Welcome to this week’s Torah study, Parasha Behar.
Behar (On the Mount)
· Leviticus 25:1–26:2
· Jeremiah 32:6–27
· Romans 6:1–23
“YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH.’” (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 YAHUVEH. 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 YAHUVEH.
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 YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH.
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 YAHUVEH 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, YAHUVEH 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 YAHUVEH, Jeremiah redeems the land.