Parshiyot Behar-Bechukotai by Ari Hart
In this week’s parasha, the Torah states:
“Do not give him your money for interest, and do not give your food for increase. I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt…” Vayikra 25:37-38.
The gemara in Bava Metzia (61b) notes 2 other pesukim that have the same formulation at the end “I am Hashem, your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt.”
They are the mitzvah of tzitzit (Bamidbar 15:41) and the mitzvah to have just weights and balances: “You shall have correct scales, correct stones, a correct ephah, and a correct hin – I am Hashem, your G-d, Who brought you forth from the land of Egypt.” (Vayikra 19:36).
The gemara, in bringing these three verses, is suggesting some kind of link between tzitzit, weights, and charging interest. The Amora Rava suggests that the link has to do with God’s ability to deliver precise judgement. Just as God extricated the people from Egypt, exactly separating first born Jews from Egyptians in the 10th plague, so too will God know those who sell fake techeilet dye for tzitzit, add salt to their weights to manipulate them, and use clever financial tricks to charge interest. The message is – even if you can get away with schemes in the human realm, God knows. A powerful message for these times.
Perhaps we can take it one step further though. Out of the three mitzvot selected, one stands out. There is an obvious connection between charging interest and improper weights and scales – they both have to with financial oppression and creating mechanisms that take advantage of others unfairly. Tzitzit, however, doesn’t seem to fit. Can we learn something from the inclusion of a personal, ritual object with two miztvot that are interpersonal and designed to create social justice?
Perhaps Rava, in linking these three, was making broader statement about the connection between ritual, justice, and the Exodus from Egypt. There is a tendency in our community to pay careful, strict attention to the ritual mitzvot. Tzitzit, davenning, kashrut, these kinds of mitzvot are highlighted again and again by our rabbinic authorities as what it means to serve God, as they should be. However, we see from our parasha and this gemara that God is just as exacting and scrupulous about the mitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro. They aren’t two different worlds, with one more or less important than the other. God took us out of Egypt and made us an am so that we might fulfill the divine will. The will to be holy is the same as the will to be just. It is the will to create a world where God can dwell. We cannot separate out the ritual from the ethical: they are woven from the same divine cloth. May we strive to integrate the ritual and ethical in all areas of our lives, infusing our social justice work with holiness and our spiritual practices with righteousness. Shabbat shalom.