When Colleagues Become Brothers – Behar 5779

D'var Torah | Leviticus

Sixteenth century Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh analyzes two terms the Torah applies to the treatment of fellow Jews: “amitekha” (your colleague) and “ahikha” (your brother). Both terms appear within the same chapter. In Leviticus 25:14 and 17 the Torah warns against taking financial advantage of fellow Israelites during the Jubilee Year when no crops are cultivated and no profit is likely. Here, fellow Israelites are called “amitekha” and “amito” respectively. In Leviticus 25:25 the Torah goes on to discuss how dire poverty might force an Israelite to sell his ancestral land holdings. Even so, with the arrival of the Jubilee Year, the land is returned to the original owners. Here, a fellow Israelite is called “ahikha.” The variation comes without explanation. Hence, the “Holy Alsheikh,” as he was known, comes to offer one.


He claims that “amitekha” – “your colleague” – applies in a relationship of parity, that is, when both parties to a business dealing stand to gain. When such a relationship obtains, the Torah warns against acting unfairly in any way. Each must be honest. In times of distress when a fellow Israelite becomes poor the relationship changes. No longer is it a relationship of parity. It is a relationship of unequals: a have and have not. Accordingly, the Israelite with the upper hand may want to press his advantage. That, however, would be wrong because the poor man is more than a potential victim. The poor man is a brother. Thus the Torah switches terms from “amitekha” to “ahikha.”


Grammatically, this explanation of the “Holy Alsheikh” is not implausible. But the question of “fit” is less worthy of attention than the message he wants to convey, namely, that in times of distress Jews are not competitors but brothers. Moreover, the argument can be made that there is never a time when some Jews are not in distress. This being the case, then fellow Jews must always treat one another as family. To be sure, families do have moments of disagreement. But ultimately, family ties rule.






Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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