Oz Torah: Torah reading – B’har.

OzTorahA PEAK OF INSIGHT.

When the Israelites said “Na’aseh v’nishma”, “We will do and we shall hear”, they are seen by the sages (Shab. 88a/b) as on a peak of spiritual understanding.

Metaphorically they ascended a mountain, echoing the title of this week’s reading, B’har (“On Mount Sinai”).

Through “Na’aseh v’nishma” they committed themselves in advance to obeying God’s word (“We shall do”) before hearing all the details (“We shall hear”). The rabbis say that this made them like the angels.

It’s like a person who says to another, “I want you to promise me something”. The answer is quite understandably, “How can I promise something if I haven’t heard all the details, and if I’m not certain it is within my power!

In relation to God, however, the Israelites trusted in the Divine wisdom to such an extent that they knew He would never ask something of them which they were unable to fulfil.

BELITTLING GOD.

The final words of the sidra are “I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 25:55).

This is nothing new to anyone who has been following the Torah readings and especially Parashat K’doshim and the beginning of the Ten Commandments.

But when you compare the Hebrew of the Chumash with the Aramaic of Targum Onkelos, you see a change in the spelling.

The Hebrew follows its normal pattern and spells the word for “your God” as if the word were plural.

It is normal with the Torah to refer to God in the plural, not that there is (God forbid!) more than one God, but it is the plural of majesty. It shows the unique greatness of the Almighty that makes him the concentration of all power and might.

L’havdil, one might similarly attribute to an earthly potentate a plurality of status when they say things like “We declare”, “You must obey our word”, etc.

What Onkelos does is to replace the plural with the singular, not that it disagrees with the concept of God’s unique greatness, but it does not wish people to get a wrong, superficial impression about God.

FREEDOM FOR THE GENERATION.

The famous Liberty Bell is but one of many echoes of the Torah’s message, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10).

These days we would use the word “cherut” for liberty, but the Torah uses the word “d’ror”. The commentators try to work out its derivation.

Ibn Ezra thinks it denotes a singing bird, which makes music as long as it is free but loses its voice if confined and denied freedom. A Talmudic explanation links it with “dur”, to dwell, and “dirah”, a dwelling, and suggests that the real freedom is the right to dwell wherever you wish, without being turned away or herded into a ghetto.

According to Nachmanides it is connected with “dor”, a generation, and it tells us that a person who can choose to come back to his family is thus enabled to take his place in the tradition of the generations.

Whichever interpretation you prefer, the message is clear. Freedom is the right to speak, to believe, to pray (or not to pray); the right to be yourself; the right to choose where you go and where you make your home.

SWALLOWS & FREEDOM.

Proclaim liberty in the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10).

These words from the sidra are part of American history. They figure on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. They are noble words. But if one looks at them in detail, they raise a number of questions.

The P’nai Yehoshua asks why the Torah says “yosh’veha”, “its inhabitants” and not “avadeha”, “its servants”. The answer is that it is not only servants who need freedom – everyone does. Even if you have freedom, you have to learn how to value your freedom. If you do not appreciate freedom, or peace, or health, or family, or any other blessing you may have, it is as if you have lost them.

Many commentators focus on the word used for freedom in this verse, “d’ror”. Rashi quotes Rabbi Yehudah who links it with “dirah”, a dwelling. “Why the expression “d’ror”? To show that freedom is when you may choose where to dwell without others compelling you”.

According to the dictionaries the root of the word is “darar”, to stream or flow abundantly; hence “d’ror” is the free run that comes with freedom.

“D’ror” also means a swallow (see Psalm 84:4). The Talmud explains (Shabbat 106b) that the swallow is a bird that does not yield to capture or taming and “it lives in a house as in the field”.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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