Torah Weekly

For the week ending 13 May 2023 / 22 Iyar 5783

Parshat Behar

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah prohibits normal farming of the Land of Israel every seven years. This "Shabbat for the land” is called "Shemitah." After every seventh Shemitah, the fiftieth year, Yovel (“Jubilee”) is announced with the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur. This was also a year for the land to lie fallow. G-d promises to provide a bumper crop prior to the Shemitah and Yovel years. During Yovel, all land is returned to its original division from the time of Joshua, and all Jewish indentured servants are freed, even if they have not completed their six years of work. A Jewish indentured servant may not be given any demeaning, unnecessary or excessively difficult work, and may not be sold in the public market. The price of his labor must be calculated according to the amount of time remaining until he will automatically become free. The price of land is similarly calculated. Should anyone sell his ancestral land, he has the right to redeem it after two years. If a house in a walled city is sold, the right of redemption is limited to the first year after the sale. The Levites' cities belong to them forever. The Jewish People are forbidden to take advantage of one another by lending or borrowing with interest. Family members should redeem any relative who was sold as an indentured servant as a result of impoverishment.


The Lesson and the Parable

“You shall not make idols for yourselves…” (26:1)

In the 1950s, the British intelligence establishment was rocked by the exposure of an entire Soviet spy network within its ranks. The defections of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean represented a body blow to the prestige and self-confidence of the British secret service. British intelligence was viewed with mounting and entirely justified suspicion by the CIA.

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson ordered a secret investigation into the entire structure of British intelligence. For most of the war, Britain had conducted the espionage battle against Germany with remarkable results; by 1952, the conductor’s baton had passed to the US, and Britain was firmly in the position of second fiddle.

With his vastly popular mythical spy, James Bond, writer Ian Fleming simply ignored this inconvenient fact. His fantasy of an omnipotent British secret service nourished millions of readers on both sides of the Atlantic, and spread a legend of British espionage efficiency that persists to this day.

In a now-notorious speech of 2003, President George W. Bush implicitly summoned up the ghost of James Bond when he cited British intelligence as a reason for invading Iraq: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. A high-ranking Bush administration official subsequently said that evidence in support of this claim was inconclusive at best and added: “These 16 words should never have been included [in his speech].”

We live in a world where the parable has become the lesson.

In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon announced his decision for NASA to build the Space Shuttle. NASA originally chose the name Constitution for the first Space Shuttle. A determined write-in campaign by fans of the science fiction TV series Star Trek convinced NASA to rename this first vehicle Enterprise, after the fictional starship made famous by the show.

As we move inexorably to the end of world history with the coming of the anointed one, the Mashiach, illusion, the parable seeks more and more to replace reality. ‘Reality TV’ shows have nothing to do with reality. They reveal a world where people are prepared to sacrifice their own realities to the illusion of glamor and success.

Idol worship is the ultimate mistaking of the illusion for the reality. The sun and the rain seem to cause crops to grow and so they were worshipped. Nowadays, the idol has become glamor, success, money and fame.

The Ramban says how we can protect our faith through all the vicissitudes of exile: staying far from idolatry, and I might add, not just the classic worshipping of statues and the forces of nature, but also the idols of our age – fame and money; the observance of Shabbat, which is our testimony that Hashem created the heavens and the earth; and respect and reverence for the Beit Hamikdash, which manifests itself in the careful observance of the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

Through keeping these three miztvahs, a Jew will find the strength to keep all the others, and guard and preserve his faith even in a world that has mistaken the parable for the lesson.

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