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This commentary is provided by special arrangement with the Jewish Outreach Institute, an organization dedicated to creating a more open and welcoming Judaism. To learn more, visit www.joi.org.
Several weeks ago, Parashat Tzav‘s titular word (tzav, “command”) served as a precursor to a Torah portion filled with rules and instructions. There are cues in the name of this week’s portion as well. This is fitting, though–the Torah readings are not meant to be viewed as independent entities, but as markers that guide us along our spiritual path. The guideposts keep us on track and in relationship with God, while at the same time helping us feel more in sync with the rhythms of Jewish life.
What is interesting about this week’s Torah portion and its name is that b’har (“on the mountain”) can represent both spiritual enlightenment and elevation (through our personal spiritual journeys) or a monumental obstacle, a place that is just too high to traverse. The title only tells us so much; it does not reveal whether the mountain should be viewed as a place of spiritual growth or an impediment. That is why we have to look beyond the title and examine the text itself, to see what guidance is given. For me, the answer is contained in the juxtaposition of Lev. 25:17 with 26:3ff. And God is the bridge between the two texts.
The Divine directive is clear to us: “Do not wrong one another. But fear God, for I am the Lord, your God.” (Lev. 25:17) And if we follow this instruction (“If you follow My statutes, and observe My instructions, and do them…” [Lev. 26:3]), the rewards are great.
Here is what is in store for us: “Then I will give your rains in their season, and the land will yield her produce, and the trees of the field will yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time; and you will eat your bread until you are satiated and dwell in your land safely. Then I will give peace in the land, and you will lie down, and none will make you afraid. I will cause evil beasts to cease in the land, neither will the sword go through your land. And I will have respect for you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you; and will establish My covenant with you.” (Lev. 26:4-6, 9)
If we wrong one another, we will not reap the benefits that are implicit in living in harmony with the community nor will we achieve what God has promised us. But if we live harmoniously with those in our community, that reward will be augmented by the promise of God–our world will be lush and fruitful and none shall make us afraid and we will have Divine protection.
These are not just guidelines for moral living. Nor are they simply instructions for how to interact with those who live in our midst. They are guidelines for living a spiritual life in the context of a Divine relationship. In that way, they are instructions for insuring–for guaranteeing–a vibrant future.
We need not wait for the world to come as imagined by the Rabbis. Rather we can experience it here on earth, in our own time, if we can learn to live in harmony with one another. The journey to spiritual fulfillment is not easy, and can be fraught with pitfalls–hence the “mountain” in the portion’s title. God’s instructions can seem like obstacles at times. If we can live according to God’s rules, however, we will be rewarded not only materially but spiritually as well.
When we are able to accomplish this task, then the obstacle of the mountain will give way to the mountain as the peak of spiritual ecstasy.
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