Welcome to this week’s Torah study, Parasha Behar & Bechukotai.
Behar (On the Mount)
· Leviticus 25:1–26:2
· Jeremiah 32:6–27
· Luke 4:16-21
“YEHOVAH said to Moses at Mount Sinai, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to YEHOVAH.’” (Leviticus 25:1–2)
Last week in Parasha Emor, ELOHIM called the Kohen (priests) to live lives that expressed a greater measure of holiness. It also described the essential festivals that ELOHIM calls HIS Feasts, which included the Sabbath.
This week in Parasha Behar, ELOHIM gives Moses the Law of the Shemitah (literally, release but commonly translated Sabbatical Year).
This law is related to the pattern or rhythm of seven in Scripture. Here are a few instances:
· ELOHIM created the universe in seven days;
· There are seven days in the week;
· ELOHIM rested on the seventh day;
· The Temple menorah was seven-branched;
· The Israelites made seven circuits around Jericho before the walls fell; and
· There are seven Moadim or appointed times: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Day of Blowing Trumpets (New Year), Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles.
Seven is the number that celebrates the sacred purpose of infusing Holiness into the whole of Creation.
And while most people are aware of the seven-day cycle of the Shabbat, and the Holiness it infuses to the week, few realize that ELOHIM instituted a yearly cycle of seven for the Holy Land.
Just as we are to work for six days but rest on the seventh, the land is to be sown and harvested for six years. In the seventh year, the land is to have its Shabbat year of rest — its Shemitah.
“But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to YEHOVAH. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.” (Leviticus 25:4–5)
In Israel, even the children keep this commandment in their gan (kindergarten).
In the year of Shemitah, it is not unusual to see a sign posted next to their weedy, unkempt garden that reads, “In honor of the year of Shemitah, our Gan is not tending our gardens.”
This is a beautiful sight, reminding us of the uniqueness of living in the Holy Land.
Of course, this law involved more than allowing the land to rest. During the Shemitah, the Israelites were to make some agricultural and economic adjustments in order to rest and take the time to learn about YEHOVAH.
It was not only a time of physical rest, saving both the land and the people from exhaustion, it was a time of spiritual refreshment:
“At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot), when all Israel comes to appear before YEHOVAH your ELOHIM at the place He will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns – so they can listen and learn to fear YEHOVAH your ELOHIM and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear YEHOVAH your ELOHIM as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:10–13)
There was also an element of benevolence or social justice in this holiday since debts were to be forgiven, and the poor could pick the produce that grew without the land being worked.
The Year of Jubilee: the Redemption of the Land
“Count off seven Sabbath years – seven times seven years – so that the seven Sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years.… Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:8, 10)
The seven-year Shemitah cycle accumulated in sets of seven (49 years) and culminated in the Yovel (The Year of Jubilee).
Every 50th year, both the land and the people rested.
This is a very special appointed time of freedom and liberty that is sanctified, set apart, or holy (kadosh) to YEHOVAH.
It was proclaimed throughout the land with the blowing of the shofar on the Day of Atonement.
With the blast of the shofar, Hebrew slaves were freed and debts were forgiven.
And while the land was left uncultivated, as in the Shemitah year, in the Yovel year, hereditary property was returned to its original family, even if it had been sold because of misfortune, poverty, or to pay off a debt.
In fact, at any given time, the proximity of the Jubilee determined the value of a person’s land. If it were just a few years away, the land would sell for less since it would soon be returned to its rightful owner.
In other words, though land could be sold, it could only be sold for a limited period of time.
Although this type of land ownership may seem foreign and impractical, the intent of this law is to convey the truth that YEHOVAH is the real owner of Israel’s real estate; therefore, it cannot be permanently sold.
“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.” (Leviticus 25:23–24)
We might liken this concept of land ownership to a lease, with the Jewish People being ELOHIM’s tenants.
This law was for everyone, rich and poor alike. It was designed to protect the rights of each person and prevented land and wealth from being accumulated in the hands of a rich few, while the majority remained poor.
What’s more, this law really brings home the fact that no one – no leader or politician or individual – has the right to sell, divide or give away ELOHIM’s land for any reason.
Not even for the purpose of a supposed peace deal with those determined to destroy the Jews in Israel. ELOHIM will execute His judgment on all those who attempt to divide up His land. (Joel 3:2)
The Hope of Jeremiah: the Hope of Israel
“Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” (Jeremiah 32:15)
Haftarah Behar (the corresponding Prophetic portion) echoes the theme found in the Torah portion of the purchase and redemption of land.
This portion opens with a rather bizarre situation.
King Zedekiah has imprisoned Jeremiah in Jerusalem because he had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish People.
Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonians who will soon overtake the Land. Nevertheless, YEHOVAH tells Jeremiah that his uncle will ask him to purchase his field, and ELOHIM instructs Jeremiah to accept the offer.
“Buy my field in Anatot, since you have the right of redemption to purchase it.” (Jeremiah 32:7)
This seems like an absurd thing to ask of Jeremiah! What? Buy a field that will soon be Babylonian property? Ridiculous, especially for a man rotting in jail.
But this is no ordinary purchase. It is a prophetic act.
Despite Jeremiah’s accurate predictions of Jerusalem’s destruction, he retains the ability to see hope in the face of desolation.
Even though he knows that the city is about to be destroyed and the rest of the land conquered, in obedience to YEHOVAH, Jeremiah redeems the land.
In doing so, he affirms his faith in the Eternal who promised the redemption of Israel – that houses and fields would once again be bought in the land. (Jeremiah 32:15)
Although it is unlikely that Jeremiah will ever live on that land during his lifetime, this prophetic act displays his refusal to give in to hopelessness.
He trusts in ELOHIM’s mercy. One day, ELOHIM will bring His people back home to the Land and to HIMSELF.
“Ah, Sovereign YEHOVAH, you have made the Heavens and the Earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
The exiled people of Israel did rebuild Jerusalem and again inhabited Israel, as ELOHIM promised. However, after AD 70 they were scattered by the Romans, though a remnant has always remained in the Land.
Yet, ELOHIM promised that a second time, He would return HIS People to HIS Land – not from Babylon but from the four corners of the earth to never be dispersed again:
“I will bring MY People Israel back from exile. ‘They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own Land, never again to be uprooted from the Land I have given them.’” (Amos 9:14–15)
Our generation is witnessing the fulfillment of the hope of many Prophets – the miraculous restoration of the nation of Israel and the regathering of its people from the four corners of the earth.
We have yet to see the fulfillment of the promise that the Jewish People will turn back to ELOHIM and be reunited in the Land under the sovereign rule of the MASHIACH, sitting on the eternal throne of HIS father, David.
Just like in the Year of Jubilee, when debts were forgiven and the Hebrew slaves set free, the day is soon coming when all of Israel will recognize that YESHUA (Jesus) is the MASHIACH who forgives us and releases (shemitah) us from slavery to sin.
“We know that our old self was put to death on the execution-stake with HIM, so that the entire body of our sinful propensities might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.… so now offer your various parts as slaves to righteousness, which leads to being made Holy, set apart for ELOHIM.” (Romans 6:6, 19)
Bechukotai (In My Statutes)
· Leviticus 26:3–27:34
· Jeremiah 16:19–17:14
· Matthew 21:33-46
· 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
“If you follow My decrees [chukkot] and are careful to obey My commands [mitzvot], I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.” (Leviticus 26:3–4)
In Parasha Behar, ELOHIM instructed Israel to give the land a Sabbath rest in the seventh year. This Sabbatical year is called Shemitah (release). As well, ELOHIM commanded that every 50th year also be a Shabbat year, the Yovel, commonly called the Year of Jubilee. Behar ends with ELOHIM’s directive to observe His Shabbats and reverence His sanctuary.
In Parasha Bechukotai, which is the last reading from the book of Leviticus, it details the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience.
ELOHIM promises the people that they will be blessed, enjoying prosperity and security in the Holy Land, if they keep HIS Statutes (Chukkot) and Commandments (Mitzvot). HE also warns that if they reject the Torah and abandon HIS Covenant, they will be cursed.
This ominous exhortation is called the ‘Tochacha’ (rebuke or reproof) and is one of two Torah portions in which such a warning is given. The other is Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8).
Walking in His Blessings
Parasha Bechukotai begins with ten verses that describe the general blessings that reward obedience to ELOHIM’s Commandments.
The first of ELOHIM’s promises is seasonable rain in the Land, which will produce such an abundance of fruit that the time for threshing will extend until the time for sowing seed.
“I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.” (Leviticus 26:4)
The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and season for everything. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
One needs to look no further than a season of drought in their land to understand how it brings destruction rather than blessing. ELOHIM’s blessings are always delivered on time.
ELOHIM also promises that if the Jewish people keep His commandments (Torah), then they will live in peace in their Land. They will chase their enemies, who will fall before them:
“I will grant you peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid…. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you.” (Leviticus 26:6–7)
This comforting section of blessing concludes with ELOHIM’s promise of a reciprocal relationship with HIS People.
If they walk in HIS ways, HE will accept them as HIS People and put HIS Tabernacle among them, walking in their midst.
“I will walk among you and be your ELOHIM, and you will be MY People.” (Leviticus 26:12)
The blessings that result from obedience are framed by the metaphor of walking (halak) in HIS Chukkot (Divine Decrees or Statutes that defy reason, such as the law of the Red Heifer) and keeping (shamar) HIS Mitzvot (Commandments).
