertain to parenthood. There is always something I wish I could be doing more, or better. At times, too often, the voices of Guilt and Shame are able to drown out the voices of Uplifting and Positivity in my mind. 

That’s why I felt a lot of solace when reading the words of the Torah this week. Take a beat, says God. It’s OK to be overwhelmed, to have given all you’ve got. If the Earth can be drained of its energies, it would be pretty audacious to think that we humans can’t be drained, too. Just like the Earth, we need our beauty sleep. Not to be beautiful, but to see and feel the beauty of our existence more easily, to bring the wonder that comes with awareness and self-compassion to the fore. I still don’t know how to find balance, but this wisdom gives me the strength to continue striving.