Parashat Behar begins with an entire chapter dealing with use and ownership of land, the rights and obligations of landowners, and the process of selling and mortgaging real state. It also contains laws both about indebtedness and becoming an indentured servant as a way of repaying debts through work.
Behar also establishes the remarkable practice of Shemitah (sabbatical year), allowing the land to lie fallow every seven years, and the Yovel (Jubilee year), adding an additional cycle of rest every half century.
Providing coherence to these practices is God’s assertion that “the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me”. Since god is the land’s only true owner, our task is to maintain the land on behalf of its true owner. As a sign of God’s dominion, the people are commanded to “proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof”.
Parashat Bechukotai constitutes an epilogue to the Holiness Code, hence to the entire book of Vaikra. Composed of neither legal nor ritual language, instead Bechukotai expands on the blessings that are experienced by the community that adheres to the teachings just concluded, the curses which emerge for those who violate these teachings and a final conclusion.
The blessings for the observant community include peace and prosperity, a bountiful population and victory over the nation’s enemies. The blessings conclude with an affirmation of the covenant binding God and the Jews and the eternity of that covenant.
The curses follow, an escalating outpouring of ever more dire consequences. Each cycle of disobedience unleashes a heightened cycle of consequences: military defeat, disease, ravages of wild beasts, famine, death and exile. At its height, however, the cycle is broken by hope and love: “Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, annulling My covenant with them: for I the Lord am their God”.
After this powerful conclusion, chapter 27 appears like an appendix, dealing with the important (from a priestly perspective) issue of funding the Sanctuary, its services and its clergy.
The book ends with an affirmation: “These are the commandments that the Lord gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai”.
Based on The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley Artson
Question for discussion
1- Do you think the practice of the sabbatical year is sustainable in a market that demands competition and production in big numbers? How do we let the land rest then?
2- What are these blessings and curses all about? Do we need rewards and threats to keep the commandments?
3- Even the terrible curses are broken by hope and love, can you thing of other examples of how hope and love enhance our lives?
Rabbi Mijael Even-David