Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Behar/Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27)

Dry Bread in Peace vs. Abundance in Pieces

A blessing was bestowed on the Jewish people when they entered the Land of Israel. After mentioning how eaue to the generosity of the Land and how the people would eat in satiety, it concludes: And I will place peace in the land… (Leviticus 26:6)

Four verses later there’s another blessing for food; the stored crops of previous years will remain fresh and even improve with age. In short, the first few verses talk about the Land’s great produce, then comes a promise of peace, and afterward there are more food related blessings. If you read the entire passage, you will be confused about the placement of the blessing of peace because it would make more sense to list all the blessings relating to food and only then mention something about peace? Why is the ‘peace blessing’ sandwiched between blessings of prosperity relating to food?

Rashi addresses this point and says “If there is no peace, there is nothing.” How does this pithy comment address our question? Peace is an intrinsic part of the blessings of satiation because even if you have food in plenty, if you don’t eat it in peace, then you won’t ultimately be satiated. Imagine eating a five-course meal in the middle of a war zone or eating dinner when the family is bickering. The relaxed feeling of satiation and contentment that we’ve all experienced after a great meal with family or friends will be missing if it’s eaten in an atmosphere of chaos and upheaval. Peace wasn’t meant to be a blessing by itself, rather, it’s intertwined with the blessing of food to teach that it’s an intrinsic element and prerequisite for being satiated.

There are many practical applications of this concept that extend even to areas not relating to food. Some people have enough material wealth and resources to feel completely satisfied yet when they see others with more, they feel envious and are actually pained to see someone else has more than them. They have the raw ingredients for feeling at peace with themselves but they’re not. What is their remedy? What do they need to do to replace their feeling of envy and dissatisfaction with what they have and start enjoying their life? It boils down to how they feel about the people they are envious of.

When a person truly likes or loves someone else, he or she is not envious of that person, nor it is a bother if that person has more. For example, emotionally healthy people are not jealous when their children are more accomplished than they are. If someone didn’t have the chance to go to college and has a daughter who made it to medical school, they will share in her good fortune and be grateful that she was blessed with the mind and circumstances necessary to become a doctor. When we truly like or love someone, we share in their good fortune. The Mitzvah of loving every Jew is not merely an abstract idea, it’s a concept that can rehabilitate one who is angry and cynical with his lot in life. People who are complete with themselves can take joy in their friends’ accomplishments but those who are bitter and difficult to love—or even like—are not at peace with themselves but there’s hope. If they work on seeing positive in the people in their lives, they will come to have positive feelings for them and learn to like them.

The Jews were released from the Egyptian bondage and spent 40 years in the desert. Afterwards entered the Land of Israel and benefited from a fertile and blessed land. The prerequisite for experiencing the Land’s blessings would be genuine peace among people and that is why G-d gave them a blessing for peace. Real peace, one in which people have the ability to share in each other’s good fortunes. Shalom—peace, in Hebrew—doesn’t literally mean lack of war, it literally means complete. If you want to know if you are at peace with someone—i.e., if you are truly complete with that person—ask yourself, “can I rejoice at his or her good fortune?” If the answer is yes, it’s a sign that you must feel a positive connection in some one way.

The blessing of the first generation of Jews to enter Israel contains a lesson for people of later generations and is summed up wisely by the wisest of men, King Solomon. “A piece of dry bread with peace is better than an abundant house with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1)  Let’s learn and benefit from his words.

Good Shabbos

(Sources: Rashi 26:6; Gur Aryeh ibid.; Ksav Sofer, quoted in Growth Through Torah p. 301; Leviticus 19:18;)