If someone were to research every published sermon by American rabbis on this week’s Torah portion, Behar, I would be willing to wager that the most common verse cited in these sermons would be Leviticus 25:9. “You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” After all, that’s the Scriptural passage that appears on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. What could be a greater testament to the compatibility of the Bible and America, since both trumpet the principle of liberty?
Of course, few subjects divide Americans more than the nature of the relationship between American political doctrine and religion. This tension surfaces every so often in national debates about a host of topics. How compatible are American principles and religion? For us, the question is more specific: how can a commitment to Jewish law be reconciled with the core Western principle of freedom?
Here’s one such example of the tension. Before it was amended in the Declaration of Independence, John Locke’s “social contract” theory was based on a person’s natural rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” Now consider Leviticus 25, that paragon of liberty: “But the land too must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me” (25:23).
The musical Rent came to the conclusion that “You’re what you own.”The Biblical premise is that we own absolutely nothing! What are some of the implications of this tension for Jews in America? On the Shabbat of Memorial Day weekend, this is a worthwhile subject to explore!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,