Parshas Behar-Behuchoktai: The Letter of the Law

As the title suggests, this week’s Parsha is all about laws. Many of them are easy to dismiss as outdated. We begin by reading about the Sabbatical year- on which the land must not be worked- and the jubilee year, which sees the freeing of slaves and the return of property to its original owner. Afterwards, the Sedra goes on to tell us that G-d has promised to reward us, if only we would keep his mitzvos, while warning us of the punishment for transgressing them.

Amidst all of this, we find the laws of fraud and usury; ”You shall not defraud one another”. A simple statement, undeniably, but one which takes on a life of its own when we read the interpretation of Rabbi Bunim or Pshischa. He writes; ”legally, it is only forbidden to defraud one’s fellow. But a chassid must go beyond the letter of the law, and take care not to delude himself, either.”

A Chassid must go beyond the letter of the law.

This quote has been applied to many things. Not just fraud, not just to how we treat ourselves- although those things are undeniably of the utmost importance. But to how we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives. Often, we find that going beyond the letter of the law, to the spirit of the law, prevents us from accidentally transgressing halachos which we’re unsure of. But beyond that, it is a very important signifier of our relationship with G-d.

When we go beyond the letter of the law, we’re not just protecting ourselves from accidental transgressions. We’re saying to G-d, ‘I love You and want to do everything I can to make You happy’. When we care deeply for someone, we don’t just do the bare minimum to keep them satisfied. We express our affection by going above and beyond. Why shouldn’t we do that with G-d?

True Chassidim love G-d. They love Him and want to live in the way that He tells us to live. This means not only davening the prayers we’re commanded to daven, but pouring our hearts out to him, also. This means giving more Tzedekah than we’re legally required to. And above all, this means showing love for others. Maybe we’re not commanded to hold that door open. Maybe we don’t have to donate to that gemach. Maybe we don’t need to stop and talk with that person who’s having a hard time. But since when did we need to stick to the letter of the law?

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