32. BEHAR / 33. BECHUKOTAI 5783


Leviticus 25:1-27:34

In these final two sedras of the Book of Leviticus, structure and value are conceived as one and ultimately divine.  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.  Israelite society is an extended family and is under the authority and protection of a moral Parent.

Sedra Bechukotai closes the Book of Leviticus by contrasting the collective outcome of obedience to divine commandments with failure to observe them.  The rewards and consequences are variously agricultural, zoological, climatic, and military.  The sanctions for disobedience, known as tochachot (rebukes), are especially dramatic.  This section concludes with the option of repentance.  There follows a comprehensive treatment of voluntary offerings and of tithes, both reflecting a breadth of approaches that are built in to their valuation and management.  In the beginning, middle and end of this double portion, we are reminded that, although divine law is transcendent in its Source, for Israel it emerges from its experience at Sinai.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 the purchaser 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.

Reward, Punishment and Repentance


If you walk according to My statutes (Bechukotai) and keep My commandments, I will provide your rains in their season, the earth will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will provide its fruit.  Your threshing will overtake your vintage, and your vintage will overtake your sowing.  You will have abundant food, and you will dwell securely in your Land.  I will provide peace in the Land, and you will lie down to sleep without fear.  I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and the sword will not pass through your Land.  When you pursue your enemies, they will fall before you by the sword: five of you shall pursue a hundred of them, and a hundred of you shall pursue ten thousand of them.

In short, I will favor you, making you fruitful and abundant.  I shall establish My covenant with you.  You shall eat the old, long stored, and then clear it out for the new.  I shall establish my dwelling in your midst and not abhor you.  Being in your midst, I shall be your God and you shall be My people, I the Eternal, your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt from being their slaves; I have broken the bars of your yoke, allowing you to walk upright.


But if you do not heed Me and show your disdain for My commandments by not doing them, thus violating My covenant, then I will bring upon you misery, disease, and wasting afflictions; whatever you sow your enemies will eat.  I will turn My favor away from you: you will be defeated by your enemies and seek to flee even when none pursues you.

If, after all of that, you still do not heed Me, then I shall increase your punishment to seven times your sins.  I shall break down your arrogance, make your skies like iron and your ground like copper.  Your strength shall be in vain, your land will produce nothing, and its trees will produce no fruit.

If you continue to oppose Me and choose not to obey Me, then I shall continue your punishment of seven times your sins and release against you wild beasts who will make you childless, cut off your animals, decimate you, and desolate your highways.

If you are not chastened for Me by those punishments and you persist in going against Me, then I will go against you and strike you seven times your sins.  I will bring upon you the avenging sword for the sake of My covenant, and when you are gathered into your cities, I shall send pestilence in your midst, and you will be delivered into the hand of your enemy.  Your bread will be limited to the baking by ten women in a single oven; when you receive your ration, it will not be satisfying.

But if that is not enough for you to heed Me and you continue to go against Me, then I shall go against you with an angry rejection and discipline you seven times your sins.  You will resort to eating the flesh of your children.  I shall destroy your cultic places and cut down your cultic pillars and pile your corpses on top of the carcasses of your idols, out of disgust with you.

I shall make ruins of your cities and desolations of your sanctuaries, never more breathing in your pleasant aroma.  I shall so desolate the Land that your enemies who settle upon it shall be desolated by it.  I shall scatter you among the nations and draw the sword against you.  Then the Land will benefit from many days of rest in its desolation, and in your absence in the land of your enemies, making up for the Sabbaths it did not observe when you dwelled upon it.

I will bring a weakness of heart upon those who are left among you in the land of their enemies so that “the sound of a driven leaf puts them to flight” (Leviticus 26:36), and their flight from the imagined sword ends in their falling over each other.  You shall not be able to stand before your enemies.  You will be lost among the nations, and the land of your enemies will consume you.


But those of you who survive there, rotting with regret of their iniquity and the iniquities of their fathers, shall confess them for all of their violations against Me and all of their rebelliousness, for which I brought them into the land of their enemies.  Their uncircumcised heart duly humbled and accepting of their guilt, I remember My covenant with Jacob, My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham, I remember the Land (Leviticus 26:42).  I shall not reject them or despise them to annul My covenant with them, as I am the Eternal, their God.  I shall remember for their benefit My covenant with the founders, whom I brought out from the land of Egypt, in view of all the nations, to be their God, I the Eternal.


