Behukotai 5771

by Max Bartell, 2011 USY Religion/Education Vice President International General Board

“And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will no reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.” (Vayikra 26:44) You’ve really got to love it when no matter what, God has our back. Shabbat Shalom USY. In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Bechukotai, God really struck me as a typical Jewish parent. We all know the feeling of being constantly loved and cared for, while at the same time being scolded or reprimanded (lovingly) for doing something small. This really seems to be the overarching theme in this week’s Parsha. As part of the book of Vayikra, laws are a very common occurrence. In fact, there are Parshiot which consist only of laws. However, this week the way that these laws are given out is a little bit out of the ordinary.

God proceeds to give out a large group of laws, ranging from Shmitah (resting the fields), to taxes that must be paid to the Temple, all the way to a repetition of the Ten Commandments for the entire nation. While it may seem strange that the Ten Comandments were recited for at least a second time, many scholars see it as a logical event. It also signals that the Israelites were growing exponentially. Because of their rapid growth, there were many people who were not present in person at the first recitation, and therefore must hear the commandments at this point in order to be familiar with everything that is going on. As the clear parent figure in this situation, God wants to make sure that everyone knows exactly what is going on.

However, after the blessings and commandments are given, God feels that it is appropriate to inform the Israelites what will happen if they do not follow God’s laws and commandments. Some of the punishments are pretty graphic, but they clearly make their point. The Israelites do not disobey God’s laws. It seems like this is exactly the way that a loving and caring Jewish parent would act. In fact, I had a very similar experience with my own parents just this past weekend at my installation as Chazak Divisional President.

When I was informed that my parents were coming to my installation, I was really excited. As soon as they arrived, I left the room to see them, and was greeted by hugs and showered with compliments and congratulations (blessing part). However, the moment they finished, they began fixing my suit, tie, and hair. You know, normal things that parents do. While this may not have been anywhere near the punishments that God promised the Israelites, you get the point.  While it may sound a little odd, I think that God and my parents felt pretty much the same way. They were both very proud of their respective “children’s” goals, but at the same time they were a little hesitant. They were hesitant to let what they had worked so hard to cultivate, grow up. God was afraid for the Israelites and my parents for their son. Both my parents and God had that sense of anxiety that comes with not being able to control what happens next. Even though they didn’t know what would happen next, both my parents and God still had to let go, and hope for the best. Shabbat Shalom USY, have a restful and peaceful Shabbat 🙂

Behar 5771

by Josh Seed, 2010-11 ECRUSY Religion/Education Vice President and 2011 Religion/Education International General Board member

In today’s world of routine, we can sometimes forget the one responsible for the everyday miracles in our lives. The concept of bitachon, or trust in God, plays a critical role in Jewish thought. Just as a person should strive to observe the mitzvot, they should also try to develop a consciousness that God is actively involved in everything that we do.

This idea can be seen in this week’s parashah of Behar. The beginning of the portion reads, “The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune you vineyard.” (Vayikra 25:1-4)

Much of the parashah is devoted to a description of laws concerning shmita, or the sabbatical year, which takes place in the Land of Israel every seventh year. During shmita, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity is forbidden. In Biblical times, debts were also cancelled on the shmita year, and servants were set free.
The mitzvah of Shmita begs a very important question: What food will we eat during this seventh year of rest? God, however, assures us not to worry. “And you should ask, “What are we to eat in the seventh year if we may neither sow nor gather in our crops?” I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it shall yield a crop sufficient for three years.” (Vayikra: 25:20-21)

The promise that God makes is very much like the double portion of manna that would fall before Shabbat or a holiday. In this sense, the shmita years mirrors Shabbat whose major function is to remind us that it is God who created the world and continues to maintain it. Although we all live very busy lives, we must always take a moment to stop and appreciate the miracles that we are blessed with every single day.

Emor 5771

by Nathan Dinitz, 2010-11 New Frontier USY Religion/Education Vice President

As I was reading parashat Emor, one pasuk stood out from the rest. It isn’t about the kohanim, nor the holidays, nor the man who blasphemes. It was about two mitzvot that are easily overlooked.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not to finish off the corners of your field when you harvest it, and do not gather up the gleaning of your harvest; for the poor and for the convert you must leave them; I am HaShem, your God.” (L. 23:22)

This verse is about two mitzvot: peah, leaving the corners of your field unpicked; and leket, not picking up the crops that drop when you harvest. We don’t get to keep it all. Instead, God commands us to leavepeah and leket for the poor to collect. This verse seems out of place because it interrupts the description of the yearly cycle of holidays. Shabbat, Pesach, waving the Omer, counting the Omer, Shavuot — next should come Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot — but before those holidays we get these harvest rules — leave the corners, and anything that drops, for the poor. What is this verse doing here?

Of course, I am not the only one who has noticed that this verse stands out. Even though this pasukmight look misplaced, several commentators say it belongs here for a reason.

Ibn Ezra (Rav Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra; 1089-1164 Spain) suggests that this pasuk belongs here, between the descriptions of the spring holidays and the fall holidays, because you need to remember about peah and leket — these harvest laws — during the summer. The summer is when you will need to observe them. We learn them here to help us actually remember to leave the corners and the dropped produce when we harvest — and not forget these mitzvot. If you don’t remember that this is the time to do these mitzvot, you might not do them.

Rashi (Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105; France) quotes the Tanna, Avardimas ben Yossi, who says that observing the harvest mitzvot of peah and leket is equivalent to building the Bet HaMikdash, and then offering all the korbanot of all the holidays of the whole year inside it. So, by leaving this food for the poor, one is serving God as if one had brought offerings to the Temple. We serve God by serving other people. According to Avardimas, these mitzvot are here — among the Korbanot of the holidays — to show that peah and leket are just as valuable as the whole community bringing all the holiday Korbanot.

Finally, the Meshech Chochma (Meir Simcha haKohen of Dvinsk 1843–1926; Latvia) connects Avardimas’ comment to a pasuk from Mishlei — the book of Proverbs:

“One who gives graciously to the poor makes a loan to God, and God will repay him (Proverbs 19:17).”

Building on Avardimas and Meshech Chochma, I think that the pasuk is here to remind us that because peah and leket have no shiur — no maximum amount — we should be generous in leaving the corners and dropped produce for the poor, because the poor who are going to take it might not have anything — not even enough to eat. This verse comes after the section about Shavuot — on which we read about how Boaz told his reapers to deliberately drop extra leket for Ruth to collect — and before Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur — when one is judged by HaShem. As the Meshech Chochmah reminds us, our generosity is a loan to God, and God will repay.

How can we in USY apply peah and leket? How do we share the benefits we reap from our work with those less fortunate around us? As we give to the poor, how can we remember that we’re making a loan to God? Can we be extra generous with this mitzva?

An Example: Giving to tzedakah before lighting shabbos candles each week.
Another Example: Bringing SA/TO funds to conventions with more intention and generosity.

Kedoshim 5771

by Max Bartell, 2011 USY Religion/Edducation International General Board

P.J. O’Rourke is famous for saying, “Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.” Now, regardless of the fact that O’Rourke is not a member of the tribe, this type of view and opinion is exactly what this week’s Parsha, Parshat Kedoshim seeks to change and get rid of. In Parshat Kedoshim, there are a rather unusually large amount of Mitzvot. There are 13 positive commandments, and 38 negative commandments, totaling 51 commandments. The first commandment in the Parsha is “Every man should revere his mother and father,” followed by “You shall keep my Shabbatot for I am Hashem your God.” There are a number of interesting things in these first two commandments, ranging from the wording used in them, to the reasoning behind the order that they are placed in. From the first commandment, “Every man should revere his mother and father,” we learn a number of things. We learn that by using the word revere, the Torah is implying that a person should not disagree with his parents in public, and should always treat them with the utmost respect. This can range from not taking their seat at a table, to correcting them in front of their friends, no matter how egregious their error may be. Just as a side-note, this pasuk is often used as proof and reasoning behind caring for your parents, even unto their old age.

Another interesting point that the commentators make with regard to this Parsha, has to do with the fact that the commandment to keep Shabbat directly follows the commandment to respect parents. According to Rashi, the importance of the order is that eventually this verse comes to teach us that a child should refuse his parent’s request that he or she desecrate the Shabbat, because ultimately Hashem and his Torah take precedence. This pasuk does not give a child the right to disregard the orders of his parents unless of course, the parent directs the child to break another one of God’s commandments. Only then is disregard of the parent’s orders acceptable. In terms of order that the commandments in this Parsha should be observed in, think of it this way: “1. Respecting your parents” and “1A. Keeping Shabbat.”

It seems that the commandments here really come back to one main theme of Judaism. The idea of the unwritten “Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule is essentially “V’ahavta L’Recha Camocha” or “Love your neighbor as you would yourself.” The commandments in this Parsha are really centered around the concept of respect. From the idea of not embarrassing your parents, all the way to not correcting an error that they make in front of their friends. While respecting our parents may appear to be a tall task, it is really quite simple. What it all boils down to is treating your parents the same way that you would like them to treat you. I highly doubt that one might want his parents to correct him or tell him that he iswrong in front of his friends. And even sometimes, when it may seem that his parents don’t understand your situation, he must still respect them because, in the words of Dr. Suess: “A Person’s a Person, no matter how small.”