Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 May 2018 / 27 Iyyar 5778

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 "shemita". After every seventh shemita, 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-dpromises to provide a bumper crop prior to the shemita 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.


Breaking the Barriers

“If your brother becomes impoverished...” (25:35)

It's been a while since I visited London in the summer.

Last week I got back from a brief trip there. The weather was glorious. After one of the worst winters in years, the country was luxuriating in a proverbial English Summer day. And of course crowds thronged the streets and parks, everyone keen to cast off their memories of winter, together with much of their clothes, in an unabashed display of public indecency.

Apart from making parks a virtual no-go zone for someone who is striving to guard his eyes, I felt sorry for all those bright young souls.

A Victorian girl at least had high necklines and crinolines to flatter her imperfect form, but, nowadays, brutal hours of sweat at the gym are de rigeur to even make the qualifying rounds. In our civilization the body rules as never before. It's all about being the most beautiful sculpted animal, so to speak.

"A man who shall take his sister... and he shall see her nakedness... it is a disgrace..." (20:17).

The Hebrew word for “disgrace” here is chessed, usually translated as “kindness.” Clearly incest cannot be construed as “kindness.” What then is chessed?

If someone comes up to you who is clearly starving, and asks you for some money because he hasn't eaten in days, and you give him money for a meal — that isn't chessed. That's called being a normal human being.

If someone comes up to you who is clearly starving, and asks you for money for food, and you respond by taking him home, sitting him down at your table, and serving him a meal fit for a king, and then send him on his way with money in his pocket and a bulging take-home basket of goodies under his arm — that's chessed.

Chessed means forcing yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. Chessed can be breaking through the barriers of your normal selfishness, but it can also be breaking through the natural instinctive barriers of inappropriate intimacy.

Secular society standards inevitably influence the “Jewish World” to some extent. Today there are debates even within the wider Orthodox community about subjects that would have been totally shocking 50 years ago, ideas that the Torah unequivocally calls to'eva, an abomination.

“If your brother becomes impoverished...”

We live in an era of spiritual impoverishment, a world of almost total physicality.

What we can do?

G-d designed this world as a symbiotic creation. If we are prepared to break through the boundaries of our own spirituality, venture out of own little cocoons and do just a little bit more — say berachot a little better — learn Torah better, really do chessed — the result must be that the light of holiness will shine once again in the world.

  • Sources: “Chessed” idea based on Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

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