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What’s in a Name?

By Rabbi Aaron Lipsey

The first of this week’s double portion is called Behar. Meaning “at the mountain”, it refers to Har Sinai, the mountain characterised for its transparent humility, where we received the Torah. Immediately after Hashem’s awesome revelation at Sinai, Moshe climbed the mountain for 40 days and nights in order to receive the Luchos. In Moshe’s absence, the people sinned by worshipping the golden calf, and so the day after returning, Moshe once again climbed the mountain. 40 days later he came down with the Luchos Sheniyos whereupon Moshe taught many of the laws of the Torah in detail. In all, the Bnei Yisroel spent almost an entire year encamped around the mountain. In fact, counting from Parshas Yisro when the Bnei Yisroel arrived at Sinai, this is the 16th Parsha which is set “at the mountain.” Given this is so, why is this portion in particular chosen to bear this name rather than an earlier one?

This is even more perplexing if we consider the parsha’s contents. It opens with the agricultural rules of shemitah and then describes the consequences of not keeping these laws: we will seek to sell our possessions, then our inheritance and then our homes. We’ll have to borrow on interest and if we still don’t get the message we will resort to selling ourselves into slavery, ultimately placing ourselves into the service of idolaters and idolatry. The depths to which we sink if we disobey Hashem’s commandments stand in stark contrast with the lofty nature of Har Sinai.

But therein lies the answer and the reassurance. As long as we have Sinai, representing the Nosein haTorah as the focal point of our moral compass we have the strength to maintain and sustain our avodas Hashem. Without the Torah we could not hope to withstand the challenges and obstacles that the world around us puts in our way. Leaving our fields overgrown and unproductive is, on the face of it, dangerously foolhardy. What will we eat? How can we manage? Nature follows laws of cause and effect and we are prisoners to those rules. As the gemoro in Berokhos (5b) says, “Only a force from without can release someone who is locked within”, or as I once heard it put, “you can’t raise yourself up by pulling your own hair”. It is the Torah that connects us with something far beyond the laws of nature; Hashem’s transcendent, infinite will. That’s why in parshas Behar the Torah addresses this concern in a very practical way: “and if you will say what we will eat in the seventh year [when the land lies fallow]…” says Hashem, “I will command my blessing for you… and it will yield enough produce for three years.”

Naming the portion Behar reminds us how we can keep the Mitzvos; reinforcing the message that if Hashem wills it, we can do it. By adopting the transparent humility of Har Sinai, we can climb to the loftiest spiritual heights.

 

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