Parashat B’har/B’huqqotai (5780 – 2020)
Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
“Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (`imadi).” (Ps. 23:4) This verse from Psalm 23 is recited in times of sorrow and crisis as a source of comfort. We are sorely in need of such comfort and such prayers during this grim time.
The psalmist gratefully states that God “is with me.” The more common Hebrew words for “with me” are “’itti” or “`immi.” But the Psalmist forgoes those usual words for the word imadi. The usual word “`imadi” can be found in the Bible here and there. And it is found on our Torah reading this Shabbat, as well. Is there a reason this rare term is sometimes chosen? What does this rare word seek to convey?
Some scholars explain that this word is not simply an alternative to the common “with me” words. The root of the word is different. It stems from the word “`amd” which means “standing, supporting.” So the sense of this word includes more than a reference to physical proximity – “You are near me.” Rather, the translation of the pslam’s verse should be something like: “I will fear no evil for You are standing by my side to support me.” Such a meaning deepens our sense of our dependency and our trust in God. We reassure ourselves that God is at the ready to be of help.
It is therefore very meaningful to see how our Torah reading employs this word. Unlike in the psalm, it is not the fragile and vulnerable human being who speaks of God’s support. Rather, God speaks to and about us. The context is in regard to God’s instruction to observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. These were years during which we are meant to let go of our exclusive ownership of our fields and property and allow them to be enjoyed by everyone equally. At the same time, the law included a guarantee that everyone would have a home to go back to, no matter what travails they had experienced in their lives. This is a radical and utopian vision! Ancient as it is, it speaks directly to our own current need to reassess our ways of life in a world stricken by devastating pandemic and stricken with painful inequality.
In bringing this message to us, God explains the underlying lesson we need to draw from the observance of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years: “The land shall not be sold as a finality, for all the earth is Mine; for you are but strangers and sojourners (gerim v’toshavim) with Me (imadi).” (Lev. 25:23) We cannot lay claim to ultimate ownership of the land because it really belongs to the God. We are only temporary residents of the land, of the world. But, amazingly, God adds the final word “imadi” to this description. We are not the only ones who are temporary sojourners on Earth – so is God!
Still, couldn’t that point have been made with the common word “imi”? No. Because the special word imadi means more that “with me.” It means that the one who is “with me” is there to help me and stand by me. God is declaring that God hopes that we will stand by God and support God, helping God realize this dream vision of a society built, not on fear and survivalism, but on belief in sharing and cooperation and mutual support.
It is God’s turn to declare, with hope in us: “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with Me – standing by My side to support Me (`imadi).” May we answer God’s prayer.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein