Behar Bechukotai


The first of the two sidrot for this Shabbat, discusses the sale of houses and how this is impacted by the Jubilee year and whether the house in located in a walled city.

In the course of this presentation, there is an unusual feature in the Sefer Torah. It is what we call, a keri uketiv. The phrase is written in one way, and read, another way. Except that, in this case, it sounds exactly the same! The oral version is heard identically to the written version. The only difference would be in the intention on the part of the Baal Kore (Torah Reader.)

The phrase (chapter 25, verse 30) is “the house in the city, asher lo choma.” Now the Hebrew word, lo, can be written lamed aleph, which means NO, or lamed vav, which means, in this context, YES. That is, we write it as “the house in the city that hasn’t a wall” but we read it as “the house in the city that has a wall.”

Because the word lo can have this double meaning, people may say if they mean no, that they are using the word with an Aleph.

[A characteristic of one of my teachers, when he wanted to make a point, emphatically, would be to pound his fist on the table and say, lo mit an oleph!]

But why the double entendre here in our portion?

Is there any deeper significance?

Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik (d. 1993, Humash Mesorat Harav, p. 212) suggests that the Torah is giving us a profound lesson on the significance of walls in Jewish history. Often the most powerful walls are ones you do not see. That is, do not read the verse to mean that there isn’t a wall at all. There will be times and circumstances when there is a wall, only you cannot see it!

When our Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, one might have expected that this would signal the end of the Jewish community. However, when those walls came down, spiritual walls remained and have continued to bind us together as a people ever since.

Throughout the past almost two thousand years, until 1948, we did not have the ties of land and physical walls to bind us together and to protect us. Yet it was the spiritual walls that have guarded us as a nation, and have forged our identity.

Says Rabbi Soloveitchik: “Superficially, Jewish history may seem to be ‘unwalled,’ insecure, but this is only an illusion. Indeed if one studies Jewish history, one must, of necessity, read the verse with a vav – Jewish destiny is protected by a mighty wall.”

As we start to venture out of our homes with a slight easing of lockdown, being as alert and as responsible as we can to the risks that are around us, we pray that the Almighty will also provide us with walls of protection to keep us safe. Shabbat Shalom.