Torah Weekly

For the week ending 16 May 2009 / 21 Iyyar 5769

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.


Keeping Up With The Kohens

“Do not make for yourselves idols…” (26:1)

A prince living in the lap of luxury two hundred years ago felt that he had everything that money could buy.

Take that prince and transfer him to 2009 and he would be far from happy. He has no car, no air-conditioning, no elevator, no microwave and no computer. He would compare his ‘luxury’ to the ordinary life of the modern world, and his happiness would evaporate. He would feel deprived.

Luxury is relative.

Greed is not based on any absolute desire for a specific thing. It is all about having more than everyone else.

According to the Chovot Levovot the first cause of not recognizing G-d is that we focus on what we don't have and take what we have for granted. We fail to see that our lives are a twenty-four-hour-a-day gift.

In this week's Torah portion the Torah seems to write a random list of laws: Shemita, laws of sale of moveable objects, laws of sale of land, sale of one’s house, laws of interest, the redeeming of a Hebrew slave and the redeeming of a Jew sold as a slave to a non-Jew. Rashi explains that the Torah is warning us of an inevitable progression.

What stops a person from keeping Shemita properly?


If we don’t keep Shemita properly we won’t profit from the sale of Shemita products. Quite the reverse. We will find ourselves short of money to the extent that we will have to sell our moveable property. If that doesn’t wake us up, the next step is we will be forced to sell our real estate. Then the house we live in. If that doesn’t bring us back, then we will commit the sin of lending money to Jews for interest. If we don’t stop there and repent, the next step is that we will have to sell ourselves to a fellow Jew as a servant, and if that doesn’t bring us to our senses, eventually we will be sold to a heathen and end up indulging in immorality, worshipping idols and breaking Shabbat.

“Do not make for yourselves idols…”

The main idol of the modern world is conspicuous consumption and material success.

Doctors now recognize stress as one of the single greatest causes of chronic disease in our society.

And amongst the main causes of stress is maintaining a lifestyle that demands keeping up with the Kohens.

If it weren’t for envy and greed we would all be happy with the sufficiencies of existence. A modest and simple way of life.

In fact we’d be much happier.

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