Community Rabbi Corner, May 24, 2019

Rabbi David Greenstein
Congregation Shomrei Emunah
Montclair, NJ
Parashat Behar

As we reach the end of the book of Leviticus we read about many of the elements that comprise the vision of holiness that is the central concern of this book. The last portion, B’huqotai, is largely devoted to setting up a contrast between what might be if we pursue this vision of holiness and what might ensue if we betray it.
It includes God’s statement: “I am the Eternal, your Almighty God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt so as to stop you from being slaves to them; so I smashed the rods of your yoke and I had you walk upright (va-olekh etkhem qom’miut ).” (Lev. 26:13)
This verse tells us that God’s desire is for us to “walk” with dignity – that is, to be able to lead lives of freedom so that we may realize our full human potential. The phrase - va-olekh etkhem qom’miut - is echoed in our daily prayers. In the blessing that leads into the Sh’ma, we have been praying for 2000 years that God “shall have us walk back to our land in dignity.”

The dream of the Return to Zion has been a dream of the restoration of dignity and pride to the Jewish people. It is important to note that this dream has been miraculously fulfilled in our time with the establishment of the State of Israel. We need to celebrate this miracle! But we must also be honest about the conditions that the Torah puts forward regarding the fulfillment of this dream. In the Masorti (Conservative) prayer book in Israel the text of this prayer is changed to read – v’tolikhenu qom’miut b’artzenu – that God “shall have us walk in our land in dignity.”

In other words, for those of us blessed with the opportunity to be living in Israel already, we pray that our walking the land shall be in dignity.
How can we hope to walk the land – any land, whether it is the United States or Israel or anywhere else - in dignity? Human dignity is not a zero sum game. My dignity cannot be gained by depriving someone else of dignity. The Torah teaches that our dignity depends on treating everyone with dignity. And the Torah’s teaching is that our dignity depends, not on military might or nationalistic arrogance, but on our concern for the ethical and spiritual demands of holiness.