Parashat B'har

Elevation or Obstacle?

The mountain in this week's parashah can be a place of spiritual growth or an impediment.

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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.

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Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.