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.

Dedication and Redemption


The Eternal charged Moses to provide certain rules for the Children of Israel regarding vows.  If one promises to the Eternal the value of his life, the valuation shall be as follows: for a male between the ages of 20 and 60 years, 50 shekels of silver by the sacral weight, for a female 30 shekels; from 5 to 20 years old, for a male 20 shekels and for a female 10 shekels; from a month to 5 years old, for a male 5 shekels of silver and for a female 3 shekels of silver; from 60 years and upward, for a male 15 shekels and for a female 10 shekels.  If one cannot afford the nominal valuation, then the Kohen shall set a value that conforms to what the vower can afford.


If he offers an animal to the Eternal, it shall be holy.  It cannot be exchanged for another or replaced by another, whether for greater or lesser value.  If, nonetheless, another animal is substituted, then the original animal and its substitute are both holy.  If the animal is unclean, of the type that would not be eligible to be offered to the Eternal, then the Kohen shall assess its value, whether high or low; the Kohen’s assessment shall stand.  If he redeems it, he adds one-fifth to its assessed value.


If one should dedicate his house to the Eternal, the Kohen shall assess its value, whether high or low; the Kohen’s assessment shall stand.  If he redeems it, he adds one-fifth of the assessed silver value to the assessed value, and it shall be his.

Ancestral Holdings

If one should dedicate some of his land holding to the Eternal, its nominal valuation shall be in accordance with its sowing amount: 50 shekels of silver for a chomer of barley seed.  This would be the rate of valuation if he sanctifies his land from the Jubilee year.  If he dedicates his land after the Jubilee year, the nominal value would be reduced in accordance with the number of years that remain until the next Jubilee.  If the dedicator then redeems the land, he adds one-fifth of the silver value to its assessed value and it stands as his.  If he does not redeem the land and it is sold to someone else, it may no longer be redeemed.  When the land is released at the Jubilee, it is holy to the Eternal, like confiscated land; it goes to the Kohen.

Purchased Lands

If one should dedicate to the Eternal land that he purchased, not land of his ancestral holding, the Kohen shall calculate the proportion of the valuation up to the Jubilee year, and he shall pay the net valuation as a sacred donation to the Eternal.  In the Jubilee year the land shall return to the person from whom he purchased it, who held it as an original allotment of the Land.  All of your valuations shall be by the sacral shekel, which is the equivalent of 20 gerahs.


No one can dedicate a First-born Animal (Bechor), whether ox or sheep, as it is already, by its birth as first-born, the Eternal’s.  If it is of an unclean animal, it may be redeemed for its assessed value plus one-fifth; if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold for its assessed value.


Anything that is Confiscated for the Eternal (Cherem), whether man or beast or holding of land, may not be sold and may not be redeemed.  Confiscated property is most holy, for the Eternal.  No human being who has been thus proscribed can be redeemed; he must be put to death.


Every Tithe (tenth) of the Land (Ma’sar Ha-aretz), whether from seed of the earth or from fruit of the tree, is the Eternal’s, holy to the Eternal.  If a man would redeem any part of his Tithe, he must add one-fifth to its value.

As to any Tithe of Herd or Flock (Ma’sar Bakar va-Tson), every tenth that passes under the staff shall be holy to the Eternal.  No judgment may be made between good or bad, and there may be no substitution of one animal for another.  If there is an attempt to make such a substitution, then both the original animal and the proposed substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.


These, then, are the commandments which the Eternal commanded Moses for the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai.

Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazek!


Haftarah for Shabbat Behar/Bechukotai
Jeremiah 16:19-17:14

Source of Retribution and Vindication

O Eternal,
my Stronghold, my Refuge,
in the time of danger,
You shall be the destination of the nations
from the ends of the earth,
when they come to realize
that they have inherited
lies from their fathers,
that the gods that they worshipped
are in fact no gods!

Yet Judah’s sin is virtually indelible,
engraved upon the tablet of their heart,
upon the horns of their idolatrous altars.
How persistently they recall
their idols so prominent!

I shall allow all of that which you treasure
to be released as spoil to your enemies,
and you yourself
I shall hand over to them as their servants
in a land that you know not.

