The final command presented by the Torah in Parashat Behar, and with which this parasha concludes, is the command of “Mikdashi tira’u” – to have reverence for the Mikdash (26:2). This command seems to appear out of place in this parasha, which deals mainly with laws governing financial relations among people that are aimed at limiting the degree to which the wealthy can exert control over the less privileged. To explain this seeming anomaly, Seforno comments that this verse relates to the case described several verses earlier (25:47-54) of a Jew who, due to severe financial straits, sold himself in the service of a non-Jew. After presenting the laws relevant to such a situation, Seforno explains, the Torah proceeds to address the somewhat parallel situation of Jewish exile, when the entire nation is driven from its land and lives under the control and authority of foreign peoples. The Torah instructs that in the situation of exile, it is especially vital to show respect and reverence to “Mikdashi,” our institutions of prayer and Torah study, which are the keys to our survival and continued growth under the spiritually hostile conditions of foreign rule and subservience.
Netziv, in Ha’amek Davar, references Seforno’s explanation of this verse as speaking of the situation of exile, but then proceeds to develop this approach differently. In his view, the term “Mikdash” here refers not to any specific institution or kind of institution, but rather to everything that is considered sacred and hallowed to the Jewish Nation. All our values and principles to which we hold dear, as taught by tradition, are included under the term “Mikdash.” According to Netziv, the Torah here warns that under conditions of exile, when we live as a minority population under foreign rule and subject to foreign influence, it is especially critical that we show respect and reverence to our “Mikdash,” to our traditions and religious ideals. Under such circumstances, we will be exposed regularly to either explicit or implied denigration of our beliefs and practices. Our way of life will be viewed, at best, as a curious relic, and will likely be ridiculed and scorned. And thus especially in exile, we must exercise extreme care to not only adhere to our traditions, but to look upon and speak about them with respect and reverence. Particularly when we live among a majority which looks disdainfully upon our way of life, we must ensure to look upon it reverently and emphasize to ourselves and our children the central importance and inestimable value of mitzvot, so we counteract the negative influence of the foreign culture in which we reside.
(See also Rav Moshe Taragin’s “A Neziv from Behar: Survival Mode.”)