Posts Tagged 'Behar Behudotey'

Non Sequitur : Behar and a Memory of My Father

In this year since my father James Joseph Orlow z”l passed away I have tried to take some extra time to ponder his impact ( both big and small) on me and the world.  I have found myself often quoting his maxims. One of his go-to-phrases was ” Do you walk to work or do you like the color blue?” He really loved a good non sequitur. Much humor can be found in the juxtaposition of two things that do not go together.

I was thinking about this when reading  Behar, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for God. For Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyards and you may gather your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for God, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. ( Leviticus 25:1-4)

Rashi asks the oft quoted question, ” What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Or in other words, mentioning this Mitzvah at Sinai? Was not the whole Torah given at Sinai seems like a non sequitur.  While I have explored different answers to this question in the past, for today I am happy leaving it as a question and thinking about my father and the color blue.

Check out some answers to this question:

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Commitment Zeh B’Zeh

In Behar Behukotai,this week’s Torah portion we read:

They will stumble , each man over his brother as if from before a sword, but there is no pursuer; you will not have the power to withstand your foes (Leviticus 26:37)

The plain meaning of this is that they will live in fear unable to help each other. Rashi interprets it that they are living in religious and not existential fear. He writes that:

“they will stumble, each man over his brother” means one stumbles through the sin of another, for all of Israel are guarantors for one another. (Rashi on Leviticus 26:37)

The Gemara in Sanhedrin sites our parsha to prove that we are each others guarantors. There we read, ” Kulan Areivim Zeh B’Zeh– All of Israel are each others guarantors.”(Sanhedrin 27b)

How will we go about trying to protect each other? It seems that the plain meaning speaks to Jewish peoplehood and our being bound up in each other in our very being. Rashi in quoting the Gemara transforms this bond into a conversation about faith, sin, and religion. But at the core of the Gemara is the language of Areivut, itself is a monetary term. 

I think these different approaches are interesting given some current discussions of the accessibility of Jewish Day School Education. No matter how we cut it we are stumbling all over each other trying to figure out how to make Jewish Life sustainable. This was brought into focus this week by a great article by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper. In his article The Moral Costs of Jewish Day School he wrote :

 …parents receiving day school financial aid have no guarantee, and often no idea, of how they will be affected by tuition hikes or whether the school will take account of a job loss, a new baby, a car’s breakdown—or, on the other hand, a gift from a parent or extra income from a second job.  They cannot make future plans; they are chronically dependent on other people’s decisions.  They are deprived of economic dignity. 

For some day school education represents their commitment to our people and others it is a religious rite, but for all but the very wealthy it is a crushing burden of expense. Rabbi Klapper shares a model in which there is a restoration of dignity by creating a flat 15% cap to the amount that any one family would pay. He noted that this did not take into account other schools. And it does not take into account all of the other positive Jewish life choices that cost money like trips to Israel, camp, synagogue membership, JCC membership, and of course the smachot. I am curious to see it work, but I am concerned about who will pick up the tab. 

In light of the Gemara I want to put forward another option. What about a guarantor? I like the predictability and transparency of a cap, but what if we offered a free loan for the remainder. This would eliminate the scholarship culture for the middle class. Hopefully this would remove the stigma of the mandated handout and encourage more families opt into Jewish life. We would need to amortize a loan sensibly and sensitively over the course of their lives with their other expenses in mind. Eventually they would deal with this debt and eventually we would recoup the money. The question comes down to who will step up to be the guarantor. And if we are afraid that people will not be committed to pay back their loans, then this is just a bad investment. If nothing else our schools should be teaching commitment Zeh B’Zeh.


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