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

“For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt;
they shall not be sold as servants are sold.” (Leviticus 25:42)

Parashat B’chukotai is the last parasha, or portion, in the book of Leviticus. It lists the blessings the Israelites will receive for following God’s commandments and a longer list of curses if they don’t. B’chukotai declares, “And I will set My face against you and you will be beaten before oyveichem, your enemies and soneichem, those that hate you, shall rule over you… (Lev. 26:17) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) says soneichem means the external threats, i.e. the nations surrounding the Israelites, while oyveichem means the internal threats, or the Israelites who abandon the Torah. The political crisis will lead to a spiritual crisis and that will destroy the people. National fragmentation permits the subjugation by others.

This interpretation provides a context for a deeper understanding of an earlier verse in Parashat B’har: “Do not exact from him advance or accrued interest but fear your God. V’chei achicha imach, Let your brother live imach, with you.” (Lev. 25:36). Hirsch says in this grammatical form, chei is a noun, not a verb. It means your brother’s life is bound up with yours. This is what allows im (with) to be read as am (nation): the mutual obligation is what creates and sustains the nation. Forgetting the bonds of connection turns kin into oyveichem.

Covid-19 is as real an external threat as any hostile nation. The resulting tension is already creating internal dissent. That will lead nowhere (at best). B’chukotai’s admonition is crystal clear: acting as if each of our lives is completely bound up in one another’s is the only possible response.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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