Thoughts on Behar

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Behar, Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2.[i] The Haftarah is Jeremiah 32:6-22 and the reading from the Besorah is found in Luke 16:1-9.

Starting with the Besorah this week, we read the parable of the unfaithful manager and his attempts to insure his future before his master sacks him completely. While we don’t know the actions for which he was being fired, we do see that his actions further defrauded his master by manipulating the bills owed to his master. Then suddenly, the story seems to turn upside down. Instead of the master being angry with his manager, he actually praises him for his shrewdness,

“Now the master praised the crooked manager because he had acted shrewdly, for the sons of this age are smarter when dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. I say to you, make friends for yourselves from the wealth of the world, so when it runs out, they will welcome you into the eternal shelters.” (16:8-9)

Then to really confuse things, Yeshua seems to praise the shrewdness as well. Amy-Jill Levine observes that “Jesus [Yeshua] told parables because they serve, as Song of Songs Rabbah notes, as keys that can unlock the mysteries we face by helping us ask the right questions: how to live in community; how to determine what ultimately matters; how to live the life that God wants us to live.”[ii] With this in mind, what is it that we should be asking of the text? What is meant by “make friends for yourselves from the wealth of the world.” The Life Application Bible suggests that “We are to make use of the financial opportunities we have, not to earn heaven but so that heaven (eternal dwellings) will be a welcome experience for those we help. If we use our money to help those in need or to help other find Christ (Messiah), our earthly investment will bring eternal benefit.”[iii] The first half of the LAB commentary proposes that we are to use the wealth of the world to spread the Gospel, but that is not the end of the story. LAB also insinuates that helping others has eternal benefit as it is written in the Talmud,

These are the things whose fruits we eat in this world but whose full reward awaits us in the World to Come:

  • honoring parents; acts of kindness;
  • arriving early in the house of study morning and evening;
  • hospitality to strangers; visiting the sick;
  • helping the needy bride; attending the dead;
  • devotion in prayer;
  • and bringing peace between people –
    but the study of Torah is equal to them all.[iv]

Notice that seven of the items in the above list address interacting with and helping others. In doing these acts of kindness or charity, we are in essences storing up treasures in heaven–even if we are using worldly means to do so.

Parashat Bahar also touches on our treatment of others. After speaking about the Shabbat Year and the Jubilee Year the parasha spends twenty-nine verses (23-43; 46-54) setting forth the regulations for dealing with or better yet assisting those in the community that have fallen on hard times. While we no longer have slavery or indentured servitude, the importance of caring for those in need remain just as essential as ever. Moshe reiterated this when he reminded Bnei Yisrael,

If there is a poor man among you—any of your brothers within any of your gates in your land that Adonai your God is giving you—you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother. (Deuteronomy 15:7)

Rav Shaul agrees with this principle. He wrote to the believers in Galatia, “So let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good toward all—especially those who belong to the household of faith,” (Galatians 6:9-10). Note that Moshe and Rav Shaul are not just speaking about caring for members of our own community­; Exodus 22:20 states, “You must not exploit or oppress an outsider…” and Leviticus 19:34 commands, “The outsider dwelling among you shall be to you as the native-born among you. You should love him as yourself…”. All humankind is created in the image of HaShem, and when one person is in need, we all suffer. Again from Rav Shaul, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer together. If one part is honoured, all the parts rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). While the immediate context is the body of Messiah, the larger context is true as well. We are to be involved with HaShem in the repair of the world, tikkun olam. One aspect of tikkun olam is making the reality Yeshua available to those around us. However, another equally important aspect of tikkun olam is meeting the needs we can of those around us, thereby not merely professing our faith but living our faith as well.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Amy-Jill Levine. “Short Stories by Jesus.” Harper Collins Publishers, 2014, iBooks p. 466.

[iii] Life Application Bible, NIV, Wheaton, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991, p. 1839.

[iv] b. Shabbat 127a

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