The list of 13 blessings ends with a curious reminder that ELOHIM set the Israelites free from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
“I am YEHOVAH your ELOHIM, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” (Leviticus 26:13)
We understand from this verse that it is ELOHIM who enabled the Israelites to walk uprightly by revealing HIMSELF to them and setting them free from slavery.
It is only within this covenantal relationship that they could walk in HIS ways.
These verbs “walking” and “keeping” in this week’s Torah portion imply that blessing comes from deliberate action on our parts. Nevertheless, keeping HIS Commandments is only possible because HE has set us free.
It is wonderful to claim the blessings of ELOHIM; however, these promises are conditional upon our obedience. It is futile to walk in disobedience and still claim the blessings that result from our relationship with ELOHIM.
Disobedience is a symptom of a broken relationship.
Disobedience, Curses, and Exile
A 28-verse section detailing about 30 specific curses that result from disobedience follows the blessing section of this Parasha.
It is a list of ever-worsening consequences that will come upon ELOHIM’s People if they disobey HIS Commandments.
These passages are recited in the synagogue with fear and trembling:
“I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set MY face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.” (Leviticus 26:16–17)
This Torah portion underlines the importance of giving the Holy Land its Shemitah year of rest by emphasizing that it would finally be able to rest when ELOHIM exiled HIS People because of their disobedience.
“Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths.” (Leviticus 26:34)
Indeed, ELOHIM brought upon HIS People the worst punishment ever – exile from their own Land.
Although a remnant remained in the Land, the Jewish People were scattered to the four corners of the earth where they have been persecuted in the nations.
“I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out MY sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.” (Leviticus 26:33)
While the Jewish People remained in exile, the Land itself received the rest that that the people denied it when they inhabited it.
Despite the excruciating description of severe punishments and terrible calamities that would come on Israel for her disobedience, ELOHIM ends with a word of comfort and consolation:
“Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking MY Covenant with them; for I am YEHOVAH their ELOHIM. But I will remember for them the Covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their ELOHIM. I am YEHOVAH.” (Leviticus 26:44–45)
ELOHIM’s love for HIS People is not based on the fickleness of human emotion; it is based on the bedrock of covenant.
Although the covenant blessings promised to the Israelites when they left Egypt came with specific if-then conditions, the Abrahamic Covenant upon which they were based was given without conditions.
For evidence of the reliability of the Bible and the faithfulness of ELOHIM, we need look no further than the establishment of the modern-day state of Israel, the restoration of the land to amazing fruitfulness, and the drawing of His people home to the Promised Land from the four corners of the globe.
Trusting in ELOHIM
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from YEHOVAH.” (Jeremiah 17:5)
The Prophetic Portion of Bechukotai follows the theme of the blessings associated with walking with ELOHIM in a covenantal relationship and the curses associated with walking away from HIM.
In this Portion, the Prophet Jeremiah rebukes the people of Israel for idolatry and faithlessness, telling them that they will go into exile.
But the Haftarah section ends with a note of anticipation when Jeremiah shows his trust in the Hope of Israel by praying, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14)
Elsewhere in Jeremiah, ELOHIM promises through this Prophet a New Covenant (Brit Chadashah), in which the Law of ELOHIM would be written on the heart.
“The days are coming,” declares YEHOVAH, “when I will make a new covenant (Brit Chadashah) with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them.” (Jeremiah 31:31–32)
This New Covenant was sealed in the blood of YESHUA HAMASHIACH when he died on the Roman execution stake.
YESHUA held up the Cup of Redemption and said, “This cup is the new covenant in MY Blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20)
Under the strength of this covenant, our sins are forgiven and remembered no more. (Isaiah 43:25)
But does this new-found freedom in Messiah give us a license to sin, forsaking the standards set forth in ELOHIM’s Law? The Jewish Rabbi Sha’ul (Apostle Paul) answers this question with a resounding chas v’chalilah! (ELOHIM forbid!)
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1–2)
While YESHUA has paid the price for our sins and the resulting curse of the Law, and we can abide in ELOHIM’s love through faith, the New Covenant in no way nullifies our call to walk in Holiness.
He has set us free from slavery to sin and we need no longer serve that evil master, suffering the curses of the Law.
Neither do we need to serve ELOHIM in fear of punishment; rather, we are now free to enjoy the relationship promised in this Torah Portion. He walks among us, and we are HIS People who serve HIM out of love, devotion, and gratitude for all HE has done for us.
The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – which can separate us from the love of ELOHIM that is in YESHUA HA MASHIACH.
Now that is truly the good news!
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of ELOHIM, which is in YESHUA HAMASHIACH ADONEINU (our LORD).” (Romans 8:38–39)