This week in the New York City area, the ultra-Orthodox community is planning to rally in protest of the widespread nature and “accepted” practice of using the Internet in Jewish communities. They believe that the Internet is a ticket to licentious behavior, is filled with crude, immoral, and immodest material, and that it is leading the Jews astray. At the same time and same place there is a counter rally and protest planned by the non-Hareidi community to bring to the surface that abused children and sexual misconduct covered up in Ultra Orthodox spheres should take precedence and priority over the internet. This dispute will not be pleasant, but both sides are arguing the value that is emphasized in this week’s double Torah portion, that we must hold ourselves to a higher standard.
In the double Torah portions of Behar and Bechukotai, it discusses the rules regarding the Shmitah (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Jubilee) years. God tells the nation that they may work their lands for six years, but on the seventh year they must let their land lie fallow. On that seventh year no person can work the land, but all residents, including hired workers, slaves, and animals, may eat the produce of the land that year. After seven cycles of seven years there will be a Jubilee year following the 49th year.
The laws regarding the Jubilee year are expressed in this portion. Come the jubilee year, any slave or hired servant shall go free, as if all debts have been repaid and as if any slave has been redeemed. The importance of giving out loans is emphasized here and the prohibition of collecting interest is also explained. Regulations regarding slaves are also mentioned; working slaves with rigor or in inhumane ways is strictly prohibited.
The portion continues with a reiteration of the prohibition of idolatry and a commandment to keep the Sabbath.
Bechukotai then tells of reward and punishment for following or not observing the commandments. God expresses all of the wonder that will come by following His commandments including His holy presence dwelling in their midst, for them to be His people, and great military and agricultural success. God also warns of the consequences of desecrating His commandments; He says that the consequences of not following the commandments will lead to their enemies prevailing and ruling over them, the demise of their livestock, disease, and other horrific punishments.
The portion continues on to discuss individual pledges made for the Temple. Different monetary values were assigned as representations for different types of people, regarding the pledge. The portion ultimately concludes with each person devoting a tithe of his land to designate to God.
The portions heavily describe the responsibility and obligations that demand us to break the norm and take on tasks that are difficult and counter intuitive. These are all in the name of pushing ourselves to grow and be the best that we can be. From the two counter protests this week, hopefully both parties will take to others’ concerns and both parties will take the lessons of the Torah to better themselves.