We live in a time of materialism. We put a value on everything, whether a financial portfolio, the financial burden and impact of welfare and food stamps, or the crushing impact on unemployment and underemployment. Our society explicitly defines everything by its price.
Within that world, it seems inevitable that we humans succumb to enumerating our own value in the same way: “I’m worth it; I’m worthless…” or “I deserve it; I don’t deserve it” and other such litanies of self-exultation/self-excoriation that infect our minds and degrade our souls.
This week’s double parashat B’har/B’hukkotai are the penultimate and ultimate parshiot of Vayikra (Leviticus). In Torah, text placement is often a key to delving below the p’shat (the plain meaning of the text).
B’har focuses on the principles of land tenure in the Promised Land — the sabbatical year, the jubilee and their attendant regulations. B’hukkotai shifts our focus to the incipient inhabitants of the land — our ancestors and us.
Why the juxtaposition? For me, the two parshiot express one concept.
First, B’har: We are not the land; we do not own the land. We are responsible for the land; the landlord demands that of us. God says: “the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.” (Lev. 25:23) Implicit in this: The land will sustain us only if live up to the terms of our Covenant with God.
Then, B’hukkotai: The only place in Leviticus where neither legal nor ritual laws are the focus, this is the epilogue to the Holiness Code. We are not God; only God is God. The final parasha of Leviticus express two basic principles: we humans have free will; exercise of that will has consequences, is subject to both blessings and curses. Our Covenant with God is a two-way street. God may provide either blessings or curses, but (as the High Holy Day liturgy states): prayer, return to God’s ways, and righteous caring for others can avert the severe decree.
We emulate God when we “walk in God’s ways;” we devalue our selves — our souls, if you will — when we eschew God’s ways.
Knowing ourselves is hard work. Some may find that task virtually impossible. Knowing God is equally hard work. Finding God is always possible.
We live in a time of hope and despair. It is incumbent upon us to do the work that lessens despair and fosters hope — in others and ourselves. Such is the way of tikkun olam.
May the one who established peace in the heavens, grant peace to us, to all Israel and to all humanity.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)