By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant Last week’s double Parshiot (BEHAR) and (BECHUKOTAI) comprised the final portions of the Book of Leviticus. We begin the Book of NUMBERS, with plans...
by Joy Scott, Congregant
When the eighth and final day of Passover coincides with Shabbat, we read extracts from seven different Parshot of DEUTERONOMY. On the first day of Passover, we revert back from LEVITICUS to the book of EXODUS, and how “on this very day God took the children of Israel out of Egypt” (1). At the end of Passover, we leap ahead of the book of LEVITICUS to the book of DEUTERONOMY.
Now that the Israelites are safe and released from bondage in Egypt, they must learn God’s laws for living amongst other nations, as free people. The major themes for this adjustment into a civilized community include: justice; restraint from idol worship, as practiced in neighboring countries; kindness to others; charity; and, mourning for loved ones. The rationale for these laws are via frequent references in all seven Parshot, “You shall remember that you were once a slave in Egypt, and the Lord, your God redeemed you from there; now I command you to do these things” (2).
In DEUTERONOMY (Chapter 16), God says to Moses: “You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for your tribes, and they shall judge people with righteous judgment; you shall not pervert justice, show favoritism, or take a bribe – -for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words”.
A significant part of DEUTERONOMY explains how the Torah outlines the laws pertaining to ‘meisit’: a person who tries to convince his fellow Jews to turn to idol worship. The Torah instructs us to treat this sinner extremely harshly, more so than any other transgressor. Rashi explains the Torah’s words as teaching us that this person is an exception to the numerous laws of interpersonal relationships, and there is no ‘mitzvah’ to help him. Furthermore, the judges should not seek any extenuating circumstances to save the sinner from the death penalty (3). God has no tolerance even for the temptation to imitate the people of other nations, in their commonplace prayers to false idols. “And, you shall not set up for yourself any monuments, which the Lord, your God hates” (4).
This week’s Torah reading also places a strong focus on kindness and charity; and, promises a blessing to one, who fulfills this ‘mitzvah’, with sincerity and happiness in their heart. The book, “Ethics of the Fathers” explains that what individuals want most is for others to demonstrate an interest and care in them (5). We all have witnessed how our interactions with others can provide them with a true sense of self-worth.
However, the Torah also teaches us that charity in the form of money or material items is necessary for a person, who is ‘lacking’ in these needs (6). Our sages interpret this form of kindness, by giving to a person, each according to his or her specific needs. We must treat each individual according to what is most ‘beneficial’ to him or her. Hillel said, “that which is hateful in your eyes, so too, we must treat another in the same way”.
We also learn in this week’s Torah reading about prohibitions against certain forms of mourning, which were commonplace in ancient times (e.g. cuts and wounds to one’s body, hair pulling, etc.) by the surviving family members. When a loved one dies, we each mourn and grieve in our own way, even with the knowledge that death is a natural part of the cycle of life.
However, we should never forget the fact that the departed one’s soul is the primary source of his or her identity. The body is a temporary vessel, whose job is to facilitate the well-being of the soul. The more the bereaved strengthen their belief in the primacy of the soul, we can only hope that they can find some solace as they mourn the loss of a loved one.
(1) EXODUS (12:41)
(2) DEUTERONOMY (Chapter 24)
(3) PIRKEI AVOT (5:21)
(4) DEUTERONOMY (Chapter 26)
(6) DEUTERONOMY (Chapter 15)
(7) DEURERONOMY (Chapter 16)