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Torah Commentary
B'har (May 28, 2016)

Rachel Brumberg, Associate Director of Lifelong Learning

What would you be willing to do for
the promise of food and security?

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat B’har, we learn of the Sabbatical and Jubilee laws that pertain to farming and personal property including land and slaves. This passage comes near the end of the Book of Leviticus, where we have been reading about the laws God gave to Moses and the Israelites. There are many laws, so there is a lot to adhere to, to say the least. And most (if not all) of these laws must have seemed foreign to the Israelites back then. (And to us today!)

But then there’s the promise: If you follow the laws, then God will give you food and security in return.

Who doesn’t want that? God clearly knew this audience. Let’s recall the context: The Israelites were slaves in Egypt until they decided to risk their lives to flee from Pharaoh. Fleeing Egypt led to the Israelites wandering the desert, following Moses in the hopes of finding a homeland and freedom. Food and security would have been considered a luxury and were not things any of them had on a regular, reliable basis. So, being told that there was a way for them not to be worried about sustenance and safety must definitely have been a selling point for the Israelites. Why not agree to follow these new laws, however strange and numerous they were!

Skip forward to today. Most of us still want to ensure that we have food and security, but not everyone sees following all of the laws of Leviticus as the way to obtain them. History (even the Bible itself) has taught us that bad things can happen to good people. But can we still look at this text for guidance to get what we need to survive? What lessons can we learn by understanding what following these laws would have done for the Israelites?

Clearly laws provide structure. And following these laws together would create a community with common history and observances. Such actions could help define who they were and for what they stood. The Israelites were still in their formative years, in the process of becoming a people and creating their narrative, a process that has helped to shape us as a community today.

Taking a closer look at this week’s parashah, why might the land promised by God be secure? Perhaps because its inhabitants, the Israelites themselves having accepted God’s laws, would be working together and would have a common vision for the land and the people who shared it. And why would they be able to eat their fill? By practicing responsible methods of farming they would ensure that the land was fertile, and also they could plan ahead for the years when the land needed to lay fallow. At their core, food and security are examples of what we need to survive.

B’har, therefore, may be teaching us that the path to survival can be found by forming a responsible society with shared goals and vision. Looking at it in this context, working together really doesn’t seem like too much to ask of anyone — particularly in the name of survival.

Join the conversation and post your thoughts. »

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