Parshat Behar-Bechukoti

“Od yavo shalom aleinu” – Mosh Ben Ari

Why does this week’s double parsha, Behar-Bechukotai, contain not one but two blessings for peace and security in the land of Israel? The answers are especially resonant for Israel today. 

God promises that if we follow God’s laws and mitzvot, we will receive God’s blessings. Rashi sees significance in the order of the brachot: produce, prosperity and only then, peace. Rashi teaches that the blessings conclude with peace to teach that shalom is equivalent to all the other blessings. Without peace, other blessings can’t last. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z”tl notes the similarity between this Rashi and the final mishna in Shas which reads: God has no vessel containing blessing other than peace, as it says, ‘God gives strength to His people; God blesses His people with peace.’ (Tehillim 29)” Concluding the entire Mishna on this note emphasizes that peace is the ultimate blessing, from which all other blessings flow. 

Similarly, the amidah prayer ends with a request for peace in the paragraph “sim shalom” or “shalom rav.” This is how we take-leave of Hashem in tefilla. Our requests for different blessings in the amidah culminates in the most significant one of all – peace for all of Israel. 

Why then does the parsha contain a double blessing for peace when it states: “You will dwell securely in your land,” and immediately following this, “I will grant peace in the land?” The Or ha-Hayyim explains that each of the two brachot for peace has its own purpose. One blessing is for peace between Israel and its enemies and the other blessing is for Am Yisrael in particular, so that there should not be internal divisiveness among the Jewish people and so that God will plant within us a seed of mutual tolerance. Today especially, may God bless Israel with both external and internal shalom. Shabbat Shalom -Karen Miller Jackson

*photo from Jerusalem’s old city 

Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Speak Positive

Humankind is created with the gift of speech and communication. How we use this gift can directly impact perception of ourselves, others and our world. This lesson is conveyed in parshat Tazria-Metzora and in daily tefilla.

The skin disease known as tzara’at is associated with lashon ha’ra (evil speech) in Torah: When Miriam speaks badly about her brother Moshe, she gets leprosy. When Moshe’s hand becomes leprous, Rashi explains that this is because he spoke badly about Bnei Yisrael. Similarly, the name parshat “Me-tzo-ra” is linked by the midrash to the phrase “motzi-shem-ra,” spreading evil rumors. Just as the disease spreads across the body, critical and hurtful language spreads negativity and discord, and it can have disastrous consequences.

Using our mouths responsibly is a value expressed in tefillah too. The Amidah prayer closes with the request “Hashem, protect my tongue from bad”. But speech isn’t only about avoiding the negative. The Amidah also opens with the request: אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ – “Adonai, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise.” Our prayers are a combination of praise, thanks, and requests for the wellbeing of ourselves, the Jewish people and the world. The focus on speech at the opening and closing of the Amidah is a reminder that in addition to avoiding bad speech and its consequences, using positive language spreads goodness and optimism. Appropriately, the source of the opening verse of the Amidah is Psalm 51, in which King David displays great humility and repentance through his speech. He admits his sins and prays for forgiveness.   

This emphasis on positive words is also seen in tefillat Yom Ha’atzmaut which also cites Tehillim, “Give thanks to God,” and “This is the day that the LORD has made, let us exult and rejoice on it.” This year in particular, amidst all the concern and disagreement, let’s focus on the praise, on speaking about the good in each other and in this precious country, our home. Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh tov and Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach!! – Karen Miller Jackson

*photo Ben Gurion Declaration of Independence from