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Paul Shrell-Fox on Brotherly Kinship

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Parashat Behar

Mazal Tov to Rabbi Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox on his Bar Mitzvah anniversary!

In the seventh reading of Parashat Behar, the Torah talks about the redemption process for a Jew sold into slavery to a non-Jewish master.

Rabbi Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox [1], Lecturer in Family and Community Studies at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, points out that the Torah tells us something that seems very obvious: take care of your brother. But should it really be taken for granted?

Full transcript below:

Shavua Tov, the first time I gave a drasha on Parashat Behar was in 1977 which was my Bar Mitzvah Parsha. In that same year Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Euroleague championship. That happened in 1981 and in a few other years. I was beginning to believe that there was actually a pattern here, but it seems that this year was not on the same path. But in any event, I want to talk about Parashat Behar from the perspective of biological and non-biological brothers.

Ten times during the Parasha we are told that we should take care of our brother (אחיך) in the times when he or she becomes in need. When they have to enter into indentured servitude, they become our servants but we have to take care of them and make sure that we can redeem them.

So, I asked two questions, first isn’t it obvious and second what is this thing we call kin selection that has to do with people whom we are not related to. Robert Trivers [2], an evolutionary biologist, teaches us that we are obviously 50% related to each of our siblings. Some people joke I wouldn’t save one of my brothers or sisters and remove it from a stream but I would save two of them because then I get a hundred percent of my genes saved.

Ultimately, we are competing with our siblings for all sorts of resources and in that competition we have to decide whether sometimes it’s better to be altruistic and when it’s actually better to be competitive. There are certain creatures on the world that siblings don’t particularly care for one another. At times a bird will kick out another bird from the nest in a very evil and very harsh way in order to save itself. So it seems that if we needed to actually command the altruism to our brothers and sisters in a very real and biological way because it’s not always so obvious. True, other animals do things that we would never do but sometimes- and we all who have siblings out there know- we wish under our breath and sometimes below awareness that we wish they would just disappear.

The second thing we have to understand is, this kin selection thing about people who aren’t really our brothers. All sorts of research prove that those people who are of the same ethnic and religious race, not race per se, but the ethnic and religious group actually will take care of one another.

New Zealand Christians will take will give money to Christians in the UK quicker than they will give money to their neighbors. In fact, here in Israel we often benefit from the fact that people all over the world will donate to our needs here even though they don’t do not know us. So it seems that the Torah is teaching us two lessons one sometimes we have to command being nice to those who are truly our siblings because it doesn’t always come naturally. Second, it teaches us this thing we call non-kin relationships that the thing that actually makes society possible, is that we look at people who aren’t only our brothers who are aren’t only our sisters from a biological sense, but we actually have to take care of them despite the fact that we don’t share our actual genes with them.

And in a time where the divisions between different groups of Jews between Jews within Israel and Jews without, at a time when these rivalries are still going on Parashat Behar comes and tells us that now we have to take care of אחיך your brother. If your brother or sister is put down we all must rise to take care of them. Shavua Tov.