Behar-Behukotai: From where do we find our inspiration?

Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel
May 16, 2020

This week’s parsha was filled with blessings and curses-much like our lives at the moment. Behar-Behukotai opens with a discussion of the shemita year. It emphasizes the vital connection between the Jewish people, Gd and the land of Israel. The land itself is sacred. Just as the Jewish people connect to Gd through the Sabbath, the land has its own Sabbath. Every seven years the land is to rest. In the biblical ideal, no one need be concerned about their sustenance. The land will significantly overproduce in the 6th year, ensuring that those who plan will not need to worry. They need only PLAN and HAVE FAITH.

That lesson applies to us, too. Through these recent challenges, we have had to plan, revise plans, revise them again and have faith that our attempts would be successful. We know that some of our endeavors have been better than others, and we are grateful to all. We have worked to connect one another again and again and again. We have worked to ensure the vital connections we cultivate remain strong in this physical shemita time.

Right now we must have faith that our efforts will yield spiritual and physical fruit. We are grateful for the generosity of our community in sustaining our community at this time. Our step-up campaign for the AFC has already received positive results--I pray that will continue in the coming weeks.

Looking at the world today, we see air pollution decreasing dramatically. In the punjab region of northern India, they can now see the Himalayas from 100 miles away, something impossible in recent decades.


In some ways the verses of the book of Leviticus feel like they are coming to life. The earth is taking itself back from human pressures.

Amidst the isolation and challenges of recent days, we have also seen blessings. As I speak to our community members, I hear beautiful stories of kindness and compassion. As we hear from one another, we are truly making a difference. The power of a simple phone call or video chat or online service or class is far beyond the momentary impact. You have the power to bring joy and inspiration to others. Last week we thanked our educators--I again acknowledge them today, grateful for their work in supporting our community right now.

One of the tasks of an educator (or a rabbi) is to connect us to our stories. In discovering our roots, in discovering our faith, we grow and we learn. As Jews, we have so many source texts, the Torah and Tanach, our rabbinic literature, thousands of years of commentary.

When I look for verses of inspiration, Jeremiah is not the place I would normally start. This week’s haftorah generally follows that pattern of being darker and more depressing than others, yet there are some points of light amidst the darkness.

The conclusion of this week’s haftorah is 17:14:

רְפָאֵ֤נִי ה’ וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃ 

Heal me, O LORD, and let me be healed; Save me, and let me be saved; For You are my glory.

That language is used in our daily prayers, although modified to the plural so that we may pray for all who need healing. In this time of plague and pandemic, of Covid and Coronavirus, it is incumbent upon us to pray not only for our own well-being, but also for all who are ill. We must also offer our thanks to those who are working towards the healing of all.

Earlier in the haftorah is another positive verse that makes its way into our liturgy:

בָּר֣וּךְ הַגֶּ֔בֶר אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִבְטַ֖ח בַּֽה’ וְהָיָ֥ה ה’ מִבְטַחֽוֹ׃ 

Blessed is he who trusts in the LORD, Whose trust is the LORD alone.

Frequently sung in three part harmony and even with hand motions in USY or at Ramah, the verse reminds us to keep faith amidst the darkness, amidst the challenges of life. This message seems especially important this week. As we read about the blessings and curses, as we live through a strange new world, let us look for the blessings in our lives. What are the Himalayas that we are seeing? What is beautiful in our lives that we may not have noticed, hidden in the fog of our normal daily lives? I know that I am recharged each morning when I see the faces at minyan. I pray the same is true for you now. I pray that our time together helps us lift one another up, gives us the inspiration to celebrate the blessings of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom!