In our parashah, the phrase: “Beit Yisrael”, the House of Israel appears for only the second time in the entire Torah. The first was in regard to the manna, where the Torah tells us that, not knowing what it was, “the House of Israel” called it “man”, that is, “what’s this?” Is there a common denominator in these two cases, or is this merely a coincidental quirk of style? I believe that not only is there something in common between these two appearances, but that the commonality has much to teach us.
Social justice as holiness
The mitzvot of Shmittah and Yovel set out a complete program of social and religious life that encompasses respect for others, for the the land, and for God. Israel’s right to live in peace and prosperity in its own land is conditional on its building a model society, which provides a safety blanket for its weakest members. We aren’t just told to have compassion on those who are down on their luck; we are legally mandated to act toward them as we would toward our closest family.
B’reishit and Shabbat: a glimpse of what might have been
Sefer B’reishit (the Book of Genesis) takes us into a frame of reference that is often inaccessible to us nowadays. It leads us into the deepest layers of human consciousness, before we were recognizably human. While paleontology can show us to ourselves only from the outside, B’reishit takes us inside our own seminal moments and shows us to ourselves from the position of what might have been.