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Parashat Behar 5779 — 05/25/2019

Parashat Behar 5779 — 05/25/2019

Vayikra 25:1-26:2

In last week’s parashah we were told to count, from the second day of Passover, 7 times 7 days, and to celebrate the 50th day as Shavuot. As we noted, Shavuot is associated with the giving of the Torah. In our parashah, we are told to count 7 times 7 years, and to mark the 50th year as the Yovel / Jubilee year, when all Israelite indentured servants go free and everyone returns to their ancestral land holdings. How are these two counts related?

R. Goldin first points out that in both cases there is an element of freedom involved. In the Omer count we attained physical freedom at the beginning of the count (with the Exodus from Egyptian bondage) and spiritual freedom at the end, with the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. In the Yovel count, slaves go free at the end, and those who had become impoverished and lost their land regain it from the wealthy who had purchased it from them. R. Goldin goes on to point out that there are two kinds of freedom being dealt with here:

1. Dror (liberty): The removal of external constraints, physical or otherwise, that impede an individual’s personal choice and independent action. Dror is either conferred upon an individual by an outside force or attained through severance from that force.

2. Cheirut (freedom): The injection of positive purpose and value into one’s life. The individual who enjoys cheirut, by choosing to pursue a higher goal, actively frees himself from servitude to the surrounding world and its potentially enslaving forces. Cheirut cannot be granted by another but must be attained by an individual himself.

In the context of the Yovel the word dror is used, in the famous (Liberty Bell) proclamation: Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof (25:10). And in the case of the Torah (but not the Liberty Bell) this proclamation is followed by the command that slaves be set free and that the land revert to its ancestral owners.   In other words, the Yovel year is to provide a mechanism to remove the physical barriers to individual progress, by resetting economic parameters and lifting the poor out of their poverty. With a level playing field, each person should be able to actualize his or her individual potential, but the Yovel itself is no guarantee of such a result – it only provides the minimum conditions under which the individual can thrive.

In the context of the Omer count, we find the move from physical freedom in the Exodus (on Pesach) to spiritual freedom with the giving of the Torah (on Shavuot). This is associated with cheirut by the Sages as follows. The luchot (Tablets) are described as … the work of Gd and the writing was the writing of Gd, engraved [charut] upon the tablets (Shemot 32:16). The Sages make a play on words: Do not read charut [engraved] but cheirut [freedom], for no man is free but he who occupies himself in the study of Torah (Pirkei Avot 6:2). Freedom is associated with Torah. Given that the Torah contains many restrictions on our action, forbidding many actions and requiring many others, this seems to be hard to understand. Even if we say that by restricting physical action we gain spiritual freedom, the mechanism that connects restriction and freedom is a bit obscure.  How are we to understand this?

On the surface level, we have to reconsider our evaluation of the “restrictions” of a Torah lifestyle. In many cases, the mitzvot of the Torah are obviously for our own good. Not murdering, not stealing, etc. are crucial for a well-ordered society.  If one constantly has to look over one’s shoulder to stay alive, it does not create an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth. According to our tradition, the same is true of all of the mitzvot of Torah – they are all for our benefit, leading us towards a well-regulated life, one free from strain and free from subtle levels of pollution, so that we can indeed make spiritual progress. Far from being restrictions, the mitzvot, both positive and negatives, are guardrails against wandering into spiritual and moral quicksand.

I’d like to take this to a deeper level. Over the past two weeks we have discussed the nature of Torah and Torah study. I have suggested that the way Moshe Rabbeinu “studied Torah” from Gd was that he was able to “listen in” on Gd’s speaking to himself, from Moshe’s own refined state of consciousness. Similarly, our challenge in studying Torah is to station our awareness permanently on the level of the transcendent, so that we can learn Torah “from the inside” so to speak. In other words, if our awareness is (primarily) identified with the transcendental field whose vibrations are perceived as Torah, then we, in a very real sense are Torah. We are not learning Torah the way we learn any other discipline, as knowledge that is external to ourselves. Rather, the whole thing is very intimate, “…in your mouth and in your heart so you may do it” (Deut 30:14).

When we have become Torah at the transcendental level, we have stationed ourselves beyond the realm of action altogether. Action is the domain of Gd’s expression of His inner nature. As creatures, our perspective is that action is real, that there are objects, including people that are separate from Gd. From this perspective, we are bound to the world of action, to boundaries (metzarim like Mitzraim = Egypt). From Gd’s perspective, there never was, nor will there ever be, anything other than Gd. All action is Gd’s internal affair.

I believe Torah is telling us to establish our awareness on the transcendental level so that we can partake of Gd’s perspective. Then we will experience that in our own innermost nature, we too transcend the realm of action and are free from its boundaries. This is true cheirut, and it comes from our identification with Torah to the fullest extent possible to a human being.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat BeHar

The main thing that we can learn from this parshah is to schedule regular periods of rest into our lives and schedule deeper, longer rest also regularly: just as we are to rest every seventh day and the land is to rest every seventh year.

“Behar” means “on the mountain,” literally, Mt. Sinai; symbolically, that level of our awareness when we are able to hear Gd and to express Gd’s Will in our actions in our familiar everyday world.

Also, since Rabbinic tradition derives “Sinai” from “sin-ah,” “hatred,” a reference to the hatred of other nations for the Jews who received the Word of Gd, we might see Mt. Sinai as being the mountain of hatred, above which is Gd, freeing the mountain, Moses, and through Torah given to Moses, all of us.

Hatred comes from fear which comes from restrictions and the suffering that goes with living life at a level less than we feel we need, deserve. But contact with Gd, through attunement, through rest, loosens the restrictions, opens the awareness to fuller happiness and ability, and dissolves fear and hatred. The Sabbath and the Sabbatical Year are examples of means to gain this rest and to gain the experience that brings trust and releases doubt and fear.

But even on days other than the Sabbath, we begin the day with prayers, pray afternoon and evening and conclude the day with prayers. These prayers and other spiritual practices we may do can serve as times of rest during the day.

Ideally, our continued prayers, activity, and Sabbaths become integrated and we experience a continuous state of lively rest that pervades every moment of our day: we become perfectly attuned with Gd and are restored to Full Awareness, that Gd is One, that our individual personalities are roles that Gd plays, and we are One with the One, we are All in All, the One and Only “I.”

Baruch HaShem