FROM THE TORAH
In Sedra Behar the structure of time as introduced already in the weekly Sabbath of human labor is extended to a septennial Sabbath of labor of the Land. This septennial structure is then expanded further, with profound effect, to a Sabbath of Sabbaths: seven Sabbatical cycles, 49 years, followed by a fiftieth year of Jubilee. The Jubilee year shall underlie all transactions of real property, both common and sacred, leading back to an original allotment of wealth. It shall also serve as a counterweight for Israelite servitude as a consequence of economic hardship.
Sabbaths of the Land
The Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount (Behar) Sinai, telling him to speak the following to the Children of Israel:
When you enter the Land that I am giving to you, the Land shall observe a Sabbath to the Eternal. For six years you shall sow your field, prune your vineyard, and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the Land shall have a Sabbath of Complete Rest (Shabbat Shabbaton): you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be a Year of Complete Rest (Shenat Shabbaton) for the Land. But you may use the Sabbath of the Land (Shabbat Ha-aretz) for food: for you, your male and female slaves, and your hired and bound laborers who live with you. Your cattle and the wild animals of the Land may also consume its produce.
Observe My statutes and ordinances, and you will dwell upon the Land securely and realize an abundance of its food. If you wonder whether there will be sufficient to eat in the seventh year since you will not be sowing or harvesting during that year, I shall send you My blessing in the sixth year to produce enough for three years, so that when you resume sowing in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the old saved from the sixth-year produce until the produce of the eighth year is ready to be eaten in the ninth year!
You shall count seven Sabbaths of years, seven times seven years, a period of forty-nine years. Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, on the Day of Atonement, sound the Shofar across your Land. Thereby shall you sanctify the fiftieth year and “proclaim liberty in the Land for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10)—it shall be a Jubilee (Yovel) for you, on which you shall return, every man, to his possession, and every man to his family. You may not sow or reap its aftergrowth or harvest its untrimmed vines. It shall be holy to you: you may eat its produce only directly from the field.
In the buying and selling of property between fellow Israelites, the price shall be determined by the number of years remaining until the next Jubilee: the more years that remain, the higher the price, the fewer years that remain, the lower the price. Do not wrong one another, but fear your God, for I, the Eternal, am your God.
REDEMPTION OF LANDS AND HOUSES
The Land may not be sold in perpetuity, as it is Mine and you are resident sojourners with Me. Whatever may be your possession in the Land, you must provide redemption for the Land. If your kinsman in straits is forced to sell some of his possession, then one related to him shall be his redeemer: he shall redeem what his relative was forced to sell. If he does not have a redeemer but acquires his own means to redeem, then he shall calculate the number of years since the forced sale, refund the difference to the buyer, and return to his possession. If his means are insufficient to redeem, then what he sold shall remain with the buyer until the Jubilee, when it shall be released; then he may return to his possession.
Residential houses that are sold in a walled city may be redeemed during the first full year of days since its sale. After that, the sale becomes final, it may remain in possession of the buyer in perpetuity, and it may not be released by virtue of the Jubilee.
Houses in villages without walls surrounding them are considered to be in open country. They may be redeemed and are subject to release at the Jubilee.
Houses in Levitical cities may always be redeemed by Levites—this includes property redeemed from Levites—and such property is subject to release in the Jubilee, for houses in Levitical cities are the possession of the Levites amidst the Children of Israel. Open field around their cities may not be sold; it is their possession for all time.
SUPPORT OF YOUR FELLOW HEBREW
If your kinsman is in straits and you gain authority over him, you may let him live with you as a resident sojourner. Do not extract from him interest or a share of gain, but you shall fear your God, that your kinsman may live with you. Do not give him your money for interest or your food for a share of gain. I am the Eternal your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan to be your God.
SERVICE BY YOUR FELLOW HEBREW
If your kinsman who has come under your authority continues in straits, he may be sold to you, but you may not impose slave labor upon him. He may continue with you as a hired or bound laborer until the Jubilee year. At that time he shall be released from you, together with his children, and return to his family, to his ancestral possession, because they are My servants, whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they may not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him harshly, but you shall fear your God.
