But It's Close: Behar 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 9:16am -- AJ Blog

This past week and a half my daughter has been on the March of the Living. She hasn’t been able to communicate so much but, thanks to the beauty of modern technology, we’ve been able to share her experiences on both Holocaust commemoration day which they spent at Auschwitz-Birkenau and in Jerusalem for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. At the end of the Holocaust commemoration, six of the dignitaries who helped fund the March were honored to complete the writing of a Sefer Torah. That Torah was brought to Jerusalem and marched to the Western Wall.

 A lot of parents watching were sending in comments that they didn’t want to see the commemoration but more video of the kids.

The truth is that I love seeing pictures of my daughter, which I found on the BBYO Facebook page. I wouldn’t have minded seeing video of her at Auschwitz or Jerusalem marching either. 

Still, I disagreed with those other complaining parents. Here’s why.

There is an unusual statement at the beginning of our portion that God spoke to Moses at the Mountain of Sinai, saying...

For traditionalists, this is a seeming redundancy. According to this world view, EVERYTHING in the Torah was said at Mount Sinai so Mah Nishtanah HaSinai HaZeh? How is this Writ different from all other Writs?

Rashi explains that this is a way of saying that just as all the details of this set of laws about the Jubilee were made clear at Sinai, so were the details of all those whose generalities alone appear in the Torah.

Others say that most of Leviticus was delivered not at Sinai but, as mentioned at the opening of the book, at the Tent of the Meeting. This section was a part of Throwback Epiphany Day and only placed here because it fits so nicely into the Holiness Code. It fits in context soon after we’re threatened with being spewn from the land whose Releases and Jubilees we may not adhere to.

Gersonides says that even Leviticus was all part of the Sinai revelation but was interrupted by the short story about the blasphemer in last week’s portion which took place post-Sinai. This week’s opener is just a way of saying, ‘And now back to our regularly scheduled Levitical regulations.’ 

Here’s what I think: We need to observe the laws in this portion in order to hold onto the promised land. In order to maintain our communal togetherness while working our land separate from all the other tribes, we need to be reminded of that magical moment of awe that God provided for us at Sinai. Remember, just as we are to see ourselves as having been freed from Egypt, so are we to imagine ourselves standing at the foot of Sinai hearing first-hand the Ten Pronouncements. It will be harder to maintain that sense of togetherness once we are separated into tribal land holdings; hence the reminder.

You see, I didn’t need to see my daughter in the video of the commemoration at Auschwitz or the celebration in Jerusalem because it was enough that, through the marvels of the internet and Livestream, I could share the experience with her virtually. Being at Sinai wasn’t about seeing everyone but about experiencing an awesome event simultaneously, being with everyone.

There is a rabbinic idea that if all Jews observe two shabbatot in a row perfectly that the Messiah will come. I tend to think that for those shabbatot to happen that way would be evidence that the Messiah had ALREADY shown up! 

Witnessing an event where ten thousand teenagers from around the world are experiencing the horror of Auschwitz, the glory of Jerusalem and connected by the dedication of a newly completed Torah may not be a harbinger of the Messianic age or a precise re-enactment of the Revelation at Sinai.

To quote Jonny Hooker from the end of the movie The Sting, “It’s not enough. But it’s close!”

Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp