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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT B'HAR
May 17, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Lev. 25:1 - 26:2 (Hertz, p. 531; Etz Hayim, p. 738)
Triennial Cycle II: Lev. 25:29 - 26:2 (Hertz, p. 535; Etz Hayim, p. 742)
Haftarah:Jeremiah 32:6 - 27 (Hertz, p. 539; Etz Hayim, p. 758)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(25:1-7) The land shall be sanctified through the shemittah, the Sabbatical year of agricultural rest.

(25:8-17) Also, every 50th year is a Jubilee, in which all land and slaves are to be released. The land returns to its original owners, the slaves are freed. Thus, no land is sold forever; it is in effect a lease until the next Jubilee, which must be reckoned in the price.

(25:18-22) Faithful observance of these laws is to be rewarded with ample crops in the sixth year of the seventh cycle, so that there will be enough food for two years.

(25:23-38) Even between Jubilee years, families must help impoverished relatives regain their holdings. An Israelite or resident alien who becomes impoverished should be loaned money at no interest.

(25:39-55) Laws limiting the power of a slave owner.

(26:1-2) Laws against idolatry, and for the observance of Shabbat.

Discussion Theme: The Spiritual Meaning of Israel

“If your kinsman, being in straits, comes under your authority, and you hold him as though a resident alien, let him live by your side: do not exact from him advance or accrued interest, but fear your God. Let him live by your side as your kinsman. Do not lend him money at advance interest, or give him your food at accrued interest. I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the landof Egypt, to give you the landof Canaan, to be your God.” (Lev. 25:35-38)

Commentary

  1. “To give you the land of Canaan” as a reward for accepting My commandments upon yourselves. “To be your God” for whoever resides in the Land of Israel, I am a God to him; and whoever leaves it is like one who worships idols. (Rashi on Lev. 25:28)
  2. The connection between God and the Jewish people is dependent on settling the Land of Israel, for in Israel the Holy Presence dwells and it is the land chosen for prophecy and holiness. (Baruch Epstein, Torah Temimah on Lev. 25:38)
  3. One should always dwell in the Land of Israel and not in the Diaspora, for anyone that leaves Israel for the Diaspora is as if he worships idols. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 5:12)
  4. Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua and Rabbi Yochanan Ha-Sandlar were on their way to study Torah outside of the Land of Israel. When they reach Sidon in Lebanon, they remembered the Land. They began to cry and they rent their garments and they recited the verse Deut. 11:31-32: “When you have occupied it and are settled in it, take care to observe all of the laws...” Said they: Dwelling in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the other commandments in the Torah. Whereupon they turned around and went back to Israel. (Sifre Devarim - paragraph 80)
  5. Rabbi Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the Land of Israel? Did he want to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? But thus said Moses: “Many mitzvot were commanded to Israel which can only be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael. I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me.” (Talmud Sota 14a)
  6. Whoever moves to Israel for the sake of heaven and conducts himself in holiness and purity, there is no end to his reward, provided that he can support himself there. (Meir of Rothenburg, 13th century)
  7. Israel is not just a place--it's a story. And it's not just any story--it's our story, your story, the story of where we've come from, and the story of where we're going. It's a story that our people have been telling for a long time, and we feel a need to be part of it… This is the first chance in 2000 years that the Jews have had to see if we can use our tradition to create a society that is different--and, yes, better--than the places we all left to come here. If we build a fair and decent country, where people are treated well and where even people we disagree with are allowed to express their views, it will be our doing and we'll have the right to be proud of it. For the first time in centuries, it is Jews who will decide how to treat poor people, how we should take care of immigrants, what we will do with criminals, how we should run the schools and educate the next generation. Here, in this country, it's Jews who will decide how to treat the Arab minority fairly without losing the Jewish character of this country, how to use the power of the army in a just way, how to preserve the memory of what's happened to the Jews without becoming only bitter and angry... I hope that as you grow older, you'll think you were fortunate that we brought you here. Fortunate to grow up in a country where kids are still freer and more carefree than in any other place we know. Lucky to be in a place where your history--your story--pops up every day and reminds you who you are. Lucky to be in a place that for thousands of years and for millions of Jews was merely a dream, but for you is home. Blessed to be in a place that's new enough that you can make a difference if you try. And lucky enough to be in a place that's important, that's even worth fighting for. (Daniel Gordis, If A Place Can Make You Cry)
  8. There is no answer to Auschwitz... To try to answer is to commit a supreme blasphemy. Israel enables us to bear the agony of Auschwitz without radical despair, to sense a ray of God’s radiance in the jungles of history... (Abraham Joshua Heschel)
  9. I write all these things as someone who considers himself lucky to live in Israel—not because I think it is utopia but because Israel is the only place in which a Jewish person can live with the vital ingredients of the history and culture and mental life of all the generations of Jews that have preceded him, and can realize them in the creation of a new and modern reality... This is what it all comes down to: Not to be foreign. To belong. To be a partner with equal rights and obligations, a native and an organic part of this great body... Living means not just defending the borders, as Israel does with great effectiveness, but also doing something about what is going on within those borders. (Israeli author David Grossman in New Yorker, April, 20, 1998)
  10. Israel is one of history’s soaring proclamations of mankind’s worth to itself and to its Creator... Israel began with nothing much more than sand, hope and belief. And yes, fifty years later, it is indeed the Mideast’s only democracy, a growing center of science, technology, art, music. Israel is not a dirge—but a country. (A.M. Rosenthal, NY Times, 4/28/98)

Sparks for Reflection/Discussion

Leviticus 25:38 led Rashi, based on the Talmud Ketubot 110b, to make a radical statement about the significance of dwelling in Israel. It compares the one who dwells outside the Land, or someone who leaves the Land, to an idolater. Perhaps less radical a claim might be: Israelcompletes us spiritually in a way that living outside the Land does not. The question is: in what way does Israel contribute to our identity as Jews? What spiritual dimension does it add to our lives? And when we visit, do we visit as pilgrims or as tourists? Shlomo Riskin once wrote, “Israelis not Disneyland.” If that is the case, what spiritual meaning does Israelhave beyond being a tourist site? To what extent do we feel part of the story of our people when we visit Israel?


 
 
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