SERVICE BY ALIEN RESIDENTS
You may acquire male and female slaves from the nations that are around you and also from the residents who sojourn with you and from their progeny in your Land. You may hold them as a possession and as an inheritance for your children in perpetuity. Them you may hold as slaves, but as for your kinsmen, the Children of Israel, you may not rule, one over the other, harshly.
ISRAELITE SERVANT OF AN ALIEN RESIDENT
If your kinsman is in straits and is sold to a prosperous resident sojourner or to a member of his family, he should be redeemed by one of his immediate relatives or by his uncle or by his cousin or by anyone of his own flesh, or, if he gains the means, by himself. He shall calculate with his purchaser the number of years from the time of his being purchased by him to the Jubilee year, and the price of his sale shall be compared to the number of years as it would be for a hired laborer with the purchaser. The price of his redemption will be more or less as a fraction of the original purchase price in proportion to the number of years that remain from the anticipated redemption to the Jubilee year: the greater the number of years, the larger a fraction of the original purchase price, and the fewer the number of remaining years, the smaller the fraction.
In the meantime he should be treated by him as a laborer hired from year to year; he shall not rule over him harshly in your sight. If your kinsman is not redeemed by any of the potential redeemers, then he shall be released in the Jubilee year together with his children. For the Children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I brought out from the land of Egypt, I, the Eternal your God.
You shall not make for yourselves idols or set up for yourselves a sculpture or pillar; you shall not place carved stone in your Land to worship upon it, for I the Eternal am your God. You shall keep My Sabbaths and revere My Sanctuary, I the Eternal.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Behar
The prophet was imprisoned by King Zedekiah during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem for prophesying the city’s defeat and the king’s capture (cf. 32:1-5).
Chanamel son of my Uncle Shallum comes to me in the prison court, as the Eternal said he would. He asks me to redeem his field in Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin, as the relative entitled to purchase the inheritance. I so purchase it for seventeen silver shekels, signing the deed and sealing it with the attestation of witnesses. I then deliver it in its entirety, both that which is sealed and that which is displayed, to Baruch son of Neriah son of Machseya, in the presence of Chanamel, the signing witnesses, and all of the Judeans residing in the prison court, and I charge him as follows. Preserve these in a clay jar, for thus says the Eternal of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses, fields and vineyards shall again be purchased in this Land!
Then I offer this prayer:
O Lord God, You have made the heavens and the earth
with Your great power and outstretched arm;
nothing is too great for you.
You show lovingkindness to the thousandth generation
but requite the iniquity of parents upon their children,
O great and mighty God, whose Name is the Eternal of hosts.
You plan and You do, and You know the doings of all,
to recompense each one according to the fruit of his actions.
You have performed signs and wonders in the land of Egypt to this very day,
as You continue to do towards Israel and towards anyone else.
You brought Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt
with signs and with wonders,
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
with great awe!
You gave them this Land, as You promised their fathers,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
Thus they inherited it,
but they did not obey You and Your Torah;
therefore You have called for all of this punishment upon them!
They have raised a siege upon the city,
to capture it,
through the sword and the famine and the pestilence
which You promised and now You see.
You, O Lord God,
have told me to purchase the field,
to spend money for it,
in the presence of witnesses,
but then the city will fall
under the power of the Chaldeans!
Then came the word of the Eternal to Jeremiah:
I am the Eternal, the God of all flesh;
is there anything too wondrous for Me to perform?
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Sifra Behar Parshata 1:1
Principles and Details
“The Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai…
the Land shall observe a Sabbath to the Eternal…”
Why is the mitzvah of Shemittah (the Sabbatical Year)
juxtaposed with Mount Sinai?
Were not all the commandments given on Mount Sinai?
The reason for this juxtaposition of Shemittah with Sinai is to imply that just as Shemittah was given with both its general principles (Leviticus 25:2-4a) and its details (Leviticus 25:4b-7) on Mount Sinai, so all the rest of the commandments were given on Mount Sinai with both their general principles and their details.
Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquieres (12th cent.): The question is asked because the mitzvah of Shemittah is already included among the other commandments of Sedra Mishpatim (cf. Exodus 23:10-11), which were delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, so, why did the Torah need to repeat “Sinai” for Shemittah here in Sedra Behar? The answer is found in the inclusion here of both the general principles and the details, which were not explicated in Sedra Mishpatim, thereby revealing to us here that all of them were indeed taught about Shemittah to Moses at Sinai. Then, in Sedra Bechukotai, we find, at the conclusion of the comprehensive Sanctions (Tochachot) for disobeying the mitzvoth:
“These, then, are the statutes and the ordinances and the instructions
which the Eternal promulgated between Him and the Children of Israel
on Mount Sinai in the hand of Moses.”
Thereby all of the mitzvot are juxtaposed with Mount Sinai, making the analogy (hekesh) with Shemittah and its distinctive inclusion of both general principles and details at the beginning of Sedra Behar (cf. Leviticus 25:1-7). From this we conclude that just as Shemittah was given with both its general principles and its details on Mount Sinai, so all the rest of the commandments were given on Mount Sinai with both their general principles and their details!
Talmud Sotah 37b: It is taught in a baraitha that Rabbi Ishmael believes that only the general principles were taught at Sinai and that the details were explained in the Tent of Meeting, while Rabbi Akiba believes that both the general principles and the details were given at Sinai and then repeated in the Tent of Meeting and again in the Plains of Moab. The reason for the repetitions was twofold: (1) to provide serial encouragement at each iteration; and (2) to create multiple covenants through multiple iterations (cf. Leviticus 25:37a-37b).
Leviticus Rabbah 33:1
Good and Bad Tongue
“Do not wrong one another…”
The Eternal charged Moses on Mount Sinai to teach the Children of Israel: “In the buying and selling of property between fellow Israelites…do not wrong one another” (Leviticus 25:14-17)! While the warning against wronging one another might seem obviously appropriate in the context of market transactions in general, here it is mentioned among laws of holiness: “It shall be a Jubilee (Yovel) for you; it shall be holy to you…” (Leviticus 25:12). Therefore some of the Rabbis associated the “wrong” here with the verse: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
Aquila likened the tongue to a handy instrument that soldiers carried with them: it consisted of both a knife and a spoon. Although it was intended for the cutting and eating of food, the double nature of it could make it an instrument of death, by means of the knife, and life, by means of the spoon!
Said Rabbi Yanai: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” when one has before him some food that has not been tithed. If he eats it before it is tithed, “death..is in the power of the tongue.” If he tithes it and then eats it, “life…is in the power of the tongue!”
Rabban Gamaliel sent Tavi his servant to the market: Go out and purchase for me a good delicacy! Tavi brought back tongue. Then Rabban Gamaliel sent him again, but this time he instructed him: “Go out and purchase for me a bad delicacy!” Again, Tavi brought back tongue. Rabban Gamaliel asked him why he brought back tongue both times. Tavi explained: There is tongue that is good, and there is tongue that is bad; when it is good, there is nothing better, but when it is bad, there is nothing worse.
When Rabbi made a banquet for his students, he served them both tender tongues and brittle tongues. Of course all of them chose the tender tongues and passed over the brittle tongues. Rabbi said to them: Notice what you are doing. Just as you choose the tender tongues and eschew the brittle tongues, so may your tongues be tender one to another! That is why Moses warns Israel: In the back-and-forth of your daily transactions, “do not wrong one another!”
Leviticus Rabbah 34:1
Pay Attention to the Lowly
“If your kinsman is in straits…”
“Fortunate is he who pays attention to the lowly;
the Eternal will rescue him on a day of evil.
May the Eternal protect him and keep him alive,
and may he be happy in the Land;
and do not turn him over to the bidding of his enemies.
May the Eternal sustain him on the bed of suffering;
You will turn over his sickbed!”
How should he “pay attention to the lowly?”
