By Rabbi James Gordon, Guest Torah Columnist
Torah Portion: B’har – B’chukotai (Leviticus 25:1-26:2 / 26:3-27:34)
This coming Motzaei Shabbat/Saturday night and Sunday (28 Iyar), Jews in Jerusalem and in all parts of the world will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) marking the 51st anniversary of the reunification of Israel’s capital city. While I have written in past editions of this publication that Israel’s Six Day War triumph – highlighted by the return of Jerusalem’s Old City (Ihr HaAtika) to Jewish hands – commemorates the greatest miracle in the lives of Baby Boomers like me, this historical event also signifies the most successful recovery from a major crisis in my lifetime.
Today Israel is regarded by many as the country most expert on how to respond to crises. In fact, our Jewish State has reached out to and assisted many other countries (some of which are sworn enemies) in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and such disasters as earthquakes, fires, floods and hurricanes. Not only is Israel adept in crisis response/intervention, but – even more importantly – she is the authority on crisis prevention.
From Parashat B’Har (one of the two Torah portions read this Shabbat) we learn that – while we must have a plan ready to implement in the aftermath of a crisis – the best way to manage crises is by taking the necessary steps to prevent them.
In Leviticus Chapter 25 we read of a series of three situations on how to respond to fellow Jews in need. Each passage is introduced by the phrase: “V’khi yamukh achikha – – And if your brother becomes low” (i.e., impoverished or in need).
The first and third scenarios describe cases where an impoverished Jew took certain humbling steps to rescue himself financially, and how we are to react – – – after the crisis. In the first passage (Leviticus 25:25-28) we learn that – as a last resort – the person in need is allowed to sell his share of his ancestral estate. In the third case (Leviticus 25:39-46) we are told that the needy person is permitted to sell himself as an Eved Ivri (Hebrew slave). While the Torah does provide solutions to these dire financial crises, they are clearly last resort measures and should be avoided at all costs. The best way to deal with crises is to do all that we can to prevent them from ever happening.
We can learn this most valuable lesson from the second/middle passage (Leviticus 25: 35-38): “V’khi yamukh achikha u-makh yado imakh v’heh-chehzakta bo . . .”
“And if your brother becomes in need and his hand is lowered you must strengthen him . . . “
The Torah then suggests methods on how to provide him with Chizuk (strength). This is the Torah source of Maimonides’s highest level of Tzedaka (see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Mat’not LaEvyonim 10:7) – – providing the means (e.g., interest-free loans, partnerships, a job) for a fellow Jew to become self-sufficient.
In commenting on the words “V’hehchehzakta bo/you must strengthen him” in verse 35, Rashi points out that you should not wait for the crisis to occur, but rather be vigilant, and when you notice someone struggling make sure that you do what is necessary to avert a crisis. Comparing this situation to noticing a heavy bundle slipping off of the back of a donkey, Rashi astutely points out that it only takes one person to catch and reinforce a shaky bundle, thus preventing it from falling. However, if the load has already fallen to the ground, not even five (strong) people can lift and place it securely back on the donkey.
While this passage teaches specifically how to prevent and deal with financial crises, it is easily applicable to all types of crises. The best way to prevent the onset of sickness is to regularly visit your doctor, and follow a healthy diet and exercise regimen. To prevent a legal crisis, a person should simply be a law-abiding citizen. The best way to prevent estrangement from those near and dear is by keeping in touch and confronting challenges as they arise. One of the two best ways to prevent intermarriage in North America, according to studies, is by sending your children to day school and then reinforcing the formal lessons taught at these institutions with a Torah-observant lifestyle at home. The other way? By making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel).
Which brings us back to Yom Yerushalayim . . .
The best way to prevent – G-d Forbid – ever losing Jerusalem and the Modern State of Israel is by standing up to the majority of the world (who are either clueless, ignorant or simply, outright Anti-Semitic) and insisting that – in order to survive – Israel must maintain: the world’s strongest and most efficient army (IDF), tightest border security, keenest intelligence, and finest cyber-security. Also we must advocate that Israel cannot give away land that it captured on the brink of destruction at the hands of its bitter enemies in 1967 – many of whom still refuse to recognize the Jewish State of Israel, consistently deny the Holocaust and vow to destroy our Jewish Homeland.
Be sure to go out and celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, and remember – – that the best way to deal with crises is – – to be vigilant and do all that we must do to prevent them from ever happening.
Rabbi James M. Gordon, teaches Jewish Business Ethics at the Hebrew Theological College – Touro University.