Parashat Ahare Mot

The Law of the Farm

This portion teaches us that there are no easy fixes to the complex problems that face our social systems.

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Interdependence & Human Dignity

Violations such as those enumerated to Moses in this parashah are irreparable assaults on human dignity and cannot be reversed. The Israelites are prohibited from sexual relations between close family members, from lying with each others' spouses, from offering their children to the Canaanite god Molech, and from lying with animals.

Each is a violation of familial trust, neighborly trust, and fidelity to God. To break these laws is to deny what we learned in Parshat Bereshit--that each human being is created with the divine spark, B'tzelem Elohim, in God's image (Genesis 1:26).

farmingNo community that tosses aside human dignity can thrive or even survive. God does not need to expel people from the land--the land itself will expel them. In a certain sense, they expel themselves. Regardless of Divine compassion or even atonement, the consequences of their actions will wreak destruction. In fact, the undeniable nature of these laws is underscored by God, who tells Moses that it was not their religion nor their national identity that brought the previous inhabitants of Israel to their doom. It was their violation of these very laws. 

For us today, the Law of the Farm still applies to our relationships, to our communities, and to the ground we live on. We can no more saturate the soil with poison, fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, and still beg for miraculous redemption than the aberrant Israelites of Parashat Ahare Mot could lie with each others' spouses and not expect their world to crumble.

There is no quick fix for global warming, no atonement for ignoring the spread of AIDS in Africa. There is no magical restoration of the effects of poverty, of persecution. The Law of the Farm, we learn from this parashah, is God's law. It supersedes the ways of Egypt and the laws of Canaan. It was woven by God into the very foundation of existence. 

The Torah thus teaches that interdependence is essential to our survival. This is what enables us to envision all of humanity as a single community and to build our world in harmony with the earth. When we live the Law of the Farm, we unite the earth with God's plan. We become partners in a collective, redemptive process. 

It begins with committing ourselves to the preservation of human dignity. Only then do we earn our sacred nationhood. Only then do we earn our place on earth.

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Evan Wolkenstein is the Director of Experiential Education and a Tanach teacher at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.