Posted on March 23, 2011
by Bekah Hakimian
May 16, 2009/22 Iyar, 5769
This week, we read the last two parshiot from the book Leviticus. Once again, we are reading a double parsha, and that is Behar-Bechukotai. Behar begins with Moshe speaking to the Israelites about some laws that are to take effect in the land that God will give them. For six years the people will be permitted to plant and harvest from their fields. But the seventh year is to be a year of complete rest for the land. In this seventh year, the Israelites will not be allowed to work their fields, but they will be allowed to gather and to share whatever the land produces. God assures the people that before this year, there will be a bountiful harvest so that there will be sufficient food to tie them over until the harvest of the eighth year. This seventh year of rest is called a shemittah, or Sabbatical year. In fact, the last shemittah was in the Hebrew year of 5768. The Israelites are then told to count seven times seven years – a total of 49 – and to mark the arrival of the fiftieth with a blast of the horn on the Day of Atonement. This year is called a Jubilee year. In this fiftieth year, property is to revert to its original owner, and all Hebrew slaves are to be freed.
This portion is called Behar because it means on the Mount (Sinai). This is the location where these laws were given to Moshe. The shemittah and Jubilee years are unique creations of the Torah. The laws involve the release of slaves, the remission of debt, the redemption of holdings, and the resting and “return” of the land to its one true owner: God. The Rabbis found moral lesions in this practice. Even though a person may “own” fields he is not the true owner. The shemittah year makes a person realize that God is the ultimate owner. Secondly, this puts a wealthy person in a poor person’s place. During this year, the rich have an opportunity to experience the needs of the poor. This sensitizes the wealthy and encourages them to support the poor.
And the second part of this double parsha is Bechukotai, and this begins with a promise and a curse. If the Israelites follow God’s laws and commandments, God will bless them. Their land will be fertile and peace. But if the people do not obey, God will spurn and punish them. Their enemies will dominate them and their land will not produce. At last, those who survive the punishment will repent and God will remember the covenant with Jacob, Isaac and Abraham.
Bechukotai means “my laws,” and is the final portion of the Book of Leviticus. A close reading of the text reveals that observance of the commandments will result in the people receiving many blessings at once, while punishments are to be delivered in stages. This allows the people, by choosing to repent or to continue in their disobedience, to determine the course of events. This brings up the questions what happen when you do something wrong the first time and if you repent the behavior does the punishment change? This parsha is known as the tochechah, warning or reproof. These kinds of biblical passages cause uneasiness to those reading or hearing them. People, usually eager to be honored with an aliyah, were reluctant to be called to the Torah to bless the readings from this passage. Therefore, the custom arose of reading the section of Bechukotai containing verses 26:10-46 with Deuteronomy 28:7-69 as one long aliyah.