For you have angered Me
in the manner of a fire
that burns forever.

Cursed is the man
who trusts in Man
and depends upon flesh
instead of the Eternal.
He shall not see when good comes
as he shall inhabit
the most parched of places.

Blessed is the man
who trusts in the Eternal,
whose confidence shall be
as a tree planted by the waters,
whose roots are amply nourished,
notwithstanding the heat,
to make its leaves verdant,
immune to drought,
and its fruit abundant.

The heart deceitful and weak
is the object of My examination:
to recompense man justly
for his behavior and his achievements.
To identify one who appropriates
that which is not his
and ultimately to deprive him
of his ill-gotten gain.

O Throne of Glory,
exalted from the beginning,
our sacred Presence,
Hope of Israel,
those who forsake You
shall be recorded for shame!
O Source of living waters,
the Eternal,
heal me so that I may be healed,
save me so that I may be saved,
as You are my Adoration!


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…”
(Leviticus 25:1-7)

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.”
(Leviticus 26:46)

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…”
(Leviticus 25:17)

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…”
(Leviticus 25:35)

Fortunate is he who pays attention to the lowly!
May the Eternal rescue him [yemalleteyhu] on a day of evil.
May the Eternal protect him [yishmereyhu] and keep him alive [veechayeyhu],
so that he shall be considered happy in the Land [v’ushar ba-Aretz]—
and not turn him over to the bidding of his enemies.
May the Eternal sustain him [yis’adenu] on the bed of suffering,
so that whenever he is afflicted,
you will turn over his sickbed!”
(Psalms 41:2-4)

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 [yishmereyhu]…” (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 [veechayeyhu]” (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), “…so that he keeps him (the deceased) alive [veechayeyhu] (alluding to eternal life in death)…and that he (the deceased) shall be considered content in the ground [v’ushar ba-aretz]” (Psalms 41:3)!

How should he “pay attention to the lowly” (Psalms 41:2)?

The Rabbis explain this as referring to one who distances himself from the powerful (that is, pays attention tothe lowly” to the exclusion of their opposite, the powerful).  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 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 [yis’adenu] 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 [yemalleteyhu] 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)!

*The evil inclination is thirteen years older than the good inclination because the former is created at birth (cf. Genesis 8:21) while the latter begins at the age of thirteen years (bar mitzvah) (cf. Avot of Rabbi Nathan 16:2 below).

Leviticus Rabbah 35:4
Commonality of Rich and Poor

“If your kinsman is in straits with you…”
(Leviticus 25:35)

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.”
(Proverbs 29:13)

“The rich and the poor meet together—
the Eternal is the Maker of them all.”
(Proverbs 22:2)

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)!

Leviticus Rabbah 35:2
A Conditional Relationship

If you walk according to My statutes
and keep My commandments,
(then) I will provide your rains in their season,
the earth will yield its produce…”
(Leviticus 26:3 ff.)

This is the converse of the conditional relationship that Jacob proposed to God at Beth El (cf. Genesis 28:10ff.): “If God will be with me and protect me on this journey…and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return safely to my father’s house, then the Eternal shall be my God” (Genesis 28:20-21).  How did God respond to Jacob?  “I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this Land, as I shall not forsake you…” (Genesis 28:15).  But where did God agree to provide Jacob with “food to eat and clothes to wear?” Rabbi Assi holds that God assured Jacob also on sustenance (parnasah), for Rabbi Assi interpreted the words, “I shall not forsake you” (Genesis 28:15), to refer to sustenance, based upon the verse, “I have been young, now I am old, and I have not seen a righteous person forsaken and his offspring searching for food” (Psalms 37:25)!

But Jacob did refer later in his life to the conditional relationship that God put forth in our Sedra, “If you walk according to My statutes…, (then) I will provide your rains…,” when, on his deathbed, he assembled his sons and said, “Listen, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel, your father” (Genesis 49:2).  Why did he repeat “listen?”  He referred to ancient wisdom (cf. Proverbs 8:22 ff.), which said, “And now, O children, listen to me, and happy are those who keep my ways…happy is the one who listens to me…” (Proverbs 8:32,34).  Jacob was relating wisdom’s words to them as follows: “And now, O children, listen to Me (says the Eternal), happy am I when they keep My ways…and…happy will be the one who hearkens to Me!”  If you walk according to My ways, then happy shall I be with you and thereby shall you be made happy by Me!


