Behar Bechukotai

“Parsha and Purpose” – Behar/Bechukotai 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

Sefirat Ha-Omer: Repairing and Redeeming Society

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Parshat Behar (Diaspora) and Parshat Bechukotai (Israel)

Sefirat Ha-Omer: Repairing and Redeeming Society

It was March of 1986, the week of Ta’anit Esther and Purim. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who traveled each week from his home in Boston to New York City in order to give shiur at Yeshiva University, had come in a day earlier than usual in order to give shiur before Purim, in order not to lose that week of presenting shiur to his students.

On that same day that Rabbi Soloveitchik arrived, the sad news came that Rav Moshe Feinstein had passed away.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s family had asked some of his students to make sure that he was not informed of this tragic occurrence for fear that his failing health would be further harmed as a consequence of hearing that Rav Moshe Feinstein – who was not only a relative but a very close friend – had passed away.

So we had a mission to make sure that the one day that Rabbi Soloveitchik was in New York, he was not informed of the passing of Rav Moshe.

Accordingly, the New York Times that he received every morning, did not arrive at his apartment, ‘oddly enough’. And the radio from which normally he listened to the news every morning, was somehow not functioning that day.

A few weeks later, soon before Pesach, Rabbi Soloveitchik was about to travel back to Boston to celebrate Pesach with his family. Someone placed a phone call for Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, the Rosh Kollel of YU’s kollel, asking him to let one of the students who studied in the kollel – namely, myself – to drive Rabbi Soloveitchik to the airport for his return trip to Boston.

Rabbi Schachter came into the beit midrash, informed me of this request, and of course, I drove Rabbi Soloveitchik to the airport.

As we were driving on the Grand Central Parkway to LaGuardia Airport to catch Rabbi Soloveitchik’s flight on the Eastern Airlines shuttle, Rabbi Soloveitchik turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me that Rav Moshe Feinstein passed away?”

Even while I share this story with you several years later, I can still feel the challenge of staying in the lane on the Grand Central Parkway when Rabbi Soloveitchik asked me that very terrifying question.

Moments later, which seemed like hours, I responded to Rabbi Soloveitchik: “We didn’t inform you because your family asked us not to.”

And several moments of total, deafening silence in the car, I asked Rabbi Soloveitchik:

“Rebbe, how did you find out? After all, you didn’t receive the New York Times that day, and WINS News wasn’t functioning on your radio. So how did you hear about this?”

He turned to me and said: “It’s Erev Pesach. It was Rav Moshe Feinstein’s turn to call me to wish me ‘A Guten Yontif’, and if he didn’t call me before Yontif, there can only be one reason…”

The respect that two Gedolim had for each other: it was not just that Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rav Moshe Feinstein were cousins. That was the smallest connection that they had with each other. It was not that they agreed on everything.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s approach to women learning Torah She’bal Peh was different from that of Rav Feinstein’s. Rabbi Soloveitchik views about general academic studies were different from those held by Rav Feinstein.

But they respected each other. They talked to each other. They engaged in conversations with each other. And if one did not call the other before the chag, there could only be one reason: one was no longer in this world.

We are in the midst of Sefirat HaOmer. We spoke last week about the Biblical context of Sefirat HaOmer, but there is also a Rabbinic overlay: the mourning, because “לא נהגו כבוד זה בזה”, because Rabbi Akiva’s students did not respect one another. [Yevamot 62b]

And we commemorate that loss of Rabbi Akiva students which happened during the Bar Kokhba Revolt, specifically, during this period of time between Pesach and Shavuot, because we cannot be a free people, we cannot be people who embrace the covenantal relationship, if we don’t respect each other.

That is the message of Sefirat HaOmer: you cannot engage with God if you are not willing to engage with respect for the other.

This week, we also note the fact that Rabbi Riskin has made a decision to conclude presenting his weekly video on Parshat HaShavua, which he has provided every week for 13 years.

And it’s important that we recognize the fact that Rabbi Riskin’s entire life – “Ad Meah v’Esrim” (may he live to 120) – has always been a celebration of treating the other with respect, with dignity, of making sure that we create “geulah” by making sure that no one is treated as a “gola” (somebody who feels that they are in exile.)

Please, God, we will continue to benefit from the wisdom of Rabbi Riskin. And please, God, we will understand the message between Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Soloveitchik. And through our activities, may we respond to the aveilut that we are commemorating, thereby guaranteeing the redemption of the Jewish people and of society through the mutual respect that we have for the other.

Shabbat Shalom.

“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”

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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)

“Jerusalem: The Mandate to Redeem God, the Jewish People and the Holy City

Yerushalayim. Jerusalem.

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.

Shabbat Shalom.

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin These words were written before the unbearable tragedy in Meron. Rabbi Riskin hopes to address the theological understanding of what happened after the Shloshim.  Our hearts go out to all that mourn; may the Almighty Comforter bring healing to their souls. Efrat, Israel –  “I am …

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Julian Sinclair

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai: Give it a Break Rabbi Yedidya (Julian) Sinclair studied at Yeshivat Hamivtar in 1987, 1989 and 1992-3. His book on Rav Kook’s great work on shmita, “Shabbat Ha’aretz”, will be published by Koren Press in September 2021.      In the first of this week’s parshiyot, Behar, the Torah lays out elements of …

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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai: Does the Curse Overpower the Blessing?  The disparity between the relatively meager description of the blessings and the richer description of the curses beckons us to take a deeper look, which may allow us to arrive at a good explanation for the substantial difference between the blessing and the curse. Rabbi Netanel Lederberg …

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