Shabbat BeHar-BeHukotai: Emet v’Emunah

“true and reliable” in the Age of Fake News

אֵ֥לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר תַּֽעֲשׂ֑וּ דַּבְּר֤וּ אֱמֶת֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵ֔הוּ אֱמֶת֙ וּמִשְׁפַּ֣ט שָׁל֔וֹם שִׁפְט֖וּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶֽם׃
You must speak the truth, and judge truthfully and fairly in all your dwelling places
Zekharyah 8.16
The double parashah that we study this week, BeHar and BeHukotai, bring us to the end of the Book VaYikra (Leviticus). In it we find social justice halakhahwhich seems to us, these days, wise in ways that modernity did not take into account: let the land rest, let the people rest, let the creatures rest, if you would live and thrive. 

The concept of the Yovel, the “Jubilee” year, is presented in parashat BeHar:

וְקִדַּשְׁתֶּ֗ם אֵ֣ת שְׁנַ֤ת הַחֲמִשִּׁים֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ לְכָל־יֹשְׁבֶ֑יהָ יוֹבֵ֥ל הִוא֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם וְשַׁבְתֶּ֗ם אִ֚ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּת֔וֹ וְאִ֥ישׁ אֶל־מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֖וֹ תָּשֻֽׁבוּ
You must make the fiftieth year holy by proclaiming release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be yovel for you: each of you shall return to the place you came from; each of you shall return to your family. 

It’s an attractive idea, but this concept of the cosmic do-over, where we take all the playing pieces off the board of life and start over again entirely equal and fresh, is of course unworkable in a society. Memories are created, and scars remain.  

There’s an advantage, though, to the accumulation of memories: the learning creates communities of meaning such as ours. One of the foremost needs of a human being is to belong to a community that affirms one’s sense of self and place in the universe. As the social psychologist Roy Baumeister has written, the self is not meant to carry its own weight. 

Belonging, it turns out, is so central a need for us that we prefer it to any other good. In “Belonging Is Stronger than Facts,” in today’s New York Times, the journalist Max Fisher considers the way in which the need to be part of a supportive group outweighs abstract ideals such as truth and justice.  

“As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who put truth-seeking above all else, we are social animals wired for survival. In times of perceived conflict or social change, we seek security in groups. And that makes us eager to consume information, true or not, that lets us see the world as a conflict putting our righteous ingroup against a nefarious outgroup.This need can emerge especially out of a sense of social destabilization. As a result, misinformation is often prevalent among communities that feel destabilized by unwanted change or, in the case of some minorities, powerless in the face of dominant forces.” 

As our people nears the holy day when we annually relive the moment of our commitment to each other and to our path of meaning, it is worth considering the gift in our hands: we know where we belong. We are part of a people and a purpose which stretches far beyond a moment’s uncertainty; we belong to a history and a future that needs us to learn it and shape it. Each of us is needed. 

Emet v’Emunah are the words we repeat every time we gather to pray: “truth” and “reliability.” True and enduring, we say, is this community of spiritual seekers. True and reliable, we affirm, is our support for each other. True and eternal, we declare, are the beliefs and values of our people and its sense of the Holy in and beyond our lives.

In this age of fake news, we Jews have a truth we can cling to, and that informs and strengthens our belonging with each other. From the mishkan of the wilderness built by the gifts of the Israelites, to the sacred spaces we wandering Jews construct in so many places so many generations later, we belong to our story, and it needs the gifts each of us bring.

The truth is that we need it just as much as it needs us; us, and our reliable presence for each other. That is a truth that has lasted much longer than the lies and hate of any era.

Even when it weighs us down too, at least we know that a better way of being is possible. May we cling to that, and to each other.

One thought on “Shabbat BeHar-BeHukotai: Emet v’Emunah

  1. Here’s a perspective you might find of interest:

    “Joshua told the children of Israel that the expulsion of the seven nations from the Promised Land would be evidence that the living God was with them. Driving out these unholy inhabitants from our heart is the purification process. It revitalizes the holy spirit of love and regenerates the word of truth from within our heart. When these two divine attributes of God are restored, God is with us; when our holy spirit reaches its highest degree through its revitalization, it allows for the highest degree of conception of truth, a son, within that spiritual womb called the heart. Through this process, which they illustrated by compassing the city seven times (7×7), through which truth is added (49+1=50), we celebrate our one-time spiritual Jubilee. Jubilee, among the ancient Jews, extraordinary Sabbatical year (following every seventh ordinary Sabbatical year) celebrated every 50th year. In the year of Jubilee, the land was completely left to rest. All debts were remitted; land that had been alienated was restored to it original owners; and all Jews, who, through poverty, had obliged to hire themselves out as servants, were released from bondage. “Jubilee.” Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. 1986 ed. When we complete our six metaphorical days of spiritual works, the creation of our new heaven and earth is finished, and we enter into our rest. Our spiritual debt is paid. And the good land or life that we alienated ourselves from through hidden beliefs and unresolved thoughts and emotions, is restored to us. We will finally be free of our spiritual bondage.” -THE BIBLE DECODED; “Judah”

    The children of Israel (chosen to represent us the people) are truly our greatest spiritual teachers, their journey revealing our journey through life.

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