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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador—From Generation to Generation since 1883
לדור ודור

Behar 5779
Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)
May 24, 2019  |  by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!   According to Jewish cosmology, the day begins with nightfall. That is why all holidays start at night after the stars can be seen. Wednesday night, May 22nd, begins the holiday of Lag B'Omer. You may have seen advertisements for picnics from synagogues and JCCs.

Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period between Pesach and Shavuot. On this day the plague which was killing Rabbi Akiva's disciples stopped. It is also the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the Kabbalah, the book of Jewish Mysticism. Tradition has it that the day of his demise was filled with a great light of endless joy through the secret wisdom which he revealed to his students in the Zohar.

In Israel there are huge bonfires across the country. From Pesach onwards, the children gather fallen branches and build pyres often 20 and 30 feet high. Then as the sky grows dark, they are lit and the sky is filled with flames -- and smoke. (I have often wondered what the reaction is to the pictures from the US and Russian Spy satellites.)

The fires are symbolic both of the light of wisdom Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought into the world and as a "yahrzeit candle" to the memory of his passing. Haircuts and weddings take place on this date and there is much festivity including dancing, singing and music.

Why the name Lag B'Omer? Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value.

An aleph = 1, a bet = 2 and so forth. The two Hebrew letters lamed (30) and gimmel (3) = 33. So Lag (spelled lamed gimmel in Hebrew) B'Omer means the 33rd day of the Omer. [The word "Omer" literally means "sheaf" and refers to the offering of the barley sheaf in the Temple on the second day of Pesach marking the harvesting of the barley crop. From that day until Shavuot (the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the Festival of the Harvest) is called the period of the Counting of the Omer. It is a time for reflection upon how we view and treat our fellow Jews and what we can learn from the tragedies that have befallen us because of unfounded hatred for our fellow Jews.

Three Rules For Success
1.Initiative -- You have to try.
2.Perseverance -- You have to keep trying.
3.The Almighty smiles upon your efforts.

My father likes to quip that "The harder you work, the luckier you get." Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Our Torah teaches that telling yourself "I can't" is a big mistake. If the Almighty would help you, would you be able to do it? He is there and will help. Remember: One person and the Almighty make a majority!

Telling yourself "I don't feel like doing it" is another big mistake. One should do what his soul wants (accomplishment, meaning) and not what his body desires (comfort). Don't confuse body messages for messages of the soul! And if the decision and the effort needed for success are too painful, here are:

Seven Excuses for Giving Up
1.We've never done it that way.
2.We're not ready for that, yet.
3.We're doing all right without it.
4.We tried it once and it didn't work out.
5.It costs too much.
6.That's not our responsibility.
7.It won't work.


Torah Portion of the week

Behar, Leviticus 25:1 -26:2

The Torah portion begins with the laws of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, where the Jewish people are commanded to not plant their fields or tend to them in the seventh year. Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee year, where agricultural activity is also proscribed.

These two commandments fall into one of the seven categories of evidence that God gave the Torah. If the idea is to give the land a rest, then the logical plan would be to not plant one-seventh of the land each year. To command an agrarian society to completely stop cultivating all farm lands every 7th year, one has to be either God or a meshugenah (crazy). No sane group of editors would include such an "insane" commandment in a set of laws for the Jewish people; only God could command it and ensure the survival of the Jewish people for following it.

Also included in this portion: redeeming land which was sold, to strengthen your fellow Jew when his economic means are faltering, not to lend to your fellow Jew with interest, the laws of indentured servants. The portion ends with the admonition to not make idols, to observe the Shabbat and to revere the Sanctuary.

Quote of the Week
Winners are not people who never fail,
but people who never quit

On-Line Learning

Rabbi Gaber lead several Adult Education programs using ZOOM Web conferencing technology.  "You don’t have to leave the warmth and comfort of your home to have a discussion on confronting Antisemitism and Hate or the Human Genome or to discuss how to bring Judaism into the 21st century. I will be leading an online class.  You will not  only be able to hear me and see me, you will also see your friends in the same virtual classroom. There was an interesting line up of  webinars this past winter. Our final CBOI Online learning program this season has a dedicated link:     All you need do is enter this link into your favorite browser and follow the instructions.  If you get stuck, please let me know and I will help you get on line."  

