Are we Spiraling out of Control? - בהר

Friday, 24 May, 2024 - 11:29 am


Are we Spiraling out of Control? 

The Torah Portion of Behar begins and ends with opposite extremes. It begins with the mention of Mount Sinai: “And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai”, then continues to describe the commandments of the sabbatical and jubilee years, which represent a time of peace and serenity, when the land is at rest, and liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. 

However, very quickly, the Torah turns to a series of laws, which, as the sages noted, represent a spiral descent into poverty and servitude.

Rashi, quoting the sages of the Talmud, explains that the order of the portions represents the admonishment against ignoring the laws of the sabbatical year, which will, in turn, bring about financial pressure and destitution.   

The passages {in this whole Portion} are written in a meaningful order: At first, Scripture admonishes us to observe Shemittah; then, if one covets money and becomes suspect of {unlawfully doing business with produce of} Shemittah, he will eventually {become destitute and} have to sell his personal belongings therefore, Scripture juxtaposes to it, “And when you make a sale”. If he still does not repent, he will eventually have to sell his inheritance (25:25). If he even then does not repent, he will eventually have to sell his home, and if even then, he does not repent, he will eventually have to borrow money with interest. Now, the later the scenario in this passage, the more severe it is; if he still does not repent, he will eventually have to sell himself {to his fellow Jew as a servant}; and if he has still not repented, not enough that he had to be sold to his fellow Jew - but he will {be forced to sell himself} even to a non-Jew. (Rash, Leviticus 26:1) 

The Portion begins with the mention of Sinai, the place where we received the Torah, in order to inform us of the purpose of the Torah which was given at Sinai. The ultimate goal of the Torah is to guide a person not so that he remain in a figurative desert, secluded from the temptations and pressures of civilization, but rather, the purpose of the Torah is to guide a person who will affect the world and create a home for G-d within the most mundane space. 

The purpose of the Torah is to apply Divine wisdom, holiness, and compassion, specifically within the natural world, which, left to its own devices, can deteriorate into a place of pain and difficulty. The purpose of Sinai is to empower us to overcome the obstacles in our path and to transform the natural world into a place of holiness and kindness.

This message is captured by the maxim of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose day of passing we celebrate on Lag Baomer, as quoted in the Ethics of our Fathers: 

Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns—the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty—but the crown of good name surmounts them all. (Ethics of our Fathers, 4:13)

Greater than the crowns of Torah, priesthood, and Kingship, is the crown of a good name, which is acquired as a result of the performance of good deeds. Because, indeed, the purpose of the crown of Torah is to impact and transform the natural word. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekkutei Sichos, 17 Behar - Lag-Baomer 


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