Posts Tagged 'Behar Behudotey'

This is the Way

This week’s Torah portion is Behar Behukotai. At the start of Behukotai we read:

If you walk in My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit. ( Leviticus 26:3-4)

It seems clear enough that the Torah instructing us to keep the rules. What is the differences between walking and observing them? What are the differences between laws and commandments?

Sforno explains this:

laws- chukkot are like Royal decrees, something person has to be guided by if he expects his endeavors in life to prosper. The Hebrew expression describing the fact that one abides by them is called הליכה, “walking.”…The thrust of our verse then is as follows: “if you will conduct yourselves in accordance with the practical part of My Torah, i.e. the performance of commandments requiring deeds, and you will study these laws in order to understand their purpose and in order to give meaning to your performance of these laws, you will accomplish that you will deserve the description of being a creature which reflects “God’s image.” ( Sforno on Levitius 26:3)

We are instructed to study and try to understand the rules and also to just do what needs to be done. This resonates for me as to the very nature of הלכה, Jewish law- the way we walk.

This was elegantly written about by Deirdre Sullivan in her iconic This I Believe essay, ” Always Go to the Funeral“. There she wrote:

“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

I really enjoyed how this idea has been explored in Disney’s Mandalorian. Beginning five years after the events of Return of the Jedi  and the fall of the Galactic EmpireThe Mandalorian follows Din Djarin, a lone Mandalorian bounty hunter in the outer reaches of the galaxy. He is hired by remnant Imperial forces to retrieve the child Grogu, but instead goes on the run to protect the infant and reunite Grogu with his kind. One of the things I love about the series is how it explores the creed of the Mandalorians. They are an exilic people trying make stay safe away from Madalor and make meaning in the universe. I relate to the way that they live in service of their duty. They do what needs to be done because, ” This is the Way”.

While it is not my favorite show I do relate to the ideas of walking Behukotai and the Mandalorian way. We too are an exilic people trying make stay safe in diaspora and make meaning in the universe. Just as some of the Mandalorians are devoted to keeping on their helmets, I always wear a Kippah to remind me of my duties. That is enough for now. I need to cook for Shabbat, because this is the way.

A Different Kind of Shmitah

With the advent of COVID-19 and the shelter in place regulations we have not driven our family van. At the start I realized that we had a flat tire and eventually switched it out for a doughnut, but still the car has not moved in 9 weeks.

This whole existence has caused a forced Shmitah of sorts. As we read in this week’s Torah portion, Behar Bechukotai:

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)

On one hand I have never worked this hard in my life, on the other hand this unique 9 week period has been a prolonged period of “complete rest”. Our car’s idle state represents our staying in one place. This has been a blessing of a prolonged family Shabbat.

On our Torah portion Rashi asks the oft quoted question, ” What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Why is this Mitzvah getting top billing at Sinai? Was not the whole Torah given at Sinai?  What is so special about a “complete rest”?

While on Passover we were slaves, by the time we reach Shavuot we ascended to the level to receive the Torah at Har Sinai. When we were slaves were bound by our masters to work in their land and not move. While we were traveling around in the desert as refugees it was hard to forget that we were a band of lowly liberated slaves. It is Gods world and we were just drifting through it.  Eventually we will be in the Land of Israel and again sedentary working our own land. Even if we are unsettled at this moment, the laws of Shmitah are here by Har Sinai to remind us of our humble beginnings as slaves and to point us to a wonderful autonomous future. In many ways this flat tire is doing a similar thing. It reminds me that even if everything is crazy now, I am safe, with the people I love, and there is a future when everything will settle down.

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:

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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