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Home » B'Har

Behar Bechukotai: Choose Your Reality

Submitted by on April 28, 2010 – 4:13 pmNo Comment | 2,815 views

Anomalies

This essay tells you to choose your reality, but how does reality become a matter of choice? The answer is found in a curious anomaly. There are several anomalous words in the Torah that appear at first blush completely out of context. By tradition, when reading those verses, we substitute the written word with a different word that fits the context of the verse. This anomaly is known as Keri / Ketiv, the chanted word and the written word. (1)

The Kabbalists posit that the keri / ketiv anomaly demonstrates the inscrutability of the Torah’s depth. Though the human mind grasps the surface meaning of the Torah’s words, the text conceals infinite layers of depth and meaning. When a word appears in the Torah that makes no sense to us we substitute with another that makes more sense. Yet, rather than supposing that the word was written an error, we appreciate that it represents a layer of depth that far exceeds our own.

Walled Cities

One such example can be found in the laws related to land sale in ancient Israel. Biblical law proscribes the outright sale of land in Israel. All sales were conducted in the form of long term leases that ultimately expired and returned the land to its original owner. One exception to this rule is a house in a walled city. (2)

The Torah uses the words “bayit bair asher lo chomah,” a house in a city that [has] a wall to it. The Hebrew word lo can be spelled in two ways, lamed aleph and lamed vav. The meaning of the word changes with its spelling. Lamed vav means to him (or it), Lamed Aleph means no. In this context it would make sense for the Torah to employ the Lamed vav spelling as the verse speaks of a wall to it, the city. Yet the Torah opts for the lamed aleph spelling, which means a city with no wall at all.

 Our sages taught that with this variation the Torah informs us that the exception granted to houses in walled cities applies even to cities that were walled when Israel was conquered by Joshua, but are no longer walled. (3) The Torah cleverly adjusts the spelling lo to imply both meanings; the no and the to it, meaning cities that are not walled today, but had walls to it at an earlier date.choose your reality innerstream

Considering the kabbalistic teaching about unplumbed depths in the Keri Ketiv anomaly one wonders about the depth associated with the Lo / Lo anomaly; this change seems easily explained.

Purpose of Life

To scratch the surface of the Lo / Lo we must turn to another Biblical example of Lo / Lo, which we will find in Psalms (100:3). In this verse King David proclaims, “Know that G-d is the lord, He made us and we are unto Him.” (4)

Here again the Psalmist employs the word lo, unto him. As you might suspect, here too the word lo is spelled with an aleph rather than vav and here too tradition instructs us to supplant the aleph with a vav. Fortunately in this case either letter would fit the context. Spelled with a vav it means as we have rendered it, “unto Him.” Spelled with an Aleph it would read, “He made us and not we,” meaning we did not make ourselves.

One quickly grasps that toggling between the aleph and vav is in fact a graduation from a lower grasp to a higher one. On the lower level we grasp that G-d made us; we did not make ourselves. Accepting this requires a leap of faith, but it does not surprise us that the Psalmist makes that leap. The next level is somewhat more challenging. If G-d made us and we did not make ourselves, it follows that we do not exist for our own pleasure; our sole purpose of existence is to be “unto Him.”

That we did not make ourselves is an article of faith, but one that we can also support with logical argumentation. Asking us to dedicate our lives to a higher cause demands that we recognize that life is not an end, but a means to a higher purpose that is not discernible to the naked eye. This asks us to take a leap of an entirely new magnitude, which is precisely what the lamed vav demands.

Choose Your Reality

We now return to the Lo / Lo anomaly related to the walled house and realize that it reveals an entirely new perspective on the relation between Torah and physical reality. It demands that we take a herculean leap of faith and accept the primacy of Torah. Here is what I mean.

When we look about the world we wonder which reality it reflects. Is it the empirical reality that we see with our eyes or the reality described in the Torah? Is life contained in the physical reality on earth or does it mirror a spiritual reality in heaven? Should life be self centered or should it serve a creator?

In the context of the walled city the Lo / Lo anomaly forces us to ask a question. When I look at a city that is not walled today, but was walled when Joshua entered the land, do I see a walled city or an open one? Well the question sounds a bit ridiculous because we can plainly see that the city is not walled. But here is the crux of the matter.

What is a city? Is it a place that serves my needs or a place where G-d is served? If it is the former then I would describe it as an open city because indeed there is an openness to it that suits me. If the purpose of the city is to enable me to serve G-d then I would define it as a walled city because it is this status that directs my Divine worship.

The Psalmist’s Lo / Lo asks a general question, what is life? An opportunity to indulge in the things I enjoy and accomplish the things I value or an opportunity to serve G-d? The Leviticus Lo / Lo translates the Psalmists generic question into something more searching. Is my life the framework through which I view the Torah or is the Torah the framework through which I view life?

If life is meant to be lived for our own purpose then the physical properties of the city would be paramount to me. In this frame of reality the city is an open space even though I treat it as a walled space for purposes of Halacha. If the purpose of life is to worship G-d then the utility of this city is the way in which G-d is served in it. G-d is served in this city when we treat it as a walled space, thus in this frame of reality the city is walled despite its physical openness.

Which frame of reality shapes my view? This is the deeper question presented by the Lo / Lo anomaly.

Footnotes

  1. See
    for example Deuteronomy 26:27.
  2. Leviticus
    28:30. This law only applies when the law of Jubilee is in practice.
    The Jubilee law is binding only when the majority of Jews live in
    Israel. The law will be reconstituted with the coming of the Moshiach.
  3. Babylonian
    Talmud Erkin 32a.
  4. For other examples see Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 31a.