Torah Weekly

For the week ending 20 May 2017 / 24 Iyyar 5777

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.


The Key to the Foundation

“If you will follow My decrees… I will walk among you; I will be a G-d unto you, and you will be a people to Me.” (3:12)

In the uplifting prayer of Hallel we say that the “stone that the builders’ ‘hated’, became the rosh pina.” Rosh pina is typically translated as “the foundation stone”, but the literal translation is “head of the corner”. The “head” of something is far from its “foundation”. Maybe we could find a better concept for “rosh pina” than “foundation stone”?

When a stonemason builds he wants cuboid stones, ones of a shape that will fit nicely into his construction. Anything else is “a stone that the builders’ hate”.

In his 12-volume A Study of History, British historian Arnold Toynbee describes the Jews thus: “There remains the case where victims of religious discrimination represent an extinct society which only survives as a fossil…by far the most notable is one of the fossil remnants of the Syriac Society, the Jews.”

According to Toynbee the Jews are the “stone that the builders hated.” We don’t fit into any neatly schemed historical theory. We are a useless “fossil.”

But there’s one place in building that you don’t want, and you can’t use a regular cuboid.

When you get to the pinnacle of a building you need a keystone, a wedge-shaped stone that will lock together the rest of the stones in the edifice.

The Jewish People are that keystone, the apex of the entire building of the world.

The Jewish People, the “misfit” of society, the “fossil” of history becomes the “rosh pina” — its keystone.

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