Parashat Behar-Bechukotai - Leviticus 25:1-27:34

The double parashah Behar-Bechukotai is filled primarily with the laws concerning the Shemitah (the Sabbath year), the Yovel (Jubilee), and the laws of redemption, although many other topics are covered as well. While detailing the laws of the Yovel (25:8–22), the Torah gives us a broad commandment:

You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 25:17)

In the immediate context, this admonition is given in regard to the fair pricing of property in context of the Jubilee year, as it stated just a few verses previously, “If you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another” (Leviticus 25:14). When a plot of land is purchased inside the land given to them by the LORD, its value is based on the current distance from the Jubilee year. If the Jubilee is far off, then the land will be worth more than if it is close at hand. This injunction was to ensure that the regulations for fair pricing were carried out without exception.

However, as we have seen, sometimes the Torah gives us a broad instruction so that it may be applied in various other contexts as well. This particular passage has a specific, as well as a general instruction that we can apply today. The Hebrew word behind this prohibition of wrongdoing is tonu (תונו), from the root yanah, which has the connotation of violent oppression. The sages, therefore, interpret this to mean verbal harassment. Rashi elaborates on this by saying that one should not should not use our speech to annoy our brother in any way, nor should one “give him advice that is not appropriate for him.” This first instruction from Rashi is fairly straight forward. We should never use our speech to upset another person. This includes teasing, name calling, or brow beating in any shape, form, or fashion. The second one, however, is a little more puzzling. 

What does it mean that we should not use our speech to give our brother advice which is not appropriate for him? Isn’t good advice good simply advice across the board? Not always. It depends on the situation. Rashi says that the advice one gives should be in accordance with one’s way of life, and that it also not be according to the benefit of the advisor. He notes that one should not advise a person in a way that will be to the benefit of the one offering the advice. In other words, when we offer advice it should not be for our own self-interest. For example, “You should purchase this life insurance policy, because I will get a healthy commission from it.”

Also, sometimes a person can give well-meaning advice, but without any idea that it is completely outside of the realm of possibility for the person receiving the advice. Just because you can drop $10,000 cash into an investment opportunity doesn’t mean everyone has that ability. Just because taking a particular medicine helped you, doesn’t mean it will work (or is even beneficial) for me. Just because you start your day by eating sugar frosted, caffeine infused, chocolate coated sugar puffs doesn’t mean that I should. The list can go on indefinitely. The bottom line is that just because it’s good for me doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. This interpretation is the driving principle behind the words of our Master:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)?

We want people to treat us the way we want to be treated, rather than the way they think we should be treated. The converse is also true. We should treat people the way they want to be treated, rather than how we think they should be treated. When we help people through understanding their specific needs, rather than giving them what we think they need, we are living out the principles of the Kingdom—the principles written for us in the Torah. Let’s make sure the way we treat others is more of a help than a hindrance, a blessing than a burden.