2004The double parshiyyot of Behar and Behukottai continue the quest for holiness through God's law which are the hallmark of the Book of Leviticus which they conclude (Leviticus 25:1-26: 2 and 26:3-27:34). Following the recitation of Leviticus 27:34, we will chant "Hazak, hazak, venithazek," "May we go from strength to strength." This traditional declaration marks the conclusion of reading each book of the Torah. Once a an expression of support for the Torah reader himself at the end of each aliyah, it now marks our transition as we shift from the strength we derive from reading one book to the strength we will derive from the next.
It's Not Parashat Kedoshim, But...
I will set my dwelling in your midst and my soul will not abhor you. (Lev. 26:11)
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This verse is sandwiched between the laws of the sabbatical and jubilee, with relevance to agriculture and commerce, and the curse (Tokhehah) which is to befall us if we fail to live up to not only those laws, but all the laws which have been given until this point. The sabbatical rules, with their sensitivity to both the environment and human beings, and the brief blessings of Leviticus 26:3-13, pale in the shadow of the extensive and frightening punishment which awaits our downfall (Leviticus 26:14-45 and also Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
1. Is it really a blessing to be told you won't be hated? What does this suggest to us about not only what we say, but the way in which we say it?
2. God's Soul? What a remarkable reference! Do you think God has a soul? What would its nature/purpose be? Why is this the way God is referred to here?
3. What does this suggest about the manifestation of the Divine Presence? Can God be present if there is no designated dwelling place?
4. How does this serve as a bridge between the rules and the consequences? Is it more than just a cause and effect relationship?
Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh ani adonai – You shall be holy, because I the Lord your God am Holy. Admittedly, this verse opens a parashah which we have already read this year, Parashat Kedoshim, just two weeks ago. In the spirit of eyn mukdam v'eyn m'uhar ("there is nothing earlier and nothing later" – that chronology is suspended in the Bible), I'd like to suggest that this relationship between God and humanity is essentially relevant here. As we strive to understand the nature and the purpose of our soul, guidance in understanding God's Soul would be eminently helpful.
Only that guidance is lacking. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that God's Soul is that which is revealed to us in the Torah, that the Torah in its entirety is the open window into God's Essence. Generally speaking, though, when we consider God, the notion of soul never enters the picture.
In his book God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel draws out the notion that from the time of Eden, God has sought us out. The question "Ayeka?," "Where are you?," which God poses to Adam appears to be rhetorical. Can it truly be that God does not know where Adam is? Does God mean the words as they are being used? Wrote Heschel: "It is a call that goes out again and again. It is a still small echo of a still, small voice, not uttered in words, not conveyed in categories of mind, but ineffable and mysterious as the glory that fills the whole world. It is wrapped in silence; concealed and subdued, yet it is as if all things were the frozen echo of the question: Where art thou?" God is in search of a soul-mate, a relationship that goes beyond words.
The Babylonian Talmud, on Berakhot 6a, explains that like us, God wears tefillin. Where our tefillin hold the words Shema Yisrael – "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" – God's tefillin are home to a different verse, Umik'amkha Yisrael – "Who is like your people Israel, a singular nation in the land." Our deepest yearning and God's deepest yearning meet in the same place.
If we are to be holy because God is holy, if we are to be God-like because we are made in God's image, we may not need to define God's Soul. We may be able to look deeply into our own souls to search for God, finding God's Soul mirrored therein. Bilvavee mishkan evneh says the song, "In my heart I will build a dwelling." God will reside wherever we let God in. And we will fulfill our mandate for holiness when we are mindful of God's words.
We stand now roughly half-way between Pesah and Shavuot, roughly half-way between the allegorical love of Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) and the devotion and commitment of the Book of Ruth. From this vantage point we should be able to hear God's question calling out to our very souls. How will we answer?
Prepared by Rabbi Elyse Winick, KOACH Assistant Director.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Behar and Bechukotai at MyJewishLearning.com.