Shabbat Message from Cantor Eichaker
We are concluding the Book of Leviticus this week with the double section of the Torah entitled; Behar – Bechukotai. This is found in Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34.
The titles of the two sections tells us much of what we may learn. Behar means “from the mountain (Sinai)” and Bechukotai means “from the Laws”. The Laws (in this case the 10 Commandments) came to us from the Mountain. Therefore, the laws were brought to us, by Moses, from the mountain to the people. This act reminds us that at the core of our civil laws we are bound by the core of natural laws. To put it another way, the natural laws will always be ranked higher than the civil laws. The laws of God will have precedence over the laws of humankind. How does that look today? You need only look at our current situation. Our physical and social restrictions have not been induced by humans. This pandemic is the result of natural occurrences and our civil response is a response to the natural phenomenon. The virus of this pandemic is reacting and responding naturally. Our reactions to the presence of this occurrence of a “higher” order offers us choices. We can choose to take necessary measures to protect ourselves and others or we can choose to move naturally through the environment and allow the natural course of the virus to select hosts. In Judaism, we are, told that we must “preserve life”, but where does that appear in the 10 Commandments? Did this imperative descend from Mount Sinai? Follow me on this one because the imperative to preserve life is found in sentence 13 of Chapter 20 in the Book of Exodus. The Seventh Commandment contains two words. “Lo Tirtzach” – “You will not murder”. The root for “Tirtzach” is “Ratzach” which means to kill a person. It has nothing to do with the killing of animals by any means or for any reason. It means, specifically, to not kill another person either by design or by accident. If the 7th Commandment is telling us not to kill another person on purpose or by accident, then it is also telling us that we must ensure that we are protecting others from death to the best of our abilities. Not murdering is to preserve life. This comes from On High.
So many people are asserting that their freedoms are being assaulted when we are told to distance ourselves from others for the sake of preserving life at a time when life is being threatened. Judaism says that freedom is not being assaulted in this case. Judaism asserts that freedom is a choice just like life is a choice (as Deuteronomy 30:15-20 remind us). We are free to make choices, but we must also accept the consequences, however positive or negative, for those choices. Pirkei Avot tells us that the end is not our goal but the path we take to that goal is our task. We must take the necessary steps to preserve life to the best of our abilities knowing that, in the end, we may succumb to the laws of nature. Regardless of the outcome, we Jews must follow our highest commandments even if the end does not turn out as we had anticipated. The outcome, then, is not our choice but the way in which we address the challenge is.
Whether you choose to observe the 7th Commandment in as strict a form as you understand it to infer, or you choose to take steps to reduce your odds of contracting this virus by avoiding situations that may increase your “viral load” should you be exposed, or you choose to put your fate in God and Nature by moving about as your desire or impulse demands, I hope you do what Jews have done for thousands of years: Assess the risk verses the benefits for yourself and others. Weigh the importance of satisfying personal wants and needs today against their impact on yourself and others for tomorrow.
If you look deeper into the texts of Behar and Bechukotai, you will see that the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years are outlined as well. These are times when the land is to rest, regroup and reboot in order to revert to its initial fruitfulness. Consider this time of confinement and/or restriction a modern sabbatical. Use this time to regroup. Look at yourself, inside and out. Can you do better? In what ways may you improve yourself. The most successful people in the world are the ones who improve themselves when everyone else does not see them. Being apart does not mean being alone. Being apart can allow you to experience things that were obscured by other influences. Even at a time of restricted movement and choices, there are worlds to explore and places to visit or revisit if even only in your mind. All you need to do is open the door to your own life and look. There is beauty in every life and meaning in every soul. And when we can gather together again, the words “Hi How Are You?” may actually mean “Hi How Are YOU?”, and you will stop for just a moment and be grateful that someone asked how you are and you will want to spend a few more words than just saying “Fine” and tell them how you really are; and I’ll bet the person asking you will, more than likely, care how you really are.
So, Lo Tirtzach – preserve and extend a life when you get a chance to face a person and tell them you care.