Abba bar Yirmiah explains this in the name of Rabbi Meir as referring to one who allows the good inclination to rule over the evil inclination: “There was a little city…and a great king came against it…and he found in it a wise poor man, who saved the city through his wisdom, but no one remembered that poor man” (Ecclesiastes 9:14-15). Ecclesiastes Rabbah 9:25,8: The city is the human being; the “great king” is the evil inclination, called “great” because it is thirteen years greater (older) than the good inclination, and the good inclination is the wise poor man, called “poor” because the good inclination is not found in all people, and most of those in whom it is found do not listen to it.
The poor man saved the city through his wisdom, as whoever pays attention to the good inclination is delivered on a day of evil (cf. Psalms 41:2)! But no one else remembers. Says the Holy One, blessed be He: You do not remember, but I remember, as the prophet said, “And the nations shall know that I am the Eternal…I will remove the heart of stone from your body, and I shall give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26)! “The Eternal will protect him…” (Psalms 41:3) from the evil inclination!
How then should he “pay attention to the lowly” (Psalms 41:2)?
Isi explains that he should give a perutah (small coin) to the poor, “…and he will (thereby) keep him alive” (Psalms 41:3)!
How should he “pay attention to the lowly” (Psalms 41:2)?
Rabbi Yochanan explains this as referring to one who buries a meyt mitzvah (one who has died without relatives to bury him), “…and may he (thereby) be happy in the land” (Psalms 41:3)!
How should he “pay attention to the lowly” (Psalms 41:2)?
The Rabbis explain this as referring to one who distances him from the powerful (i.e., paying attention to the opposite of “the lowly”). Mordecai Margulies ed.: One who distances himself from the ruling authorities. Mishnah Avot 2:3: Be cautious of the ruling authority, for they draw one near only for their own purposes: they appear as friends when it is convenient for them but fail to stand by when it is not. “…And do not turn him over to the bidding of his enemies” (Psalms 41:3)!
How should he “pay attention to the lowly” (Psalms 41:2)?
Rav Huna explains that he should visit the sick, and he teaches that whoever visits the sick removes from him one-sixtieth of his illness. So they responded to him: If that be true, let sixty visitors come forward to allow him to get up from his sickbed entirely and “you have turned over his sickbed” (Psalms 41:4)! He answered them: Sixty as long as they care for him as he cares for himself, but in any event they would be effective at least to the extent of easing his suffering, while “the Eternal will sustain him on the bed of his suffering” (Psalms 41:4)!
How should he “pay attention to the lowly” (Psalms 41:2)?
Rabbi Yonah observed that the psalm begins not with the words, “Fortunate is he who gives to the lowly,” but “Fortunate is he who pays attention to the lowly” (Psalms 41:2), which means: Consider the most compassionate way to help him! When Rabbi Yonah saw a once-wealthy person reduced to penury and too embarrassed to accept a gift, he went to him and said, “I have learned that a large inheritance is coming to you from abroad, so here is a loan which you can repay when you receive your inheritance.” Only later, when the recipient tried to repay it, did Rabbi Yonah disclose that it was a gift.
“Fortunate is he who pays attention to the lowly…”
Rabbi Levi taught in the name of Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Chaninah: As many times as a psalm or other section of the Bible begins with Ashrey… (which we translate here as “Fortunate…”), only here, in this one psalm, do we find a reward attached to it: “Fortunate is he who pays attention to the lowly; the Eternal will rescue him on a day of evil” (Psalms 41:2). Mirkin Commentary: This distinction is meant to emphasize the overwhelming importance of the mitzvah of tzedakah (righteous treatment of the lowly) compared to all other mitzvot. For this reason Moses warns Israel: “If your kinsman is in straits…” (Leviticus 25:35)!
Leviticus Rabbah 35:4
Commonality of Rich and Poor
“If your kinsman is in straits with you…”
This verse introduces Moses’s teaching
regarding the proper treatment of your reduced fellow Israelite.
It also suggests the following pair of verses:
“When the beggar and the bootlegger meet,
the Eternal enlightens the eyes of them both.”
