14-20 Iyar 5779


BEHAR: The Thirty-second Sedra of the Torah
Leviticus 25:1-26:2

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 upon 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.


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: 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 for the Land.  But you may use the Sabbath of the Land 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—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 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 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 am the Eternal.



Haftarah for Shabbat Behar
Jeremiah 32:6-27

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 repay 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,
the Chaldeans,
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?



Leviticus Rabbah 33:1

The Eternal charged Moses on Mount Sinai to teach the Children of Israel: In the buying and selling of property…”do not wrong one another!” (Leviticus 25:14)  While the warning against wronging one another might seem obviously appropriate in the context of market transactions, some of the Rabbis associated the “wrong” with another 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 35:4

“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 two verses:

“When the poor man and the oppressor 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 “poor man” to be poor in Torah and the “oppressor” to be one who knows one or two simple books of the Mishnah.  The “poor man” asks the “oppressor” to teach him a chapter of Mishnah, and he does.  “The Eternal enlightens the eyes of them both”: they have acquired both this world and the world to come!

“The rich and the poor meet together”: “rich” in Torah and “poor” in Torah.  The man “poor” in Torah asks the man “rich” in Torah to teach him a chapter, but he does not.  Instead he says to him:  Why do I need to spend time teaching you one chapter or another?  Learn Bible and Mishnah with someone who is on your 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!

Or consider the “poor man” to be poor in material possessions and the “oppressor” to be one who has accumulated possessions through his activities.  The “poor man” asks the “oppressor” to do the mitzvah of giving him charity, and he does.  “The Eternal enlightens the eyes of them both”: this one has acquired a breath of earthly life, and that one has acquired eternal life in the world to come!

“The rich and the poor meet together”: “rich” in earthly possessions and “poor” in earthly possessions.  The man “poor” in earthly possessions asks the man “rich” in earthly possessions to do the mitzvah of giving him charity, and he does not.  “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 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” (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 Rabbah 35:7

Even incidental remarks of the children of the Land of Israel can be Torah.  How so?  One man says to another, “Do the mitzvah of giving me charity.”  In that, 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!”  For Rabbi Haggai in the name of Rabbi Isaac cited the verse, “Riches perish through some misfortune, and if he has begotten a son, he will have nothing!” (Ecclesiastes 5:13)


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