Playing Fair: Behar-Behukotai 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When were you first taught the differences between right and wrong? Who were your main teachers? To what extent were these lessons established in your youth, and to what extent did they evolve in adulthood?

In the first of our two Torah portions, the notion of avoiding wrongdoing is understood by subsequent commentators in vastly different ways:

The Pitch: “Do not wrong one another, but fear your God; for I the Lord am your God.” – Leviticus 25:17

Swing #1: “Every Rosh HaShana it is decreed in Heaven how much each man will earn during the next year. And when a man acquires riches through deceit and swindling, against the will of God, he will be punished by illness or some other calamity to deprive him of his ill-gotten gains. Therefore Scripture says: ‘Do not wrong one another: You must not seek to gain riches by overreaching, because you shall ‘fear your God’ Who, in His quality of justice will impose punishments upon you to deprive you of the riches you obtain by unfair means.’” – Melo HaOmer

Swing #2: “This repetition [the command to not wrong one another is also mentioned three verse before] has a purpose – it forbids ona’ah by words: one must not remind a penitent sinner of his former misdeeds or a convert of his heathen ancestry; one should not inquire the price of an article he does not intend to buy.” – Sifra

Swing #3: “Here [the Torah] enjoins [us] regarding verbal harassment; that one should not annoy his fellow nor give him advice that is not appropriate for him, [but is] in accord with the mode [of life] and the benefit of the advisor.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators define acting wrongly? Which definitions make the most sense to you? How would you describe the ultimate wrong behavior? Would your answer to that question have been different 10 or 20 years ago?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Congratulations to our four Adult B’nai Mitzvah this year: Susan Heidenberg, Charles Richards, Ingrid Samuels, and Sunny Steinberg. All have prepared diligently, assisted by the marvelous Pam Coyle. Celebrate with them and their families tomorrow starting at 9:30AM.

The Big Inning at the End: Perhaps the most recognizable professional baseball player doesn’t play in the Major Leagues; he plays minor-league baseball in Columbia, S.C. Is it a problem that many sports fans follow Tim Tebow more closely than spectacular Major League players such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw?

Shabbat Shalom!