“The rich and the poor meet together—
the Eternal is the Maker of them all.”
Consider the “beggar” to be honestly poor in Torah and the “bootlegger” to be one who has memorized superficially one or two simple books of the Mishnah. The “beggar” asks the “bootlegger” to teach him a chapter of Mishnah, and the bootlegger does. “The Eternal enlightens the eyes of them both”: they have acquired both this world and the world to come!
Now consider the “rich” to be truly learned in Torah. The man “poor” in Torah asks the man “rich” in Torah to teach him a chapter, but he does not. Instead the “rich” says to the “poor”: Why do I, “rich” in Torah, need to spend time teaching you, “poor” in Torah, one chapter or another? Learn Bible and Mishnah with someone who is on your low level! “The Eternal is the Maker of them all”: the One who made this one learned is also able to make him ignorant, and the One who made this one ignorant is also able to make him learned!
Consider the “beggar” to be poor in material possessions and the “bootlegger” to be one who has accumulated possessions through his questionable dealings. The “beggar” asks the “bootlegger” to do the mitzvah of giving him tzedakah, and the “bootlegger” does. “The Eternal enlightens the eyes of them both”: the “beggar” has acquired a breath of earthly life, and the “bootlegger” has acquired eternal life in the world to come!
One “rich” in earthly possessions and one “poor” in earthly possessions meet: the man “poor” in earthly possessions asks the man “rich” in earthly possessions to do the mitzvah of giving him tzedakah, but he refuses. “The Eternal is the Maker of them all”: the One who made this one poor is also able to make him rich, and the One who made this one rich is also able to make him poor!
Suppose the one who is “rich” says, in addition, to the one who is “poor”: Why don’t you go and work for a living? Use your thick legs, use your big shoulders, you fat beggar! To him the Holy One, blessed be He, says: Not only have you not given him anything of yours, but you have demeaned that which I have given him! Therefore, “If he has begotten a son, he will have nothing to give him” (Ecclesiastes 5:13), and the son’s father will be left with nothing but a wound. It was for that reason that Moses warned Israel, “If your kinsman is in straits with you…,” this is what you should and should not do (Leviticus 25:35ff.)!
Leviticus Rabbah 35:7
The Profound Mitzvah of Charity
Even incidental remarks of the Children of the Land of Israel can be Torah. How so? One man says incidentally to another, “Do the mitzvah of giving me charity.” What Torah has he taught? In those words he has said, “Purify yourself through me!” Rabbi Haggai observed: What he said is “See me!” “Look at me!” “Imagine what I was, and look at me now!” and Rabbi Haggai in the name of Rabbi Isaac cited the verse, “Riches perish through some misfortune, and then if he has begotten a son, he will have nothing to give him” (Ecclesiastes 5:13)!
Mishnah Avot 1:1
Talmud Yoma 69b
Did Jeremiah and Daniel speak the truth?
“Then I offer this prayer…
‘O great and mighty God,
whose Name is the Eternal of hosts.’”
Moses received Torah from Sinai and imparted it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets imparted it to the Men of the Great Assembly.
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi explained: Why were they called “Men of the Great Assembly?” Because they restored the complete crown of divine attributes to its greatness (its maximum) as at first.
For at first came Moses, who said, “For the Eternal your God is God of Gods and Lord of Lords, the great, mighty and awesome God…” (Deuteronomy 10:17)!
Then came Jeremiah, who observed foreigners cavorting in God’s Temple: Where then is His awesomeness? So he did not say “awesome”; instead: “O great and mighty God” (Jeremiah 32:18)!
But then came Daniel, who observed foreigners enslaving God’s children: Where then is His mightiness? So he did not say “mighty”; instead: “O great and awesome God” (Daniel 9:4)!
