Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 May 2007 / 24 Iyyar 5767

Parshat Behar - Bechukotai

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah prohibits normal farming of the Land of Israel every seven years. This "Shabbat" for the Land is called "shemita". After every seventh shemita, the fiftieth year, yovel (jubilee) is announced with the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur. This was also a year for the Land to lie fallow. G-d promises to provide a bumper crop prior to the shemita and yovel years. During yovel, all land is returned to its original division from the time of Joshua, and all Jewish indentured servants are freed, even if they have not completed their six years of work. A Jewish indentured servant may not be given any demeaning, unnecessary or excessively difficult work, and may not be sold in the public market. The price of his labor must be calculated according to the amount of time remaining until he will automatically become free. The price of land is similarly calculated. Should anyone sell his ancestral land, he has the right to redeem it after two years. If a house in a walled city is sold, the right of redemption is limited to the first year after the sale. The Levites' cities belong to them forever. The Jewish People are forbidden to take advantage of one another by lending or borrowing with interest. Family members should redeem any relative who was sold as an indentured servant as a result of impoverishment.


The Torah promises prosperity for the Jewish People if they follow G-d's commandments. However, if they fail to live up to the responsibility of being the Chosen People, then chilling punishments will result. The Torah details the harsh historical process that will fall upon them when Divine protection is removed. These punishments, whose purpose is to bring the Jewish People to repent, will be in seven stages, each more severe than the last. Sefer Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, concludes with the details of erachin – the process by which someone vows to give the Beit Hamikdash the equivalent monetary value of a person, an animal or property.


Questions that are Answers

“But if you do not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments… then I will do the same to you…” (26:15-16)

The late eighteenth century witnessed a lemming-like dive into apostasy of many Jews. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin had one such pupil who, because of his great respect for his former teacher, had continued to keep contact with him.

Rabbi Chaim once asked him why he had stopped being observant. The pupil replied that many doubts and questions had begun to plague him about his faith.

Rabbi Chaim asked him when these questions started troubling him, before or after he lapsed observance. The student replied that his questions bothered him only after he had dropped out.

“In that case,” said Rabbi Chaim, “your questions are not questions — they are answers. And for answers, I have no answers.”

Nobody wants to feel they’re doing something wrong. We would rather change the rules than face a foul.

Every Jew has, at some point, been confronted by questions about his faith. To every question, there is an answer. Faith, however, is more than having all the answers. Faith is not just the extinction of intellectual doubt; faith is a midda, a character trait. And like every other trait, it can be strengthened or weakened.

We can believe that anger is a serious character flaw, but unless we concretize this awareness by constant inculcation we will go to our graves as angry people. Moreover, if we fail to curb our anger, it will grow, with each outburst providing the tinder for a yet greater conflagration.

When we do something to damage our spirituality, we have two alternatives. Either we can admit the mistake, regret our actions and take advantage of the miraculous process called teshuva, which effectively re-writes the past.

If we don’t choose that path, however, necessarily we will have to go into a state of spiritual denial.

And that’s very dangerous.

“But if you do not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments… then I will do the same to you…”

Rashi comments that this verse contains seven kinds of spiritual negativity. Each step down leads to the one below.

Ben Azai says in the Ethics of the Fathers (4:2) “Run to do even a small mitzvah and flee from an aveira (sin), because a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah and an aveira leads to another aveira, since the reward for is a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward for an aveira is an aveira.”

When we bring spiritual fall-out into ourselves, that negativity opens up further landscapes of spiritual desolation the likes of which we had no idea existed beforehand.

And on the other hand, when we bring greater spirituality into our lives by curbing our lower selves, the Heavens will open to reveal to us undreamed of vistas of holiness.

  • Source: Based on Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe

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