Parsha of the Week

G-d, Egypt, and how we care for our fellow man


The Torah gives three examples of “Your brother becoming impoverished.” (V’khi yamukh achikha). The first has to do with selling family property, and how it returns to the original owners at the Jubilee year.

The second and third examples deal with a case where he cannot sustain himself and is relying on community assistance (25:35-38), or even needs to be sold into slavery to support himself (25:39-42), respectively.

At the end of each of the latter little segments, a similar statement is made: “I am G-d your L-rd who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, [and] to be a G-d for you,” (25:38) and “This is because I brought [the Israelites] out of Egypt, and they are My slaves. They shall not be sold [in the market] as slaves.” (25:42)

The idea of being slaves to G-d instead of slaves to men, or of G-d’s intent to “be a G-d for you,” would likely make for a great psychoanalytical study, were we not speaking of G-d.

But the truth is, it doesn’t end there. The next section begins with a reference to the “brother becoming impoverished” (though with a different language) (25:47), and it concludes with instructions for when the Jubilee comes, and all slaves are freed, as G-d says, “[All this] is because the Israelites are [actually] My slaves. They are My slaves because I brought them out of Egypt. I am G-d your L-rd.” (25:55)

This last summary sentence actually brings together the notions set forth by the earlier verses — Israelites are slaves to their G-d, Who is their G-d because He took them out of Egypt.

The focus on Egypt is so significant, not only because it reminds us of the other times in the year when we mention Egypt (every evening Kiddush, during the Shema, and otherwise on a regular basis), as we remind ourselves of what exact moment turned a group of slaves who happened to share a common ancestor, into a nation sharing a destiny forever.

Most significantly, the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned in the first sentence of the Decalogue as well — an obvious connection on account of the next two verses in the Torah here, which happen to be the last two verses of the parsha, whose parallel to the Decalogue is unavoidable: “[Therefore,] do not make yourselves false gods. Do not raise up a stone idol or a sacred pillar for yourselves. Do not place a kneeling stone in your land so that you can prostrate yourselves on it. I am G-d your L-rd. Keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary, I am G-d.” (26:1-2)

We can argue that it is hard to come to grips with the seeming obsession over our being G-d’s servants or slaves.

But when we look at the setup of all the different examples of the brother becoming impoverished, how we are meant to respond, and how not to lose focus of who we really are and how we should really respond, it gives us a brand new look at what the Aseret HaDibrot (Decalogue) is meant to represent for us.

Many are familiar with the notion that the first five of the statements in the Decalogue refer to one’s relationship with one’s Creator, while the last five statements refer to relationships between men and fellow Man.

But in the Aseret HaDibrot, all the commandments between fellow Man are written in the negative. Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t swear falsely, don’t covet. There are no instructions for how to positively relate to fellow Man.

So perhaps here, in Parshat Behar, we have the underlying unified message: Caring for another person means picking the other person up when he is down. It also means respecting the humanity of the “other,” never blurring the lines between slaves of G-d and slaves of men, and helping a brother in his hour of need.

Remembering Egypt and of our being “slaves” to G-d both serve as grounding principles for how we live out our Jewish lives with the proper foci.

We must know who we are and what values we espouse. We must continue to model what it means to look out for one another, to help others in their hour of need, and to look at positive ways to be of assistance — not just negative things to avoid, in staying out of people’s way. 

And above all, remember Egypt. Remember what binds us to one another. Remember what binds us to our G-d, to our Torah and to our Land. 

Being a slave to G-d is very different from being slaves to men. Particularly in a free society, when people choose whether to be slaves to G-d, we appreciate our commitment and dedication to a “mitzvah-focused” life which grounds us and keeps us connected to our G-d who took us out of Egypt.