THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT BEHAR 5779
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
This has been the middle week of the annual seven-week period of Sefirat Ha'Omer. The Sefira's original function was to prepare us spiritually and socially for the receiving of HaShem's Holy Torah, which we commemorate and celebrate on Shavuot, exactly 49 days after having miraculously left Egypt. Which is why we actually count the days and the weeks. We need to use this time to take a deep look at ourselves, and to be certain that we are worthy of that exclusive status as HaShem's Chosen People, both collectively and individually.
For the last two thousand years, however, this period has taken on an added significance. As a result of the sudden and medically unexplained death of many thousands of Torah Students of the Tanna Rabbi Akiva, our sages decreed that the Sefira should also be a period of not-quite mourning, but definitely a lessening of joy and entertainment, and more of soul-searching. All this because this tragedy was caused by the singular lack of respect those Torah students afforded one another.
This week’s Parsha, Behar (here in Israel), has an interesting mix of Commandments, ranging from the Shmita laws which basically test our faith that HaShem provides our daily sustenance, to the essential principles of social behaviour including not to swindle in business and not to be malicious on a personal level. As I have pointed out in the past, the term used for these two Mitzvot is identical, “Lo Tonu.” Our logic may tell us that to swindle someone creates actual out-of-pocket damage, whereas being malicious, hurtful, and abusive only hurts the feelings of the victim, but no “real damage”. The Gemarrah says that the opposite is true. While monetary loss can be rectified, the medical world now accepts what the Talmud expressed two thousand years ago, that mental abuse affects the soul and cannot easily be reversed.
The two parallel significances of the Sefira must go hand in hand. Preparing to receive and accept the Torah, year after year, and in fact, day by day, cannot be achieved without realising and internalising that moral behaviour isn’t just one part of the Holy Torah, it is actually the more substantial section of our blue-print for our Religion. Since the traumatic destruction of the Temple, there are far more Commandments relating to how to behave among ourselves, than how to serve HaShem. The only way to effectively serve HaShem, is to show Him that we take full responsibility for all His commandments, and not just those we decide count. This is also evident from the verse in Yitro just prior to the giving of the Torah, "Vayichan Yisrael" – And Israel encamped – using the singular rather than the plural, meaning that the People were totally as one.
Rabbi Akiva’s students somehow didn’t comprehend that. They failed to realise that specifically because the Temple was destroyed, the other commandments took on an even greater importance.
We’re halfway there. Just over three weeks to go before we gather on the night of Shavuot to reaffirm our commitment to HaShem, His Torah, His People and His Land. Are we prepared? Are we even preparing? It’s certainly not too late.