Parashat Behar: All for one and one for all

Israel is the reflection and mirror of the world, the metaphor and repair (tikkun) for the world.

"And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and declare freedom in the land for all its inhabitants; Jubilee shall it be for you..." (Lev. 25:10) With these words, the Bible establishes its vision for the Jewish State. Each 50th year - the culmination of seven Sabbatical years - sees all debts rescinded, every slave granted freedom, each individual living securely on his/her homestead; economic and political independence for all. But is this picture limited to Israel? Is it possible that this idyllic objective could apply to every nation? I would submit that a careful study of the Bible leads to the inescapable conclusion that Israel is a metaphor for the entire world. The Bible opens with a majestic sweep: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The human being is then created "in the image" (or shadow) of the Divine (ibid. 27), endowing him/her with the inalienable freedom to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. Tragically, first Adam and then Noah failed to link responsibility to freedom (ahrayut to herut), and each fell prey to the seduction of unworthy fruit. Mankind then divides into Shem, Ham and Japheth, the three sons of Noah, from whom descend the proverbial 70 nations of the globe (Gen. 10). These nations join in the creation of a materialistic, monolithic society dedicated to the construction of a tower that would reach the heavens for their own collective aggrandizement. Since they did not communicate with each other on a personal level, since one did not truly hear the words of his neighbor, God scattered them over the face of the globe (Gen. 11: 1-9). Chapter 12 of Genesis shines a spotlight on one particular descendant of Shem, Abram (exalted father), who becomes Abraham (father of a multitude of nations), paterfamilias of the world (Gen 17:4, 5). From Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (paralleling Shem, Ham and Japheth) emerge the 70 descendants (paralleling the 70 nations) that comprise Israel and who descend into Egypt, the fiery furnace which will forge a new world. Abraham is, after all, charged by God to bring a blessing to the world (ibid. 12:3) and transmit the eternal Divine values of compassion and justice to his descendants (Gen. 18:19). These ideals, rather than egocentric edifices, must be the building blocks of any lasting society. Hence Jacob/Israel, grandson of Abraham, dreams of a ladder rooted in the earth whose top reaches heaven (Gen. 28:12). (Note well that here the ladder is not a tower in the heavens, but a link between the earth and heaven, between humanity and the Divine. Our classical interpreters insist that the ladder symbolizes the Holy Temple which will bridge heaven and earth and become a "house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7; Rashi on Gen. 28:17). And God promises Jacob within the dream that "your seed shall be as the dust of the earth [i.e. shall eventually comprise all of humanity, which was initially formed from the dust of the earth], and you shall extend westward and eastward, northward and southward, so that all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you and your seed" (Gen. 28:14). However, the Jews, too, fell into a trap not unlike the materialistic humanism of the first nations; we sinned against God, and so the Lord scattered us from one end of the earth to the other (Deut. 28:64). We became captives who did not even understand the language of our captors; we became aliens and exiles, just as all of humanity are aliens and exiles, because no one can ever feel at home if he/she does not listen to the thoughts and hear the pain of those who live nearby. If you love your neighbor, your neighbor is like you and you are like him/her; if you are indifferent to your neighbor's feelings, then your neighbor becomes alien to you and you become alien to him/her. But here there is one basic difference; the Bible promises that we will return to God and His laws of compassion and justice, and that we will also return to our homeland. Once we decide to hear and obey God's voice, we shall also begin to hear every human voice; and then "even if you are scattered to the ends of the heaven, from there will the Lord gather you and from there will the Lord take you up, and bring you to the land which your ancestors have inherited, and you shall inherit it" (Deut. 30:4, 5). And the nations will come to learn about compassion and justice from our Holy Temple, and to serve God shoulder to shoulder (Zephaniah 3:9). Once humble obedience to God replaces arrogant self-aggrandizement, we will begin to listen to each other as well, and so transform the universe into a home of love and sensitivity. Hence Israel is the reflection and mirror of the world, the metaphor and repair (tikkun) for the world; thus the vision of peace and security expressed by the Jubilee applies not only to Israel but to the entire planet. And so it must be, because in a global village each is responsible for every other. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee! The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.