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To Whom are we Accountable: To God….Parashat B’har – Behukotai

Reb Mimi Feigelson looks deep, deep into this week’s Torah portion to draw out lessons of accountability to God. She asks us to push ourselves to improve or create paths of communication with others with different opinions than our own.

I want to ask you a favor.

I want you to hit the pause button, and I want you to think for a moment about the word: ‘God’, Lord’, ‘One and Only’, ‘Divine’.

What are the names that you call God with and I actually want to ask what role does God play in your life?

Because I think one thing that these two parshiyot (portions) this Shabbat B’har and Behukotai, we really need to answer that question to ourselves as we enter into the slew of mitzvot that are here and who and what we accountable to.

That is another way of thinking about it: who and where and how are you accountable?

The second pasuk (sentence) of this parasha is a fascinating pasuk.

This parasha begins with the following. I am reading in the Hebrew and making up that I know how to translate into English:

“And God spoke to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, (so we know we are on Mt. Sinai) and he says to him:

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙

Speak to the Children of Israel

וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ

When you come to the Land

אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם

That I give you

 וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ

And the land will rest.

שַׁבָּ֖ת לַה’׃

Shabbat for God.

I want you to imagine for a second. You’re an 18 year old at חטא העגל  (Sin of the Golden Calf). You know that you are going to make it to Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel). You are there. And you know what, you are not going to run and build your house? You are not going to run to deal with your fields?

וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַה’׃

But first, we rest.

The Mechilta Midrash says what isשבת לה?

We know that God created the world in words, and on Shabbat no speaking. He paused from creation on Shabbat he paused from creation, and it appears that there was actually, not only on Yom Kippur, but a tradition of תענית דיבור  (refraining from speaking) on Shabbat because words create.

There is even a wonderful story in this week – Lag b’Omer. Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) that one Shabbat his mother was speaking and he looked at her and said:

אמא שבתה

Ims (Imma – mother), it is Shabbat

And she was silent. That memory was all he needed to say.

Then the Mekhilta says:

Because of דרכי שלום (paths of peace) because of the way we need to be at peace with each other, we are permitted to say “Shabbat Shalom.”

It is unthinkable that a person would walk by another person and not say “Shabbat Shalom”.

In Behukotai, I want to say that the last chapter deals with ערך value when a person wants to bring an offering to the Mikdash (Temple). One way of doing it was based on gender and age. Every person has “a value”.

The Gemara, as my smicha chevruta (rabbinical ordination partner) loved to bring out Rabbi Yoni Gordis,

לאתויי מאי  (Aramaic) the Gemara begins with “to include who”

I want to bring these two parshiyot together with a teaching of the Mei HaShiloach (Living Waters) the Ishbitzer Rebbi (Reb Mordecai Yosef Leiner 1801-1854) and you know how much I love this book and actually how much I love him and his teachings.

He says,

אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ

The opening verse of the second parasha we read.

אם בלשון ספק

אם is doubt. Because he says “even if a person were to observe all of the Shulchan Aruch (the codification of Jewish Law by Rabbi Joseph Caro 16th Century), still they are in doubt. They are in doubt whether they are aligning themselves with God’s will. Because God’s will is the deepest task.

וְעָמֹ֥ק ׀ עָמֹ֖ק מִ֥י יִמְצָאֶֽנּוּ׃

(קהלת 7 24;ז-כד)

As the prophet (Kohelet Chapter 7, line 24) says: “That which is, is far off and exceedingly deep. Who can find it out?”

So I want to ask us. In these days when everyone is so dug into their opinions and into their ways, how do we want the streets knowing that it is inconceivable that we don’t say hello to each other.

And who is it that we need to expand our boundaries to actually include them? In those people for whom it is inconceivable for us to say Shabbat Shalom to, for us to say shalom to.

I want to invite us all to walk this Shabbat with a little bit more of an expansiveness to say Shabbat Shalom to someone that maybe last Shabbat it would have been hard for us. But this Shabbat

וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַה’׃

The silence…..that allows the pause who we are accountable to who we answer to and how do we expand that concept.


Reb Mimi serves as the Mashpiah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) of the Rabbinical School, and  teaches Talmud and Hassidic Thought. She will guide and walk with the rabbinical students on their personal-spiritual journeys. She served as the Mashpiah Ruchanit of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles for the last 16 years. Prior to this Reb Mimi was one of the founding administration and faculty members of the “Yakar” Beit Midrash and community.

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