*Don't worry, if you can't make the discussion at the appointed time, you'll still be able to learn about each topic:
See the CBOI On-line Learning page in Learn Navigation bar to see all the previous  On Line Zoom Learning sessions.

Observant Life



Chaired by Dr. Ellier Russ with the assistance of the Rabbi, this committee coordinates programs and classes to engage members in lifelong learning. Events include our yearly Scholar in Residence program, Talmud Study, Mah Nishtanah: What’s Different About Today’s Judaism, The Observant Life Book Series and more. Guest speakers, online webinars and Shabbat morning discussions additionally provide congregants with opportunities to expand their knowledge of Judaism and living a Jewish life.


 In fulfilling the following commandments one enjoys the yield in this world while the principal remains for a eternity, honoring father and mother, performing deeds of loving kindness, punctually attending the house of study morning and evening, showing hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick, helping the needy bride, attending dead, praying .with devotion, and making peace between individuals. And the merit of Torah study is equal to all of these. Talmud Shabbat 12 e


Parashat Behar
May 25, 2019 | 20 Iyyar 5779
Annual (Leviticus 25:1-26:2): Etz Hayim p. 738; Hertz p. 531
Triennial (Leviticus 25:1-28): Etz Hayim p. 742; Hertz p. 535 
Haftarah (Jeremiah 32:6-27): Etz Hayim p. 759; Hertz p. 539


D’var Torah: Generosity & Its Limits
Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz, CY Director of North American Engagement 
In Parashat Behar, the Torah presents a strikingly progressive socio-economic vision, where every seven years (Shmita) debts are forgiven, and every fifty years (Yovel) land ownership reverts back to its original egalitarian distribution. All of this reminds us that God is the one true owner of the earth and its resources, the one true source of blessing and abundance.
But this vision, though progressive, is not communist. The Torah recognizes that a whole host of factors - talent, effort, wisdom, luck - will cause some to succeed and others to fail). We are free to make choices about how and where we invest our labors and to benefit or lose as a result. And we generally get to keep what we get, use it for what we want, and share it with whomever we wish.
The Torah both expects, and permits, resource inequality to emerge (Devarim 15:11), but it contends with this unfortunate reality through a combination of limited required wealth redistribution and encouragement to be generous. We must leave the corners of our field for the poor to harvest (Vayikra 19:9), give a fixed percentage each year of our income (Devarim 14:28-29), and give tzedaka when we are asked (Devarim 15:7-10). But despite all of this, resource inequality will force some to eventually sell their most fundamental possessions - their property, their labor, and eventually their freedom (Vayikra 25:39-42).
The Torah permits us both to become slaves and own them, but it seeks to place limits on the institution and the inevitable exploitation. The initial period of servitude can last no more than six years. Since all debts are forgiven in the seventh year, servitude to pay off debt becomes unnecessary. A person can choose to remain a slave, but even that choice is overridden by the Yovel when the person gets back the property they sold and can rely on it to maintain themselves. Behar makes it a mitzvah to buy someone’s release from slavery and places limits on the nature of the work the slave can be compelled to do.
In many ways Parashat Behar is the blueprint for all economic justice initiatives, and for that we Jews can be proud. But it must be pointed out that most of the above is reserved for one’s fellow Israelites. Disturbingly, the Torah does permit Israelites to maintain perpetual ownership of non-Israelite slaves, transfer them (like any other property) to another owner, and work them in ways that would be forbidden for Israelite slaves.
One might conclude therefore that the Torah is Israelite-supremacist, but I think a more accurate reading is that the Torah acknowledges and works within the limits of what can be expected of individuals or societies. Just as the Torah expects there to be wealth gaps, it also expects there to be empathy gaps.
Study after study shows that we are “wired” to be more generous with those with whom we feel the greatest connection: people who we know personally and people who look like those we know, people who we know have our backs or people who look like they would. Although we are naturally altruistic, our frontal lobe makes us more conservative and deliberate about what we share and with whom. It should be no surprise that the societies with the most extensive social safety nets tend to be those that are most homogeneous. 
So the Torah does not base its expectations of generosity on our collective humanity. Without feelings of empathy, people do not comply willingly with the command to be generous; they must be compelled to share either by guilt and public shaming or by force. And research also shows that negative stimuli trigger people to be even less generous. Pushing people beyond the limits of their natural empathy can, therefore, lead to a complete disintegration of fundamental social bonds. This may help us understand better why different communities and countries react differently to the call to accept and settle refugees.
But the Torah’s answer is not, as some would claim, to therefore just “take care of your own.” Although we are only required to be generous toward those for whom we feel empathy, the Torah pushes us to expand the boundaries of our empathy. It wants strangers among us to be given the opportunity and responsibility to comply with the social contract, and it wants us to go out of our way to see the other as individuals and find the ways they are like us. As the Rambam states in the Mishneh Torah, Laws of Indentured Servants, 9:8: “The children of Abraham, our father—and they are Israel, to whom the Holy One, blessed be He, has provided the goodness of Torah and commanded us righteous judgments and statutes—they are compassionate to all.”

