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Parashat B’har-B’chukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)

“For it is the Jubilee, it shall be holy to you; you shall eat the increase of the field. (Leviticus 25:12)

The Torah relies heavily on the power of memory and empathy. It commands us, repeatedly, to remember the experience of slavery in Egypt to ensure we never become indifferent to the pain and suffering of others. That is why there is only one command to love our neighbor (Lev. 19:18) but 36 commands to love the stranger (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 59b). Ger, or stranger, is Biblical code for someone who isn’t an Israelite/Jew by birth. The ger, by definition, is different, is a minority, and therefore is vulnerable.

Jewish thought identifies two types of ger. A ger tzedek is a convert to Judaism. A ger toshav is a resident alien, someone of another faith who lives in the community and follows the basic moral practices embodied in the seven Noahide commandments (Babylonian Talmud Avoda Zarah 64b). Behar commands, “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a ger toshav, a resident alien, so they can continue to live among you.” (Lev. 25.35). One meaning is clear: society’s welfare net is to be extended to the dispossessed, regardless of their origins. A second meaning is less obvious: Behar insists the treatment of the ger sets the standard for how we care for “our own.” This is a radical recalibration of the scales of justice.

Behar’s Biblical-era statement of minority rights offers an incisive critique of today’s society and insists you don’t have to be of the majority to live in a society to receive many of the benefits of citizenship. You just have to behave morally.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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