Mirkin Commentary:  Consider how else the verse, “I have not seen a righteous person forsaken and his offspring searching for food,” could be understood?  Interpret: “I have not seen a righteous person forsaken while his offspring are searching for food”— Although Jacob’s offspring had gone down to Egypt in search of food, Jacob was not forsaken of his faith in the Holy One, blessed be He, as he says: “May God Almighty show you mercy before the man (Joseph) that he release your other brother to you along with Benjamin…” (Genesis 43:14)!

Leviticus Rabbah 35:3
The Law is Above the King

“If you walk according to My statutes
and keep My commandments…”
(Leviticus 26:3)

Rabbi Elazar cited the Greek maxim, “The king is above the law.”  It is the general practice that when a human king issues an edict, he may observe it himself if he so chooses, or he may intend only for others to observe it.  The Holy One, blessed be He, however, is different.

Consider, for example, His edict in Sedra Kedoshim: “Rise before the hoary head, showing respect for the aged” (Leviticus 19:32).  How could one even expect the physical possibility of His observing His own law?  Yet we see that He did before Abraham: “The Eternal appeared to him…as he was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day…he saw that three ‘men’ were standing over him” (Genesis 18:1-2)!

So did God begin Sedra Bechukotai: “If you walk according to My statutes and keep My commandments…” (Leviticus 26:3), the statutes and commandments that I, Myself, observe, such as rising before the hoary head, showing respect for the aged!

Talmud Taanit 22a-22b
Risk of Interpretation

“I will provide peace in the Land,
and you will lie down to sleep without fear.
I will remove wild beasts from the Land,
and the sword will not pass through your Land.”
(Leviticus 26:6)


For these dangers we fast and sound the shofar as an alarm in every place:…for wild beasts and for the sword we fast and sound the shofar because these dangers can spread throughout the Land.


Our Rabbis taught: Since the “sword” that is not of peace seems obvious as a reason for fasting and alarm, the “sword” in our Mishnah must refer to even the “sword” that is of peace.  Similarly did King Josiah interpret the divine promise, “…and the sword will not pass through your Land” (Leviticus 26:6b) to refer even to the “sword” that is of peace since the Eternal had already promised at the beginning of the verse, “I will provide peace in the Land…” (ibid. 6a) referring to the cessation of the sword of war!

What was the occasion of King Josiah’s interpretation?  When Necho king of Egypt went through the Land to war against Carchemish on the Euphrates, Josiah went out against him—even  though Pharaoh Necho sent word to him, “I am not coming against you, O king of Judah, but against the House with which I am at war” (II Chronicles 35:21; cf. II Kings 23:29)!  He added, “God [Elohim] is with me” (ibid.)!  What did he mean by “God [Elohim]?”  Said Rav Judah said Rav: He meant, “Idols [elohim] are with me,” so Josiah thought: Since Necho trusts in idols, I can triumph over him!  But Necho slew Josiah at Megiddo (II Kings 23:29 and II Chronicles 35:22-24).

Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani said that Rabbi Yonatan explained why Josiah was punished with fatal defeat: He relied solely upon his interpretation of, “…and the sword (that is of peace, i.e. Necho) will not pass through your Land” (Leviticus 26:6b), without consulting with Jeremiah, who would have advised him that Josiah’s generation did not appear worthy in God’s eyes and therefore Josiah did not enjoy the protection of the divine promise.

As Josiah lay dying, Jeremiah saw that his lips were moving.  Thinking that, in his pain, Heaven forfend, he was saying something inappropriate, he bent down to him and actually heard him justifying God’s decree against himself: “The Eternal is just, as I rebelled against His word; hear, all peoples, and behold my pain…” (Lamentations 1:18)!  The Prophet was then heard to say, “Our very breath, anointed of the Eternal, captured in their pits, of whom we say: May we live among the nations under his protection” (ibid. 4:20)—interpreting this difficult apparent reference to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (cf. II Kings 25:1ff. and Jeremiah 52:1ff.), as referring instead to the earlier, righteous Josiah (cf. II Kings 22:2; 23:25), who was at the end of his time duly lamented by the Prophet himself (II Chronicles 35:25)!