D’var Haftarah: Praying Our Truth
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty
Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) is not cast as a prophet of optimism. He is the ultimate prophet of the destruction and fall of Judea and the First Temple. Even when his message was intended as one of encouragement, there was a sense that his words were also tinged with despair. In this week’s haftarah, however, Yirmiyahu is charged with presenting the people with a message which implied that despite the impending doom which hung over nation, there was still hope of future restoration. When God gives Yirmiyahu the sign which he is to present to the people, he replies with a prayer of praise to God. In this prayer he describes God, in part, as: “the great and mighty God (HaE-l hagadol hagibor)” (32:18)
You might have noticed that Yirmiyahu’s description of God hones close to the words we pray at the beginning of the Amidah – the standing prayer which is so integral to Jewish worship. There, we describe God as: “the great, the mighty and awesome God (HaE-l, hagadol hagibor v’hanora), based on Moshe’s description of God (Devarim 10:17). While Yirmiyahu’s words were probably intended simply as praise to God, some sages from the period of the Talmud noticed a discrepancy between Moshe’s description and that of Yirmiyahu: “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: Why were they called men of the Great Assembly [who purportedly fashioned the words of the Amidah]? Because they restored the crown of the divine attributes to its ancient completeness. [For] Moshe had come and said: The great God and mighty, and the awesome God. Then Yirmiyahu came and said: Foreigners are destroying His (God’s) Temple. Where then, are His awesome deeds? As a result, Yirmiyahu omitted [the attribute] ‘awesome’. Daniel came and said: Foreigners are enslaving His (God’s) children. Where are His mighty deeds? Therefore, he omitted the word ‘mighty’. But they (the Men of the Great Assembly) came and said: On the contrary! Therein lie His mighty deeds that He suppresses His wrath, that He extends long-suffering to the wicked. Therein lie His awesome powers: For but for the fear of Him, how could one [single] nation persist among the [many] nations! But how could [the earlier] Rabbis (Yirmiyahu and Daniel are thought of as sages) abolish something established by Moshe? Rabbi Eleazar said: Since they knew that the Holy One, blessed be He, insists on truth, they would not ascribe false [things] to Him.” (Yoma 69b)
It is clear from this anecdote that the sages took the truth of their relationship with God very seriously in the face of the reality that they lived. Their lively discussion offers us a window into what our prayer experience should look like since we struggle with similar questions. There will be times when our experience will reflect that of Moshe, while there will be times when we might feel like Yirmiyahu or Daniel. The important thing to remember about Jewish prayer is that it must reflect the truth of our lived experience.




Thu, May 23 2019 18 Iyyar 5779