Parshat Behar: Advice to the Slave and the Jew in Exile
By: Rav Moshe Stav
Immediately after discussing the laws pertaining to a Jewish slave, the Torah continues with a seemingly unrelated command: “You shall not make idols for yourselves, and you shall not erect for yourselves a statue or a pillar, and in your land you shall not emplace a flooring stone upon which to prostrate, for I am Hashem, your God. My Shabbatot shall you observe and my sanctuary shall you revere; I am Hashem” (Vayikra 26:1-2).
Rashi explains the juxtaposition, as well as the apparent repetition of these commands, which already appeared elsewhere: “This speaks to one who has been sold to a non-Jew, that he should not say, ‘Since my master commits immoral acts, so will I; since my master worships idolatry, so will I; since my master violates Shabbat, so will I.’ This is why these matters were said.”
The Seforno writes:
“Do not make for yourself” – Even though you will be subjugated to the nations, like the one who sold himself to the gentiles, do not abdicate your honor for no purpose. Do not make the mistake mentioned by Chazal (Sanhedrin 105a), who teach that at the time of the exile, many people erred and said to the prophets, “When a slave has been sold by his master or a woman divorced by her husband, they no longer have any relationship” [and we similarly no longer have a relationship with Hashem]. For even after the exile, you are my servants, as Chazal teach (ibid.) that the nevi’im responded to the people, “Why does it say ‘David, my servant’ (Shmuel II 3:18) and ‘Nevuchadnetzar, my servant’ (Yirmiyahu 25:9) [seemingly equating them]? If a slave acquires property – to whom does the slave belong and to whom does the property belong?” [Clearly, to the master, such that since Nevuchadnetzar is my servant,] you are mine even during the exile, as the pasuk states, “But despite all this… I will not have been revolted by them… for I am Hashem their God” (Vayikra 26:44).
“My Shabbatot you shall observe” – Even during the exile, despite the fact that the rest on them is a remembrance of your freedom. “And my sanctuary you shall revere” – The sanctified places in the exile – that is, the batei kenessiot and batei midrashot – even though the Beit HaMikdash has been destroyed, as the pasuk states, “And I will be for them a small sanctuary” (Yechezkel 19:37), and Chazal teach (Megilla 29a), “These are the batei kenessiot and batei midrasot.
Both of these commentaries make it clear that a situation in which a person is subjugated to a non-Jew presents particular danger, requiring a special warning.
But why were these specific mitzvot singled out? The Seforno attempts to address this question, but he refers to the state of exile in general, and not the specific situation described in the parsha. We will attempt to suggest an answer.
Many people perceive success as proof of truth. One who is successful is viewed as a person with the proper values, and his views and beliefs are perceived as truth. Moreover, one who is successful is seen not only as more talented (which is somewhat logical), but also more loyal and honest.
For example, the gemara in Bava Metzia (35a) describes a situation in which a borrower believes the lender, but the lender does not believe the borrower. The gemara explains that the borrower believes the lender because the lender is wealthy and successful, and therefore presumably reliable. In contrast, the lender interprets the borrower’s poverty as proof of his unreliability. We know this from our own experience. If someone we do not know asks us for assistance, whom will we treat with more trust – the one who looks bedraggled or the one who appears to be wealthy?
This fact is significant in terms of the relationship between Yisrael and the nations in galut, as well as Yisrael’s self-worth. Thus, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi called his Sefer HaKuzari, “A Defense of the Degraded Religion,” as he felt that the main difficulty in accepting the truth of the Torah is rooted in the fact that Bnei Yisrael are degraded in galut.
An example of this phenomenon is found in the gemara in Avoda Zara (54a):
The following braysa supports your view [that even forced idol worship creates a prohibition of benefit]: The idols of idol worshipers that were worshipped due to a decree – even though the decree has been annulled, the status of the idols [as forbidden for benefit] is not annulled. They responded: This does not necessarily prove the point, for perhaps there was a Jewish apostate who worshipped it willingly. Rav Ashi said: Do not say, “perhaps.” Rather, there certainly was a Jewish apostate who worshipped it willingly.
Rashi explains: “It is not possible that among all of those who worshipped, there is not one apostate who saw the degradation of Yisrael, such that his heart was drawn to the idol worshippers.”
Similarly, we find in Sota (49):
Rav Ila bar Yevarachya said: Were it not for the prayer of Dovid, all of Yisrael would have been sellers of ravav, as the pasuk states, “Place for them mastery, Hashem” (Tehillim 9:21). And Rav Ila bar Yevarachya said: Were it not for the prayer of Chabakuk, two talmidei chachamim would cover themselves with one cloak when they studied Torah, as the pasuk states, “Hashem, I heard your report and I was afraid; Hashem, revive your work in the midst of the years” (Chabakuk 3:2). Do not read “in the midst of the years (bekerev shanim),” but rather, “in the closeness of two (bekrov shenayim).”
