Shabbat Shalom: What Our Stories Can Teach Us

May 19, 2022 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: What Our Stories Can Teach Us

May 19, 2022

If you’re a regular reader of my mental meanderings on our weekly Torah readings, you probably have a sense that I’m particularly interested in narratives: those we construct for ourselves, those shared among families, friends, and communities, and the prevailing narratives that shape broader society.

It was recently brought to my attention that a candidate for state legislature has been professing a particular narrative, one that is gaining traction among a younger demographic and that has clear antisemitic and anti-Israel undertones. The narrative is driven by the desire for equality for all and the concomitant belief that, to achieve this equality, all systems and structures need dismantling. At the heart of the narrative resides, I believe, a fundamental distrust of the other, even though its aspiration would suggest otherwise.

I share this with you for a few reasons. The first is that I believe that this thinking poses a real challenge to our Jewish community and to democracy in America and Israel. The second is that it offers us an important opportunity to dig a little deeper into our Torah in a way that can help clarify how we think about these important matters.

This week’s Torah story, Behar, covers details of the sabbatical year, the redemption of land, helping others in need, and how to treat slaves, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. And each of those sections speak of a “brother” in need. In this case, the brother—achi in Hebrew—is not of the genetic type; rather, “brother” denotes “friend,” “neighbor,” “fellow citizen,” and even “stranger in your midst.” And in each of these instances, a power dynamic is in play: someone is vulnerable while someone else is secure.

Our Torah story makes it abundantly clear that where there is disparity and inequality and human suffering, our calling is not to tear it all down in the service of making the more secure suffer. Both Behar’s and Judaism’s broader narrative is of the slave being freed, of the impoverished and orphaned and widowed raised up, and of all of us together in shared community, working towards a more just and equitable society.

This Shabbat, I encourage you to look closely at the words of our tradition and to consider how this narrative can serve as a model for our own challenged society.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO

Please email Rabbi Strear at with comments or questions.