Leviticus 25: 1-27: 34 26 Iyar 5781
The parashah Behar (on the mountain) refers to Mount Sinai, where the Creator gave the Torah to the people of Israel. Our sages explain that the Creator chose this mountain because it is smaller than the others, alluding to humility. They say that to receive the Torah, we need to be humble and that through Torah study, a person can nullify his ego and learn to be humble because by striving for something so elevated, he wouldn’t pay attention to the smallest and most insignificant things. When someone is focused on what is important to him and is immersed in it, he doesn’t pay attention to what is going on around him. On the other hand, God didn’t choose a valley or a plain but an elevation alluding to the self-esteem that a person needs to face challenges and difficulties. Everything in balance.
This parashah also mentions the Sabbatical Year (the Shmittah) during which the farmer is freed from his hard labor in the fields and his livelihood is dependent upon the harvest from the sixth year, which would be doubled. This is a reminder to humanity that all our property, land, money or houses, are temporary possessions given to us by the Creator for the purpose of doing good. When we lose sight of this, we are forgetting the omnipotence of God and His intervention in all the events of the world.
After seven cycles of sabbatical years, the fiftieth year is proclaimed as the Jubilee Year (Yovel), in which agricultural work also stopped and the shofar sounded to announce the freedom of the Hebrew slaves and the return of the lands to their original owners.
In chapter 25 verse 25, it says: “When your brother becomes poor, and sells some of his possession, then his closest relative will come and redeem what his brother has sold” and verse 35 says: “And when your brother becomes poor and he welcomes you, you will protect him … “This obviously refers to the obligation to help the needy. It is not only about giving free gifts to those who are in financial need (called Tzedakah) but it is more about supporting and helping those who are not doing well financially. It is not only about lifting the one who has fallen from grace and is in need, but also about preventing others from falling and helping them stay above water. It is not only a community obligation but also each one of us individually. This individual call is evident when we read that it says “… you will protect him …” In other words, the Torah is exhorting us to not delegate that responsibility to another under any pretext. It is our responsibility to watch over those in need so that this person can lift himself up and continue his role in life. It is good to contribute to fundraising campaigns for humanitarian purposes but getting involved in a personal way to support our fellow man is something even more ethical and to ensure that those in need do not lack the resources to prosper and to not have depend on anyone, just as we want to be.
This parashah refers to the crops – i.e., to what the buyer bought and what the seller sold. The annual produce was calculated to determine the price. Generally, the sale of land was out of necessity and the original owner recovered his land free of charge in the Jubilee Year. In this way, Psalms 115: 16 was fulfilled: “The heavens belong to God and the earth He gave to men.” The land was given to man to work and produce, but it remains the property of the Creator. Let’s not forget that our possessions are temporary and that we are only stewards of what God has given us. Let us do it then, in the most responsible way possible.
Another important point of this parashah is about slavery and freedom. We are surrounded by limitations, laws and regulations. At birth, we are registered with a number; if we want to travel, we need a passport; these days, we need a mask to be able to move around freely; in short, civilized man lives under the illusion of being free, but he is endlessly bound, somethings imposed by himself and some by others. Freedom is a form of slavery since we can never be totally free in this world, but everyone can choose to whom or to what they want to be a slave…to money, work, society, drugs, the system, the environment, fashion, etc., Authentic freedom is achieved when we are linked to the Unlimited, True, Eternal, Creator of the Universe; it’s the only way to transcend this world as we see it.
Working is a necessity, but we don’t have to give ourselves completely over to our work. Fun and amusement? Of course, but we don’t have to go out of our way for them. We must eat well, without making food our lust, etc. We were created with a goal far more significant than anything material. We were created to have a rich life, not dependent upon externals; a life that the Owner of life invites us to live. That is the life that the Torah offers.
In chapter 26, we find magnificent blessings for those who keep the precepts that the Creator gives us, beginning with staying away from idolatry and keeping the Shabbat. Verse 6 says: “and I will give shalom, peace on earth, and you will sleep, and there will be no one to frighten you …” and verse 12 says: “and I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and you will be My people”. There is a relationship here between prosperity and peace. We know that if there is no peace, then abundance and prosperity are of no use to us. Peace is everything. It is curious that in Hebrew, “Shalom” -“peace” and “Shlemut” – “integrity” come from the same root. God is the only one who can create it, give it, and guarantee that what He gave will remain in the hands of the one who received it.
In contrast to all this shalom (integral peace) for those who keep the statutes given by God, this portion warns us about exile, persecution and other terrible suffering that can come to those who abandon the Eternal’s precepts. This so-called “punishment” is a harsh process that comes in stages, becoming increasingly more difficult than the one before. It describes the bitter consequences if we fail to keep His Commandments.
However, suddenly hope arises in the story, in verse 42: “Then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham ...”. Our Creator in his infinite mercy tells us in verse 44: “And even with all this, being in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I loathe them to destroy them, breaking my covenant with them; because I, the LORD, am their God “. The connection between Behar and Bechukotai (which by the way, begin and end with Behar – on the mountain) is found, in the teaching that everything belongs to the Creator of everything. The reason for the Shmittah is that by letting the land rest for one year after six years of hard work, we can avail ourselves of God’s provision, recognizing that the land belongs to Him and by obeying His precepts, we will be blessed with abundance and He will give us peace, shalom, to be able to take advantage of that richness.