“Ravav” is something disgusting, such as fat, which sticks to ones clothes and makes him detestable, such that only the poor are involved in selling it. “Place for them mastery, Hashem” – Before this pasuk, it states, “Not always shall the needy be ignored, nor the hope of the afflicted forever lost” (Tehillim 9:19). Thus, “Place for them mastery” means: Give mastery to those poor people – wealth – so that the non-Jews will treat them with respect and the non-Jews will realize that they are humans, and not gods, such that respect and greatness does not belong only to them.
In truth, it would be best for Yisrael to be utterly impoverished, so that the galut would reach its end faster, but then the arrogance of the nations would be unbearable. For this reason, the Jews are financially successful.
It bothers us tremendously that the communities of bnei Torah have to live frugally and are not financially successful, as this portrays the Torah lifestyle as a failure. When we are in galut, Bnei Yisrael respect and live according to the values of the non-Jews. We are influenced by the non-Jewish conception of success. For example, a boy will not be interested in a modest and God fearing girl without an academic degree, as that is the non-Jewish mark of success, and women are interested in non-Jewish clothing styles.
A slave, who is under the jurisdiction of his successful master, views his master as the appropriate model to imitate regarding proper lifestyle. The Torah’s commands to the eved Ivri ensure that he will maintain freedom of thought, even while he is a slave.
Shabbat disengages the person from the material world, so that has the ability to recognize the spiritual world. Thus, the Ramban tells us that Yosef observed Shabbat in Mitzrayim in order to teach his children the belief in Hashem’s unity, and Yaakov did so as well when he lived in exile. Both Yaakov and Yosef lived in exile, and both observed the Shabbat.
Matzeivot and similar structures are independent, private places for worship. The Torah’s prohibition of this type of worship forces the eved Ivri to serve Hashem in a place where other Jews are found. On a broader level, this instruction guides all the Jews in exile to create autonomous communities built around the beit kenesset and beit midrash, which reflect a miniature form of redemption, “mikdash me’at.” Indeed, whenever I pray with a tibbur in chutz la’aretz, no matter where I am, I seem to forget that I am not in Eretz Yisrael…
This helps to explain the words of Chazal in Brachot (8a):
When they told Rabbi Yochanan that there were elderly people in Bavel, he was confounded and said: It is written, “So that your days will be lengthened and the days of your children upon the land” (Devarim 11:21) – [lengthened in Eretz Yisrael,] but not outside of the land! [Why, then, do the people of Bavel live long lives?] When they told him that they go early in the morning and go late in the evening to the beit kenesset, he said: That is what is effective for them! As Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said to his sons: Go early and go late and enter the beit kenesset, so that your lives will be extended. Rabbi Acha bar Rabbi Chanina said: Upon what verse is this based? “Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, guarding at my doorposts” (Mishlei 8:34). And [the reward] is written thereafter: “For whoever finds me find life” (ibid. 8:35).
Yisrael can only be truly alive in the true place of its existence, the place fitting for it to grow. In chutz la’aretz, Yisrael has no “life.” However, the batei midrash and batei kenesset create a reality of life akin to that of Eretz Yisrael. This is expressed in the gemara in Brachot (3a):
And [Eliyahu] said to me: What voice did you hear in that ruin? I responded: I heard a heavenly voice, cooing like a dove and saying: Woe to the children due to whose sins I destroyed my house, burned my Temple, and exiled them among the nations. And he said to me: By your life and by your head, not only did that voice cry out in that moment, but it cries out three times each day. Moreover, when Yisrael enter batei kenessiot and batei midrash and answer [in the Kaddish], “May His great name be blessed,” HaKadosh Baruch Hu shakes His head and says: Happy is the king who is thus praised in his house [referring to the beit kenesset. When the Mikdash stood, this praise was recited there, but now:] How great is the pain of the father who exiled his children, and woe to the children who were exiled from their father’s table!
In our generation, the great challenge that we face is to live in a society whose values contradict Torah values. We must protect our right to believe that what secular society considers “enlightened” we consider an abomination. Yeshiva students, as well as all those who go early and late to the beit kenesset and beit midrash, fulfill the Torah’s advice regarding how to protect the independent Jewish lifestyle. May we merit the fulfillment of the promises of the nevi’im, when the glory of Yisrael is returned to its proper place.
Shiur ID: 7615