For the week ending 8 May 2021 / 26 Iyar 5781

Parashat 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 “Shemitta.” After every seventh Shemitta, 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 Shemitta 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 oftime 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 this calling, 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 a property.



“For they are My servants, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold in the manner of a slave.” (25:42)


While the murder of George Floyd has brought about a racial reckoning in the United States of America, that's a very different thing from saying it has brought about racial reconciliation. African-Americans will see justice in this verdict, but so many are looking for fairness and equality in all the aspects of their lives. Fairness and equality must begin with humility and respect.

Some nineteen hundred years ago, twenty-four thousand pupils of Rabbi Akiva died because they did not give each other sufficient respect. Clearly, our work as Jews in the time of the Omer is to increase our respect for others. But that is easier said than done. The truth is it is much easier to see flaws in other people than in ourselves. What we see in others as stingy, we see in ourselves as careful. Where others seem to us loud and brash, we are exuberant.

Here is an idea that helped me: Try and catch other people doing good things. I do not mean rushing into burning buildings to rescue people or facing down a terrorist who is carrying a loaded gun. I am not talking about heroism. Just noticing how nice people are. I remember seeing someone driving a car down the street and he was just about to run over a child's toy. He stopped the car, got out, and put the toy by the side of the road. He did not have to do that. It was just a nice thing to do.

I will give you another example. I live in an area where there are lots of children. When the kids take out the garbage, they often do not have enough strength to heft the trash into the bin and it gets left by the side of the dumpster — much to the delight of the neighborhood cats. I often see someone picking up the trash and putting it into the bin. That person is not going to get a medal for that. It is just a nice thing to do. Try and catch someone doing something right once a day until the end of the Omer on Shavuot, and you will start to think, “You know, people are really quite nice. Maybe they are as nice as me.” And once I can admit that other people could be as nice as me, maybe I might start to think they could actually be nicer than me — and that's the beginning of humility. And that’s the source of respect for others.

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