Leviticus Rabbah 36:2
Constant Covenant

“I remember My covenant with Jacob…”
(Leviticus 26:42)

This is what is meant:

“Transport a vine out of Egypt,
drive out nations and plant it,
clear a place before it:
its roots are established,
and it fills the Land!”
(Psalms 80:9-10)

Just as we refrain from planting a vine in a place full of big rocks, but we check under it first and then plant it, so it is with Israel: “Drive out nations and then plant it!”

Just as with a vine, the more you clear out the better, so with Israel you clear away every foreign king, “Clear a place before it,” and then: “Its roots are established, and it fills the Land!”

“The Children of Israel shall encamp,
each person by his flag,
under the banners of their fathers’ houses…”
(Numbers 2:2a)

Just as the vines are not planted irregularly but in neat rows, so did Israel encamp in the wilderness in orderly rows marked off by their flags.

“The hills are covered with the vine’s shade,
and the mighty cedars, with its boughs.”
(Psalms 80:11)

Just as the vine is the lowliest of all the trees and in the end rules over them, so does Israel appear to be low in this world yet in the future it will inherit from one end of the earth to the other.

Just as the vine puts forth a twig which then succeeds in conquering many trees, so does a single righteous person emerge from Israel and rule over the world from one end to another:

“Joseph was the ruler over the land…”
(Genesis 42:6)

“The Eternal was with Joshua,
and his fame was in all of the land.”
(Joshua 6:27)

“David’s name went out in all lands,
and the Eternal put fear of him
over all of the nations.”
(I Chronicles 14:17)

“Solomon was ruler over all of the kingdoms
from the river of the land of the Philistines
to the border of Egypt;
they presented him with gifts
and served Solomon
all the days of his life.”
(I Kings 5:1)

“Mordechai was great in the royal palace,
and his fame extended throughout all of the countries,
as the man Mordechai was growing more powerful!”
(Esther 9:4)

Just as the leaves of the vine offer protective covering for the clusters of grapes, so with Israel the merchants cover the expenses of the Torah scholars.

Just as there are larger and smaller clusters of grapes on the vine but the larger may seem smaller compared to others, so in Israel whoever labors in Torah and is greater in Torah than his fellow will actually seem humbler than his fellow.

Just as the vine is subject to three different possible blessings, depending on whether the grape is used when it is half-ripe, ripe, or made into wine, so do Israel receive the threefold (Priestly) benediction every day (cf. Numbers 6:22-27).

Just as the fruit of the vine may be grapes or may be raisins, so there are in Israel Bible scholars, Mishnah scholars, Talmud scholars, and Aggadah scholars.

Just as the vine may produce wine or it may produce vinegar, each requiring a different blessing, so also is Israel required to say a blessing for the good and to say a blessing for the bad.

Just as one who enjoys good wine is cheered therefrom but one who does not will lose his teeth, so does one benefit or suffer depending on whether he joins with Israel or joins forces against them.

Just as the grapes of the vine are at first stamped upon underfoot but then ascend to the table of kings, thus is Israel despised in this world, as is written: “I have become a laughingstock to all peoples, the object of their rap all day long” (Lamentations 3:14).  But in the future: “The Eternal your God will place you high above all the nations of the world” (Deuteronomy 28:1)! and “Kings shall be your caregivers, and their queens your nurses” (Isaiah 49:23)!

Just as the vine leans upon dry wood yet the vine itself is moist, so it is with Israel: They lean upon the merit of their fathers even though their fathers are asleep, and that is what is written: “I remember My covenant with Jacob…” (Leviticus 26:42)!

Yerushalmi Challah 1:5
Mitzvah Resting on Transgression

“These are the commandments
which the Eternal commanded Moses
for the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai.”
(Leviticus 27:34)

Why does the Torah reiterate these words (cf. Leviticus 26:46)?

It is taught in a baraitha: It is forbidden to recite the benediction for eating matzah (at the Seder of Pesach) over a stolen matzah.

Rabbi Hoshaya taught that this prohibition is reflected in the verse, “A wicked person boasts of his own lusts, and in being greedy [botseah] curses [bayraych] and condemns the Eternal” (Psalms 10:3), the last half of which (ibid. 3b) he interprets: “…and (the wicked person, viz. the thief) breaks [botseah] the matzah and blesses [bayraych] it (to eat it), thereby condemning the Eternal!”

Said Rabbi Yona: That which you are teaching applies when he has not formally acquired the matzah which he stole.

But then, the question must be asked, suppose the original owner has given up possession whereby the erstwhile thief is then the new owner (owing the matzah’s value)?

Rabbi Yona said: That which is acquired through transgression (e.g. theft) cannot be used to fulfill a mitzvah!

Rabbi Yosi said: A transgression does not impair the benediction to be recited over a mitzvah!

Rabbi Hila interpreted the reiteration of the verse, “These are the commandments…” (Leviticus 27:34): “These are the commandments” if you do them in accordance with laws that apply to them; otherwise they are not commandments (such as when the object of commandment comes into your possession by means of a transgression)!

Yalkut Shimoni Jeremiah 296

What is my strength?

“O Eternal,
my Stronghold, my Refuge…”
(Jeremiah 16:19)

“My Stronghold” is simply “my Strength,”
but this is how David means it:

“The Eternal is my Strength and my Shield:
by trusting in Him, I am helped!”
(Psalms 28:7)

He could also mean:
While He helps and supports all the inhabitants of the earth,
He helps and supports me the most!

Yet another possible meaning:

“My strength” as He has given me the Torah,
as was said,
“The Eternal gives ‘strength’ to His people!”
(Psalms 29:11)

and as was also said,
“The Eternal will give ‘strength’ to His king,”
(I Samuel 2:10)
strength’ for the king who loves justice!”
(Psalms 99:4)


“My stronghold” simply means “kingship,”
as was said,
“The king rejoices in Your strength” (Psalms 21:2),
which we interpret:
“The king rejoices in Your grant of kingship!”

Love Not at First Sight

“The sin of Judah is inscribed with an iron pen…on the tablet of their heart…;
as they consider their children, so do they, their idolatrous altars!”
(Jeremiah 17:1-2)

Said Rabbi Judah said Rav: Israel knew full well that there was no truth in the worship of idols, but they engaged in it only to allow themselves licentious behavior in public.  To that opinion Rav Mesharshia objected with the Prophet’s words, “As they considered their children, so did they, their idolatrous altars,” as Rabbi Eliezer explained: They were as attached to their altars as a man’s love for his child evolves.  Their emotional attachment to idolatry developed only after they became accustomed to their practice of idolatry, but when they first began, they did not yet believe in the truth of idolatry.

“Cursed is the man
who trusts in Man
and depends upon flesh
instead of the Eternal.
He shall not see when good comes
as he shall inhabit
the most parched of places
(Jeremiah 17:6)

The Blessings of Abraham

“Blessed is the man
who trusts in the Eternal,
whose confidence shall be
as a tree planted by the waters,
whose roots are amply nourished,
notwithstanding the heat,
to make its leaves verdant,
immune to drought,
and its fruit abundant.”
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

The Prophet speaks here of Abraham, not “planted” but “transplanted by the waters” (ibid. 8), as he was uprooted from the worship of idols and then adjoined to the Holy One, blessed be He, and “waters” must refer to the Holy One, blessed be He, as the Prophet inveighed, “They have forsaken Me, the Source of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13)!

By a stream [al yuval] He sends forth His roots [yeshalach sharashav]…”
(Jeremiah 17:8)

For those who are destined to be sent [al yuval] to Gehenna, He changes their destination and sends forth His roots [yeshalach sharashav] to bring them near to fear of Him, as is described in the Torah: “Abraham and Sarah preserved souls in Charan” (Genesis 12:5).

“…not seeing when heat comes…”
(Jeremiah 17:8)

Abraham “would not see” visitors “because the heat would come” (ibid.): When he was recovering from his circumcision, the Holy One, blessed be He, made the day especially hot so that travelers would not come out as usual.  Why?  To spare Abraham from rising and showing his usual hospitality, while he was still in pain, as was said, “Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent as the day grew hot” (Genesis 18:1)!

“…to make his leaves verdant…”
(Jeremiah 17:8)

Abraham’s leaf was verdant” (ibid.): Even the “leaves” that fell away from him were “verdant,” referring to Ishmael, about whom God promised Abraham, “I shall make a nation of the son of the maidservant” (Genesis 21:13)!

“…and in a year of drought
he will not worry…”
(Jeremiah 17:8)

“In a year of drought Abraham would not need to worry” (ibid.): Even though “there was a famine in the land” (Genesis 12:10), which impelled Abram to go down to Egypt, “Abram fared well there because of Sarai” (Genesis 12:16)!

“…and will not cease
producing fruit.”
(Jeremiah 17:8)

Abraham would not stop producing fruit” (ibid.): In his old age he begat children, as was said, “Then again Abraham took a wife, whose name was Keturah, and she bore to him…” (Genesis 25:1)!

The Discerner

“The heart deceitful and weak
is the object of My examination…”
(Jeremiah 17:9-10)


“I, the Eternal, search the heart, examine the kidneys…” (ibid. 10)

Why does He mention the heart and the kidneys over the other bodily organs?

Because the eyes and the ears follow after the heart, as do the other organs of the body, and since even the kidneys (seat of conscience) advise in accordance with the heart, the heart has the final say.

Thus did David advise his son:

“And you, O Solomon my son,
know the God of your father…
for He searches all of the hearts…
(I Chronicles 28:9)

“All of the hearts [plural]” of a man: The two hearts of a person are the impulse for good and the impulse for evil, and God knows both of them.  It may be likened to an architect who designs a structure containing countless spaces, passages and chambers.  The time arrives for him to collect what the inhabitants owe him, but the debtors hide from him in the various rooms and spaces, expecting to elude their creditor.  “Fools!” he cries out to them, “Why are you trying to hide?  Don’t you realize it is I who built this mansion?  It is I who built its various spaces, passages and chambers, where you are trying to hide from me!”  Thus said the Prophet:

“Woe unto those who dig deeply from the Eternal,
seeking to hide their schemes
and hatch their plans in the dark!
They would think:
Who sees us?  Who knows us?
It is quite the opposite:
Shall the potter be thought of as the clay?
That what is made should say of its maker: he did not make me?
Or that the impulse for evil [yetzer] should say of its Creator [Yotzer]:
He cannot discern!”
(Isaiah 29:15-16)

Avot of Rabbi Nathan 16:2
The Senior Inclination

“The inclination of a man’s heart
is evil from his youth.”
(Genesis 8:21)

The evil inclination is thirteen years older than the good inclination.  It begins in the womb of its mother and becomes a natural part of a child’s outlook, so that if he starts to violate the Sabbath or commit a sexual indecency or even murder, there is nothing native within him to protest.  But after thirteen years, the good inclination is born, so that if he should violate the Sabbath, it speaks to him: Fool, He said, “Whoever profanes it shall be put to death” (Exodus 31:14)!  Or if he is about to commit a sexual crime, it protests: Fool, He said, “The adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10)!  And if he should be ready to commit murder, it would similarly intervene: Fool, He said, “Whosoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6)!

When a person is moved to act immorally, all of his faculties cooperate and participate in the offense because the evil inclination, like an active, experienced king, rules over all 248 parts of a man.  But different is the good inclination, which may be likened to an impaired king who has been held in prison and is “now just emerging to rule” (Ecclesiastes 4:14), having much to learn in opposing the evil inclination.

“Sin crouches at the door.”
(Genesis 4:7)

Said Rabbi Reuben ben Astroboli:  Sin waits at the door of the human will!  When an infant is yet in its cradle, the evil impulse tells him that a man wants to kill him, so that the infant pulls at the man’s hair to defend itself.  When the infant in its cradle places its hand on a snake or on a scorpion so that it is stung, it is only the evil impulse within him that caused him that injury—and so it is if the infant were to place its hand on glowing coals and be burned as a result.  But in contrast to the human infant, consider a lamb or a kid: When it sees an open well that it might fall into, it steps back out of natural caution, because there is no evil inclination in an animal.

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar taught: There is but one antidote for the evil inclination within us, and that is in the study of Torah.

Sefer Hachinuch 16 (13th cent., Spain):  No matter how captive one may be to the evil inclination, if his spirit is willing to engage repeatedly in Torah and Mitzvot, even mechanically and not for the sake of Heaven, he will be moved, however gradually, to the side of good, and out of the habit of behaving correctly even not for the sake of Heaven, his attitude will be converted to behaving for the sake of Heaven.  By the power of his repeated actions he will defeat the evil inclination, for our hearts are influenced by our own actions!


Copyright © 2023 Eric H. Hoffman

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