Friday, May 11, 2012

Parshat Behar – פרשת בהר

"וְכִי-יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ, וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ, גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ. אַל תִּקַּח מֵאִתּוֹ נֶשֶׁךְ וְתַרְבִּית, וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ; וְחֵי אָחִיךָ, עִמָּךְ. אֶת-כַּסְפְּךָ לֹא-תִתֵּן לוֹ, בְּנֶשֶׁךְ; וּבְמַרְבִּית, לֹא תִתֵּן אָכְלֶךָ. אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם לָתֵת לָכֶם אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, לִהְיוֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים. – And if your brother becomes impoverished, and his means fail in your proximity; then you shall hold on to him: as a stranger and a settler shall he live with you. Do not take from him interest and increase; and you shall have fear of your God; and let your brother live with you. Do not give him your money for interest, nor you food shall you give him for increase. I am Hashem your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be a God to you." (ויקרא כה:לה-לח.) In the verses above, the Torah delineates the imperative not to charge interest of one's fellow. At the end of this particular passage, Hashem points out that He is the same God who took the Jewish nation out of Egypt. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much of a link between the two issues. Rashi, in his classic commentary on the Torah, presents a brilliant insight as to why this commandment is related to the exodus. Rashi's understanding is that during the exodus, God caused ten plagues to be wreaked upon the Egyptians. One of these was the death of the first-born sons of the Egyptian households. Rashi explains that God "distinguished between he who was a firstborn and he who was not a firstborn," before going on to point out therefore that he is very capable of "knowing and exacting punishment from one who lends money to a Jew with interest, while saying that [the money] belongs to a non-Jew." Rashi's point is that the Jews should understand that the God who is telling them not to levy interest on their loans to one another is the same God as the One who took them out of Egypt, and that they would be foolish to try and hide things from a God who has already previously demonstrated His ability to decisively distinguish between things that may not seem immediately clear to us mortals. While this understanding of the verse is perfectly valid, it is entirely possible that it was meant to serve as a severe warning to the Jews to be entirely truthful in their dealings, there is another way of interpreting this verse's function. In Ma'ayanei HaTorah, the following thoughts, attributed to HaDrash v'HaIyun, are mentioned. Loosely translated: The early generations of commentators found it hard to understand why it was that the Egyptians were punished for that which they did to the Jews. After all, didn't God's decree that the Jews should be "enslaved and oppressed"? The Ravad, Rav Avraham Ben David, explains, however, that their guilt lay not in the fact that they fulfilled this decree, but in their overly-zealous attitude, one that resulted in them going above and beyond "merely" oppressing the Jews; the Egyptians fairly tortured the Jews. Even though there was indeed a directive for the Jews to be oppressed to some level, there was no need to have them tortured, certainly not to the extent that they were. It turns out that the Egyptians not only collected exorbitant taxes from the Jews, they also added on interest and taxes needlessly, thus going beyond that which had been decreed by God. As such, anyone who charges interest of his fellow is deemed a heretic, for he thereby legitimates the actions of the Egyptians towards his forebears. It would seem that one of the reasons for the incongruous mentioning of the exodus from Egypt is that we are to prove ourselves worthy of this exodus; that if we are commanded not to levy interest on one another, we need only take a look back at those who had previously taken interest from Jews. The Ravad explains that one who charges interest is deemed as having heretical views about the exodus; our understanding must be that one who charges interest of his fellow Jew is to be considered as no better than the pepetrators of the torturous conditions to which Jews were subjected. It is my fervent wish that we may all turn away from the path of making life hard for one's fellow, and that we may all become better and more considerate people. Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom.

No comments:

Post a Comment