Then said the Men of the Great Assembly: On the contrary! The very fact that He controls His impulse of revenge for all of those years when His children were enslaved by them and that He has contained His anger over all of the evil decrees that they imposed upon His children—therein lies His might! Mishnah Avot 4:1—Ben Zoma says: Who is mighty? One who suppresses his evil inclination, as was said, “Better is slow to anger than mighty and one who rules over his emotions than the conqueror of a city” (Proverbs 16:32)! And were it not for the awesomeness of the Holy One, blessed be He, how could this one nation have survived among the nations of the world? (Rashi) – Hence we bless:
“Praised are You, O Eternal,
our God and God of our Fathers…
O God great, mighty and awesome…”
(Siddur: First Blessing of the Tefillah)
Then how could the “Rabbis” (Jeremiah and Daniel) have suspended attributes that Moses declared as divine? Said Rabbi Elazar: Because, knowing the Holy One, blessed be He, is true, they could not be untrue in their attributions of Him!
Yalkut Shimoni 319
Talmud Sotah 11a
Talmud Avodah Zarah 18a
“The devisings of a man’s heart…”
“Great in planning and mighty in execution,
whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man,
to repay each one in accordance with his ways
and in accordance with the fruit of his actions.”
Interpret these words of Jeremiah’s prayer:
“God is great in understanding the planning of man
and mighty in His response:
Perceiving all of the devisings of the children of man,
He can repay their devisings accordingly,
not to mention their consequences!”
In accordance with the Egyptians’ devisings did I destroy them! They planned to destroy My children in the water of the Nile, as is written, “Every male child that is born shall you cast into the River” (Exodus 1:22), so by the same means would I destroy them, as is written, “The water turned around and covered the chariots and the horsemen of all of Pharaoh’s army” (Exodus 14:28)!
How did they devise destruction of Israel by water?
Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Chaninah: “The king of Egypt said to his people… ‘Come, let us deal wisely with him’” (Exodus 1:8-10)! “’With him?’” Why not with them? “‘With Him,’” their Savior, who has a record of afflictions. If we afflict His people with fire, then “Behold the Eternal will come (against us) with fire…and we shall be judged by the fire of the Eternal…” (Isaiah 66:15-16)! If we afflict His people by the sword, “…and with His sword shall many be slain by the Eternal” (ibid.)! So let us afflict them with water, for the Holy One, blessed be He, promised never to bring a flood upon the world, as the Prophet said of the Eternal, “As I swear that the waters of Noah shall never again come upon the earth” (Isaiah 54:9)!
“Great in planning and mighty in execution,
whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man…”
In their devisings, the Egyptians overlooked the Eternal’s conditions, that He would not again bring waters over all of the earth, leaving Himself the option of bringing waters over a single nation! Alternatively, that while He would not bring the waters, they could come and fall into them, as was said, “And the Egyptians fled before it (the Sea) [likrato],” but also to be understood, “towards it [likrato]!”
This is how Rabbi Elazar interpreted the words of Jethro when he said, “Now I know that the Eternal is greater than all other gods, because of the devising which they (the Egyptians) cooked up [zadu] for them [aleyhem], that is, for themselves!” (Exodus 18:11; cf. Genesis 25:29) In the pot in which they cooked they were cooked!
Thus we find of man’s devisings: “He digs a pit and deepens it; then he will fall into the trap that he has created” (Psalms 7:16). “From the fruit of a man’s mouth may his belly be filled; the produce of his lips may he enjoy; but both death and life are in the power of the tongue, whose fanciers will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:20-21). “In accordance with their deserts, so shall He repay in anger His enemies, requital no matter how distant” (Isaiah 59:18). “Why should I fear the evil to come? The sin under my heals will catch up with me!” (Psalms 49:6)
What is “the sin under my heals?”
Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish explained: Sins that a person quashes with his heals—sins that we dismiss as unimportant in this world—revisit us on the day of judgment. For this was the daughter of Rabbi Yochanan ben Teradyon punished, as Rabbi Yochanan told it. Once she was walking in front of some important Roman men, and they commented, “How beautiful are the steps of this young woman!” Whereupon she paid close attention to her steps. She was arrested and put in prison. After she was freed, she justified the decree with the Prophet’s words:
“God is great in understanding the planning of man
and mighty in His response,
perceiving all of the devisings of the children of man!”