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Bechukosai

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The Chassidic Dimension - Volume 4
Interpretations of the Weekly Torah Readings and the Festivals.
Based on the Talks of The Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.


Behar

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"A View from the Top"

The Torah portion of Behar opens[1] with the laws of Shemittah, the Sabbatical year. These commandments were to be performed after the Jewish people were settled in Eretz Yisrael and leading a natural lifestyle, as opposed to the miraculous lifestyle they enjoyed in the desert. The portion goes on to describe an unsettling situation that can result from leading a natural existence: because of impoverishment, a Jew can be - Heaven forfend - sold to a member of an idolatrous cult.[2]

However, the title of the portion, Behar, "on the mountain," seems to contradict the above. Mt. Sinai implies the most supreme of levels, a place where G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, a place where they were uplifted completely above the mundane.

As its title is characteristic of an entire Torah portion, how can Behar embrace such a lowly state?

The purpose of giving the Torah on Mt. Sinai was not so that Jews would remain totally divorced from the physical world. Rather, they were to enter a "settled land," living a natural lifestyle, and with the power and might of Torah overwhelm the limitations of nature.

Thus, when Torah commands us to let the land lie fallow during the Sabbatical year, the Jew will do so, notwithstanding the fact that one may not rely on a miracle.[3] The Jew is able to do this because he knows that though questions such as "what will we eat"[4] may arise, the Torah gives him the strength to overcome the limitations of nature, so that "G-d commands His blessings in the sixth year."[5] As a result, even before the Sabbatical year has begun, the Jew sees that he has "grain for three years."[6]

It is similar when one has a heathen master. The person might think that since his master does all types of forbidden and degrading things, and because according to the Torah he is under obligation to his master, he too must act in such a manner.[7] The Torah, however, enjoins him[8] from such behavior. The reason is that with regard to matters of Judaism - "Sinai" - no one has dominion over a Jew.

This thought is echoed in the saying of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who states:[9] "There are three crowns - the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship; but the crown of a good name surpasses them all." As explained by many commentators,[10] the "crown of a good name" refers to the good name that a person acquires through his good deeds.

At first glance, this comment, emanating as it does from R. Shimon, seems puzzling. R. Shimon, after all, dedicated himself wholly to Torah, "Torah was his occupation,"[11] for he deemed the study of Torah to be of supreme importance. How, then, could he possibly say that the crown of a good name is superior to the crown of Torah? He says this because the ultimate purpose of Torah is to inspire good deeds,[12] deeds that result in the sanctification of the world. Thus, the result of Torah study, "the crown of a good name," is that which "surpasses them all."

But if this is indeed so, how was it that R. Shimon occupied himself to such a degree in Torah study that it prevented him from concentrating more fully on the performance of good deeds?

It is axiomatic that "One who is in a state of imprisonment cannot set himself free."[13] Were Jews to perform good deeds while remaining entirely within the world, they would not be able to lift the world out of its constrictions. They must therefore be able to lift themselves above the world. Only then will they be successful in uplifting the world as well.

This is accomplished within all Jews by those individuals for whom Torah study is almost their sole occupation. R. Shimon's Torah study was the height of selflessness. He was ready to forego the greatest crown of all in order to serve as an example to other Jews, showing them how they too could transcend the world through Torah study, and thereby cause "Sinai" to descend within the natural world.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 303-307.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) Vayikra 25:1.

  2. (Back to text) Ibid., 25:47

  3. (Back to text) See Pesachim 64b; Zohar, Vol. I, p. 111b, 112b.

  4. (Back to text) Vayikra 25:20.

  5. (Back to text) Ibid., verse 21.

  6. (Back to text) Ibid.

  7. (Back to text) Rashi on verse 25:47, from Toras Kohanim, Kiddushin 20a.

  8. (Back to text) Vayikra 26:1.

  9. (Back to text) Avos 4:13.

  10. (Back to text) Ibid.

  11. (Back to text) Shabbos 11a.

  12. (Back to text) Berachos 17a.

  13. (Back to text) Ibid., 5b.


Sinai, Mount Sinai, and "Behar"

The Torah portion of Behar begins with the statement:[1] "G-d spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai...." The Hebrew word for "on the mount" is behar, giving rise to the accepted title of this portion. Why was the title "Behar" chosen, without even stating that the mountain was Sinai?

The words "mount" and "Sinai" have opposite connotations. A mountain implies loftiness and height. In a spiritual sense, this means that at times a Jew is to act in a bold, forceful and expansive manner - "His heart was expansive in the ways of the L-rd."[2]

The word Sinai, on the other hand - without speaking of a mountain - is rooted in the Hebrew word s'neh,[3] or thorn-bush, and thus denotes humility and self-nullification.

In the context of a Jew's spiritual service, there are three levels: a) the level of Sinai - humility and self-nullification; b) the level of Mount Sinai - a combination of expansiveness and humility; and c) behar - the level of expansiveness. It is this final level that a person is to aspire to, and for which the Torah portion is named.

This will be better understood by considering a person who acts as another's agent, emissary and messenger, and contrasting this with a wholly devoted servant.

The Gemara states[4] that "One's emissary is like the person himself." Our Rabbis explain[5] that there are three ways in which one can act as another's agent:

  1. The person empowers and authorizes his agent to act in his stead. In this instance, the action itself is accorded to the agent.

  2. Even the action is seen as being done by the person himself, albeit through the vehicle of an emissary;

  3. Not only are the actions considered to have been done by the person himself, but the emissary and agent become one at the time the mission is fulfilled.

Still, even with regard to the highest form of emissary, the agent still exists as an entity unto himself. This is why the phrase "One's emissary is like the person himself" applies only to those matters that directly relate to the agent's fulfillment of his mission.[6]

This is not so with regard to one's servant. A servant is not an entity unto himself; his whole being is that of his master. It is for this reason that "whatever is acquired by the servant is acquired by his master."[7]

All the above also applies to the levels of Sinai, Mount Sinai, and behar:

At the very outset of man's spiritual service, when a person exists as an entity unto himself, he must act in complete humility and self-nullification - Sinai. At this stage, broadness and expansiveness have no place, for it would be emanating from his own ego, rather than from G-dliness and holiness.

This level of Sinai is similar to the first kind of emissary; the messenger is an entity unto himself; he merely negates himself and acts on behalf of the person who sent him.

A higher level of service is that of "Mount Sinai." At this stage, a person may already feel some of the height and expansiveness of a "mountain." This is because at this stage of his spiritual development, the person has so negated himself that the expansiveness is not an outgrowth of his own ego, but an expression of holiness.

Nevertheless, here too a person must possess the self-nullification of Sinai, for nullification has yet to wholly permeate him.

This is similar to the higher forms of emissary, wherein the agent gives over his power of action, or indeed his very being, to the one who sent him. Nevertheless, in this stage as well, there is still a difference between the emissary and the person who sent him.

The loftiest manner of service is that of behar - the person is so entirely negated to G-dliness that it is not even necessary to remind him of "Sinai" - there exists nothing for him other than G-d, just as the entire being of a servant is that of his master.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXII, pp. 159-163.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) Vayikra 25:1.

  2. (Back to text) II Divrei HaYomim 17:6.

  3. (Back to text) See Ramban, Devarim 1:6; Radak, Sherashim s.v. s'neh; commentators on Moreh Nevuchim 1:66.

  4. (Back to text) Berachos 34b, and places cited there.

  5. (Back to text) See Lekach Tov by Rabbi Yosef Engel, Principal I.

  6. (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 303.

  7. (Back to text) Pesachim 88b; Kiddushin 23b. See also Hemshech 5666, pp. 326-7.


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