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Parshat Behar/Bechukotai Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:1 - 27:34

Those Special Years

The final two parshas of Leviticus: Behar (”On the Mount”), since the commandments in this section come from HaShem when He spoke with Moshe on Mt. Sinai — and Bechukotai (“by My decrees”) because of HaShem’s promises and warnings to His people Israel if they keep or transgress His commandments.

Nearly all of Behar concerns itself with the Shemittah — The Sabbatical Year — and Yovel — The Jubilee Year.

Although the commandments for these two special and unique years was given on Mt. Sinai they were not to be observed and followed until the Children of Israel entered the Land of Promise and is only obligatory for those living in the Land itself. However, I am of the opinion that all could benefit greatly if these were followed everywhere on Earth. But, the commandment is uniquely for Israel living in the land of our fathers.

— The Sabbatical Year —

Once the Promised Land is entered the fields may be sown and harvested for six years. However, on the seventh year the land is to be given its Sabbath rest — a complete rest

Like the weekly Shabbat for every Jew, so too the Sabbatical Year a rest for the land to serve as a witness of HaShem’s creation of the universe in six days and His rest on the seventh day.

— The Jubilee Year —

The whole purpose of The Jubilee Year is to remind each generation that their land, their homes and all that they possess are on loan from HaShem as gifts of His love and protection for His chosen and all who dwell in the land

“You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout your land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee (Yovel) Year for you, you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage and you shall return each man to his family. It shall be a Jubilee Year for you — this fiftieth year — you shall not sow, you shall not harvest its after growth and you shall not pick what was set aside of it for yourself. For it is a Jubilee Year, it shall be holy to you; from the field you may eat its crop. In this Jubilee Year you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage.” (Leviticus 25:10-12)

As taught by our Sages of Blessed Memory the repetition of the term “you shall return” indicates the significance HaShem places on the entire meaning behind the Yovel. Returning to one’s ancestral heritage along with the freedom of all dwelling in the land is a testimony of the value HaShem places on the whole concept of individual and national freedom and the responsibility that freedom requires. Real freedom exists for one when all peoples have the liberty “to move about as they please” (Rambam).

The celebration and obedience to the observance of both the Sabbatical and Jubilee Year also is a reminder for us all to be very aware of the needs of those around us. They are given to remind us that all is given by HaShem and we in turn give of His gifts to us to others in need, in other words “we pay it forward.” The whole idea of greed and holding on to what we perceive as ours with an ironclad fist is removed in light of the commandment of these two life-changing Year observances. When we realize that ultimately all belong to its Creator, including us and our fellow — free and bond — then we can see everything with the renewed perspective of the eternal value of all that is since all that is was created and is maintained by All That Is, Was and Ever Shall Be.

As it relates to sustenance and preservation during this extended periods of rest for the land and a man’s ancestral heritage; Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (Chazon Ish) stated it well that what is found here in parshat Behar and Bechukotai is not promising that all will be prosperous, enriched or well fed during The Sabbatical and Jubilee Year — however, those who observe the laws and commandments pertaining to those two periods will experience HaShem’s blessings and care. Those who willfully transgress, harbor and practice greed, fraud and lust may well suffer want during the Shemittah and Yovel.

The closing section of Behar deals with a subject that in today’s society is seen as abhorrent by most, especially those living in Western nations, particularly in the United States of America — and that is slavery.

The Torah neither supports or overtly condemns slavery. It does recognize it as something human beings have practiced for longer than writing has been in existence. HaShem simply recognizes it and gives His people instructions on how to deal with it in a humane and civil way. It should be obvious to any person who studies Torah that HaShem is no big fan of one person being a slave to another. After all the whole Exodus story is about freeing His people from slavery in Egypt. He personally doesn’t care for slavery any more than He cares for sin and transgression but He does recognize the reality of both and has given us laws and commandments for dealing with those realities.

As revealed in these two unique and special years — The Sabbatical and Jubilee Year —we can see HaShem’s attitude as it relates to man’s inclination to enslave his fellow — HaShem’s remedy is freedom and liberty for all. In those nations where His commandments have been followed to varying degrees legal slavery has been pretty much abolished for the abhorrent inhuman practice it really is.

The final two verses of Behar lists the three main ways in which a Jew can outwardly manifest his faith in HaShem and His Torah.

[1] Not participate in idolatry of any kind.

[2] Observance of Shabbat

[3] Make the three annual Temple pilgrimages [in the days of no Temple - praying three times a day in the direction of the Temple Mount - SEE: Daniel 6:11 as an example]

After the joys of the Shemittah and Yovel and the promises of freedom and rest for those who adhere to them parshat Bechukotai opens with a promise of rain in its proper time so the land will produce its lush crop for harvest, This promise is contingent on Israel’s vow at the foot of Mt. Sinai to do all that HaShem instructs and commands them.

This promise of blessings is quickly followed by a series of admonitions listing the inevitable outcome resulting from straying from HaShem’s instructions and commandments.

In the history of our people down to this day we have been able to see the outcome of our obedience and our rebellious transgressions.

HaShem never delivers punishment for disobedience in one fell swoop. If He did who could survive? His patience and lovingkindness allows for time to repent and return to Him and His Torah. Therefore, His mercy is long-suffering.

“Be assured, O House of Israel, I will judge each one of you according to his ways — declares Adonai Eloheynu. Repent and turn back from your transgressions; let them not be a stumbling block of guilt for you. Cast away all the transgressions by which you have offended, and get yourselves a new heart (mind) and a new spirit, that you may not die, O House of Israel. For it is not My desire that anyone shall die — declares Adonai Eloheynu. Repent therefore, and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30-32)

Next time we begin Bamidbar - the Book of Numbers.

Until then - Shalom!

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