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“Do Not Wrong Behar” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

May 20, 2022 | 19 Iyyar 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we make our way toward Shabbat.

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Do not wrong one another, וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ

but fear your God; וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ

for I יהוה am your God. כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

(Leviticus 25:17)

This week’s Torah portion provides a succinct instruction. In context within Leviticus, the command has to do with buying and selling to ensure proper behavior, particularly with regard to verbal mistreatment.  Still, every verse in the Torah can stand on its own merit.


Do not wrong means no oppression, suppression, violent mistreatment, vexing, or wrongdoing.  It should be clear.  Shouldn’t it?  But, we shouldn’t leave the context too far behind.  Verbal manipulation, speaking hurtful words, or spewing one’s hateful ideology simply because one can or has a social media account to do so doesn’t mean one should.


We live in a world filled with multiple options thanks to social media to say whatever we want, whether it is truthful or a blatant lie.  We can rally others to violence and insurrection.  We can share our deepest thoughts without worry of incrimination.  It turns out we can even plan murderous activity, saying it out loud, and not concern ourselves with culpability.  Where is the fear?


Perhaps, this is the very reason our verse does not stop with “Do not wrong one another” but instead continues with the directed order to “fear your God”, Yirat Adonai וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ  These two phrases are interconnected.  Though followed by the exclamation that God is, indeed, your God כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם, it stands on its own as the second part of the verse.


“Do not wrong another, instead fear God.”  We don’t like to imagine a belief system where we fear the divine.  The Hebrew word here is not about dread or fright.  Instead it is about awe and reverence.  A belief in that which is greater, separate, and maybe more powerful may allow for a kind of humility that tempers our behavior.  It has the potential to set a limit on the belief that our words and actions have no boundary. I’d like to conjecture that Sigmund Freud may have understood the role of Yirat Adonai-awe and reverence for the divine as our conscience that informs our ethics and morality.  Perhaps, he internalized a few Jewish concepts.  I will leave that to others to contemplate. Nevertheless, I propose that Yirat Adonai is a version of the superego from a spiritual, religious perspective.


So, let us enter Shabbat with the possibility that we not wrong another simply by paying attention to the language we use and the impact it elicits.  So that “the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts” bring awe and reverence for the divine in the most sacred way to be received with grace and love in return.


Connect with me here. I look forward to corresponding with you and to hearing your thoughts.

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May 19, TILLI, Last Day of Spring Semester

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June 9, TI’s Annual Gathering

June 10, Riverway’s Pride Shabbat

Shabbat Shalom!