Parsha Phil: Behar
Amplifying tasks in the public sphere
We can and should continue to share and achieve more together, especially when things are difficult. Think about the concept of a matching gift, in which one’s own donation is amplified by another donor, or even promoting a cause on social media in the hope of amplifying one’s own support for an organization or joining a giving circle. The positive peer pressure can yield great returns.
To give or not to give has never been a question in Judaism. But whether it should be anonymously or not has. While there is clearly merit in both, an idea in this week’s parsha, Behar, illuminates how giving publicly can, in many cases, extend the gift.
In the Torah’s description of the Jubilee year, the nation must let the land lie fallow:
And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it… you shall not sow, nor shall you reap its aftergrowth or pick (its grapes) that you had set aside (for yourself). For it is Jubilee. It shall be holy for you; you shall eat its produce from the field (Leviticus 25:10-12).
According to the explanation of the commandments outlined in the Sefer HaChinuch (command 328), the underlying rationale for the Jubilee is to remind us that God runs the show so to speak, and humanity are but sacred trustees of everything from the Land of Israel to basic human rights. This mitzvah ennobles one with both Divine purpose and a sense of humility, while enabling reflection on everyday morals, ethics and individual accountability. Interestingly, this momentous occasion is heralded by the blowing of a shofar. The obvious question is why? What is the significance, at this moment, of the shofar?
In this difficult moment, the blowing of the shofar presents an unexpected voice of support and comfort for people who are experiencing challenges, the shifting of their entire operating system because of a matter of faith: so when the Jubilee begins, and each person steps outside to blow their shofar, they are immediately bombarded by numerous other shofar blasts from their surrounding neighbours. This sense of communal unity and combined dedication offers solace and support – a true feeling of being in the same boat for: ‘The distress of the masses is comforting [for the individual]’ (command 331) . In biblical times, the sounding of the shofar was a mechanism for announcing something to the world. While the Jubilee task was extremely difficult to implement, it was reassuring to realise that everyone was experiencing the same struggle together.
Often, we are faced with challenges that seem insurmountable. We are not the only ones feeling what we are feeling and in truth, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ There is comfort in the notion that there are other people who have braved, are braving and will brave similar burdens. The concept of peer pressure, so often seen through a lens of negativity, can in appropriate contexts, like rallying together for a good cause, be harnessed in a positive direction. This is not just expressed in person but also online through the myriad of support groups being started daily through social media channels.
Many revolutionary movements have begun simply because a few individuals shared a vision and dreamed in the same direction. To truly harness the positivity that can be found within the context of peer support, it is important to seek and build networks of people who share similar values, share our angst in moments of trial and help foster and reinforce that which is important to us. This underscores the benefit of our Jewish communal infrastructures, philanthropic partnerships and funding collaboratives. We can and should continue to share and achieve more together, especially when things are difficult. Think about the concept of a matching gift, in which one’s own donation is amplified by another donor, or even promoting a cause on social media in the hope of amplifying one’s own support for an organization or joining a giving circle. The positive peer pressure can yield great returns.
We shouldn’t undermine the influence and potential that exists within our actions or decisions – anonymity is powerful and creates a safe space for giving and receiving within the realm of charity. However, by sharing our vision we could not only be expanding the space for influence and commitment to giving but also driving a narrative in philanthropy and standing together with others in a capacity that might otherwise be stifled.
The primordial sound of the shofar serves as a piercing reminder that since we feel alone together, we are never truly alone – neither in our triumphs, nor our tribulations.: The cacophony of blasts fosters within us a sense of camaraderie of the committed that serves to feel the burden and give while inspiring others to do the same.
Rabbi Dr. Benji Levy is a founder of the philanthropic advisory: Israel Impact Partners and interdisciplinary mental health center: Keshev. He was previously the CEO of Mosaic United, Dean of Moriah College, recently published Covenant and the Jewish Conversion Question with Palgrave Macmillan and shares teachings online @Rabbi Benji and through www.RabbiBenji.com