Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – B’har

A great sigh of relief emanates from synagogues all over the world. We finish the Book of Leviticus. Rule after rule, regulation after regulation – sometimes sordid and often too steeped in agrarian minutiae for most people’s tastes. The Yeshivas love the text. Given that our training calls us to read nothing in Torah literally, the imagery, allegory, and conversation starters that jump from the book spawn thousands of years worth of studies and banter. Either we don’t want to read about a woman’s “unclean” times, flaky skin diseases, and such, or we don’t want to wrestle with the deeper issues of homosexuality, incest, or child sacrifice. It is sometimes hard to see the allegory in the … gory.

The book’s penultimate teachings remind us that we cannot really ever sell our family land, for in the Jubilee it reverts back. Every seven years, we have to leave the land alone and have faith that we stored enough food for a roughly two and a half year period. We have to rebuke and be rebuked for our wrong doings. Each of us has to come to grips with our personal and collective role in society. We all will suffer when any of us fails.

One would think that a book of rules would end with the dire consequences. Here are the rules. Here are the violations. These are the consequences. End of story!

Leviticus does not. Rather than end on that note, it seemingly starts over again with rules of redemption and donation. The rebuke is a rebuke and not banishment. And after the rebuke, a reaffirmation of life and blessing. The rules for offerings at the conclusion of the book direct us to give from come from our hearts and not because of any ritual obligation. What we give, whatever we give, is holy. It is not compensation. It is not punishment. These offerings are just holy. “Anything that a man devotes to God from any of his property whether a person, an animal, or part of his inherited field … all devoted things are holy of holies to God.” (Leviticus 27:28)

Horrible things happen, sometimes even by our own doing, but redemption and restoration are real. There is a tomorrow. I must make a choice to be blessed in it or continue to stay in a state of curse. I cannot change yesterday, but I must forge tomorrow. For some, the life challenges may take us, or ones we love, from life; from our lives. Sometimes other people’s actions cause us benefit or harm, even when we were uninvolved in the behavior. I cannot control the blessing or curse, but I am the only one who can control what happens after.

I may or may not see tomorrow, but we will. We learn from history that our time on earth is limited and the well-being of humanity never hinges on any one of us. For this reason, the central teaching in Leviticus is that famous “Golden Rule.” Since it is not about me, I need to treat others in the best way I want would want to be treated and see the world. As prisoners of hope, we believe with perfect faith that redemption is the reward we earn when we suffer even the well deserved rebuke, and get back up and start it again. Our sages teach us,“You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 2:21). We do it for each other.

Shabbat Shalom.