“Parsha and Purpose” – Behar-Bechukotai 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“Jerusalem: The Mandate to Redeem God, the Jewish People and the Holy City”
Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)
“Jerusalem: The Mandate to Redeem God, the Jewish People and the Holy City“
A city that has inspired the Jewish People throughout the ages, including David HaMelech, King David, who described Yerushalayim’s unique ability to bring the Jewish People together:
יְרוּשָׁלִַם הַבְּנוּיָה כְּעִיר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה לָּהּ יַחְדָּו
Yerushalayim built up, a city knit together (Psalms 122:3)
As we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, and the role the city plays in our people’s ultimate redemption, it is so important to focus on this unifying quality, particularly in a time in which division and polarization are so pervasive and toxic.
To re-appreciate the role of Yerushalayim and the Land of Israel in our national destiny, we need only to look to this week’s parsha, Behar-Bechukotai.
The Torah states:
כִּי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָכַר מֵאֲחֻזָּתוֹ
If your kinsman is in straits and has to sell part of his holding (Leviticus 25:25)
Rabbi Chayyim ben Attar, the well known Talmudist and Kabbalist who made aliyah from Morocco to Yerushalayim in the 18th century explains that the word “achicha”, your kinsman, refers to the Jewish People, and “achuzato” refers to Yerushalayim and the Land of Israel.
He reads the verse like this: “When the Jewish People are in straits in exile and lose Yerushalayim and the Land of Israel…”
The same pasuk continues:
וּבָא גֹאֲלוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֵלָיו
his nearest redeemer shall come (Leviticus 25:25)
Who is this “nearest redeemer”?
According to the Ohr HaChayim – as Rabbi ben Attar is called – the nearest redeemer refers to the righteous people who are closest to God.
וְגָאַל אֵת מִמְכַּר אָחִיו
and redeem what his kinsman has sold (Leviticus 25:25)
It is the responsibility of the righteous to work to bring redemption to the people, to God, to the city of Yerushalayim and the Land of Israel.
וְאִישׁ כִּי לֹא יִהְיֶה לּוֹ גֹּאֵל
If a man has no one to redeem for him (Leviticus 25:26)
But what happens when the righteous are not sufficiently focused on the mission and destiny of the Jewish People; when they lose grasp of the larger picture and everything seems lost?
וְאִם לֹא מָצְאָה יָדוֹ דֵּי הָשִׁיב לוֹ
If he lacks sufficient means to recover it (Leviticus 25:28)
וְיָצָא בַּיֹּבֵל וְשָׁב לַאֲחֻזָּתוֹ
and he shall return to his holding. (Leviticus 25:28)
In such a situation, when God sees that the exile is just too much for the Jewish People to handle – the antisemitism, the assimilation and alienation – then He will bring about OUR redemption, because of the vital necessity of the Jewish people for all of humanity.
Yom Yerushalayim reminds us that we find ourselves in a moment of great challenge/opportunity in the process of our redemption.
That even as we express gratitude for the blessing of living in a reunited city, we must acknowledge that we also live in an era of deep polarization.
In a time of darkness.
In a time in which certain groups of Jews think that they have a monopoly on truth and do not see the goodness, the greatness of the other.
We must remind ourselves and the next generation about the work still ahead of us: the responsibility to remain focused on the Jewish People’s larger narratives, our mission and destiny, for ourselves and the world.
To keep focus via the gift of Yerushalayim: שֶׁחֻבְּרָה לָּהּ יַחְדָּו, the city that brings us all together (Psalms 122:3) – an eternal reminder of where we come from, and where we are going.