Behar is a portion that looks at several issues that have modern impact. There is the opening discussion of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, within which is 25:10, the verse that appears, with some translation issues, on the Liberty Bell. There is also a proof text used to help support the Jewish evironmental movement (25:23) confirming that the earth is God’s and that we are but “lent” it, Then there are a series of verses, especially in 25, that speak to our obligations if or when a kinsman, a member of our people is reduced to poverty.(25:25ff)
There are many discussions in tradition on the extended meaning of the verses in Behar that speak to the rules of support for someone who finds themselves impoverished. As one comment staes “the rabbis emphasize that helping those who have lost their property, who are without food, shelter, or clothing, or who are sick infirm or helpless, not only benefits the needy but also brings happiness to the generous.” (“A Torah Commentary For Our Times”. Harvey Fields. p.156) It would appear from these verses that the society has the obligation to try and raise up the person who has fallen on hard times, to do everything possible to allow one to keep their sense of dignity. Why are these passages so meaningful? As we go around to groups with our Jewish Sacred Aging work, the issues of what we call the “economics of aging” always emerges. There is a fear and concern on the part of so many of our generation that we are one medical crises away from real financial hardship. So, we can then ask, is our society prepared to support us if this crises hits us?
I think these verses can be seen and interpreted in light of our own caregiving and medical cost society. The financial drain on families (you may know some) and the accompanying mental stress and strain is an issue that is all often ignored until the crises is full blown, when, it is too late to create real support. We are seeing this now in drug prices and the on-going reports that for some people they are forced to choose between food and medicine. Perhaps we can see this portion as being a warning call to society that we all need to develop supports and systems so that one of our people is threatened with finacial hardship due to illness there are systems in place so that they can avoid impoverishment and secure their sense of dignity.
The choices remains ours.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.