Behar: Thinking long-term

Chaverim,

After several chapters about purity and the sacrificial system, our Torah portion “Behar”,  feels it necessary to refer back once again to the time of the revelation of the Torah.  This chapter appears as if it is an afterthought, something that Moses had neglected to mention until now.

I am saying this due to the sheer fact that we have read the last few weeks more or less nothing else than how to do sacrifices or to maintain holiness.  In Leviticus Chapter 25 we are still in the early days of what is to become a forty-year odyssey through the wilderness. The Israelites are still a disorganised rabble, they have no land, no crops, no harvests – they have no need for any Sabbatical years, or a Jubilee year, as well.

However,  right there, we are switched abruptly back to the top of Sinai, receiving instructions that seems to be out of context: ”When you come into the land which I will give you….”

Suddenly we are thinking long-term, strategically, we are thinking in terms of land and vineyards and fields and orchards, we are thinking in half-centuries and what to do to correct any imbalances in land-ownership that may develop. We receive a wonderful vision of a society based on checks and balances and respect for the mortality of man and the shortness of human ownership and the eternity of a Covenant and a God. So – why is it necessary to state suddenly that these laws were given on Mount Sinai? – It is as though the Torah text, having got distracted into allowing itself to muse upon the problems of skin diseases and issued decrees concerning the moral duties incumbent upon all to care for and ‘love’ the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the poor, the stranger –
suddenly has to pull itself together and return to the mode of ”As I was saying……”.

Having dealt with some inconvenient and rather messy incidents in the present, the Torah can now look again to the future – the presumed future, the presumed imminent future. Sounds for me as a General Election just passed and now everyone can concentrate to build together on a joined future. Don’t you think so?

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Dr Walter Rothschild)

(c) goodfreephotos

 

Yashar kochechem

In the past few weeks we have achieved several milestones in our congregation and celebrated wonderful happy moments in the lives of many of you. Often, we use the Hebrew expression “Yasher Koach“ to congratulate one another when a person does well or has achieved something in their lives (and I include an Aliyah to the Torah on purpose, as this is something special and good).

With proper diction, the expression is really supposed to be „Yishar kochacha“ which literally means „May your strength be enriched“ or „May your strength be straight.“ These days, the closest idiom would be „More power to you.“

Its origin is the Talmud where it comments on God’s endorsement of Moses breaking the Tablets in response to the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf:

And how do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, gave His
approval? Because it is said, „Which you have broken“ (asher
shibarta). Resh Lakish said, (Yishar kochecha sheshibarta)
„All strength to you“ (i.e., congratulations for breaking them).“

The correct form to congratulate a woman is: “Yashar kochech“, and if you like to express your wishes to a group, it is “Yashar kochechem“.

It is my wish and my hope that we will have also in future many wonderful occassions to bless one another with this marvelous  expression.

Shabbat Shalom—Yashar kochechem

Rabbi Adrian M Schell 

(Pictures below: Chuppah of Shane and Parusha Dorfman)

 

Behar – Bechukotai: Walking upright and unafraid

In our parashah, God vows to enact a series of blessings and curses for the Israelites—blessings if they observe the commandments, and curses if they do not. In her interpretation, Rabbi Lisa Exler explains that the blessings are “curiously framed” by the image of walking.

Walking is, for many of us, our most basic vehicle for navigating the world. Yet we probably don’t put much thought into it. We’re more concerned with where we’re going than how we’re getting there; and unless we’re on a hike, we rarely think of walking as an end in itself, or count it among our blessings. Our biblical passage opens with God stating the condition for receiving these blessings:

Im bechukotai teileichu—If you walk in accordance with My laws and observe and do My commandments.” And the section concludes with God’s promise to walk, in return: “V’hithalachti b’tochechem—And I will walk in your midst, and I will be your God and you will be My people.”

The section of blessings could have ended there, with the final inspiring blessing being one of reciprocal relationship and intimacy between God and the Israelites. But it doesn’t. Instead, it ends with the following verse, a seemingly superfluous description of God’s role in the Exodus, which, significantly, also includes the image of walking:

I am Adonai your God who took you out from the land of Egypt, from being their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk upright—va’olech etchem komemiyut.

A midrash explains that the word komemiyut, upright—which appears only this once in Torah, means “with a straight spine and unafraid of any creature.” In other words, God reminds the Israelites that they are no longer oppressed slaves living in fear; but rather, dignified people who can stand tall and walk proudly and are free to choose their own paths. The Israelites’ ability to walk upright, which they attained through their experience of the Exodus, was the necessary precondition for the other “walkings” described previously in the text—walking in accordance with God’s laws and God’s reciprocal walking among the people, bestowing upon them the blessings of rain, food, peace and fertility.

May we continue to be blessed to walk upright and to share our blessings with those in need. Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat and a meaningful week.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell