Behar B’chukotai: Fig trees and fear

washington under fig tree“If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on.

It outlives when I’m gone.

Like the Scripture says: ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid.’

They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made

I want to sit under my own vine and fig tree.

A moment  alone in the shade.

A home in this nation we’ve made.

One last time.”

Yes, I’m quoting Hamilton, but then Lin Manuel Miranda is referring to Leviticus 26:6 “I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone…”  This is part of an if/then clause.  The parasha B’chukotai begins, “If you follow My laws and faithfully observe My commandments I will grant your rains int heir season so the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.” The whole second half of Leviticus is the Holiness Code, which lays out all sorts of rules about setting up a righteous  society. Watching out for the vulnerable, don’t put stumbling blocks before the blind, don’t bribe judges, and of course, “V’ahavta l’re-echa k’mocha Ani Adonai” (Love your fellow as yourself, I am God) If you follow those rules, then what follows is a land where no one is afraid, where all can rest under their own vines and fig trees. Where there is peace. As Rashi said in commentary, one might think that getting rains and produce will be all one needs. But, “we learn from this that peace is as valuable as everything else put together.”In Hamilton, as in history, Washington knew it was important when to leave. He and the other founding fathers had done their best to establish rules by which to establish a righteous society. They were bold, they had won an unprecedented War of Independence, and they were guided by principles and values that were also unprecedented. Equality. Individual freedom. Everyone’s voice counted (yes, I know some there were some glaring exceptions that took a hundred years or so to work out..and are still being worked out.) Many of those values came from Leviticus – treating everyone with dignity, no matter their circumstances. Being fair and honorable to poor and rich alike, expecting and dispensing justice to the high and low.

The Levitical vision of peace is a society where these values are played out every day, and when they aren’t, fear creeps in. People who aren’t valued don’t find value in others. Feeling like the deck is stacked doesn’t engender trust in others who seem to hold the cards. But that’s not enough to throw it all out the window. Rather, we need to return to those very values – honesty, integrity, dignity, equality –to fix what’s wrong. The values protect us, they don’t make us more vulnerable.

Washington wasn’t the end, he was the beginning. Exodus was the end of an enslaved people, and the beginning of a revolutionary society, based on values the ancient world hadn’t seen before. We need that revolutionary spirit now, to stand firm against those who try to lure us to turn our backs on it.

Everyone deserves to sit under a fig tree and not be afraid.



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