Torah Portion Summary
From Torah Sparks by Rabbi Joyce Newmark,
a product of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Parashat Behar begins with an extended discussion of the sabbatical year, the last in an ongoing seven-year cycle. During the seventh year – similar to the weekly Sabbath on the seventh day – the land is given a “rest” – it is not sown or planted, reaped or pruned. What grows naturally is permissible for use.
After seven such seven-year cycles, the fiftieth year is observed as a jubilee. In addition to observing the restrictions associated with the sabbatical year, the jubilee also is marked by restoration of property to its original owners and by the manumission of Hebrew slaves who have not yet been redeemed from servitude.
Sellers and buyers alike are told to be scrupulously fair in real estate transactions, accurately adjusting costs and values as they draw closer to the jubilee.
Parashat Behar’s most famous verse – “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus. 25:1), the inscription on the Liberty Bell, refers to the jubilee year. Reflecting the spirit of our Torah reading, the bell was cast in 1751 not just as a celebration of colonial hopes for independence but as an expression
of a jubilee observance. 1751 marked the fiftieth anniversary of William Penn’s “Charter of Privileges” – an important early American statement of religious liberty. The famous bell actually was not called the “Liberty Bell” until 1839; the name was inspired by the poem “Liberator” by the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
Another interesting connection between the Liberty Bell and the Israelite jubilee is the fact that under the threat of British occupation in 1777, the bell was hidden in the aptly named Zion Reform Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The mandate for economic justice and fair business practices associated with the sabbatical and jubilee years is extended to everyday treatment of people in financial straits. It is forbidden to charge advance or accrued interest on loans, and is an indigent Israelite should enter into servitude, he must not be subjected to harsh or demeaning labor. Such indentures are dissolved at the onset of the jubilee.
Behar concludes with a stern restatement of the prohibition against idolatry and a renewed prescription to “keep My Sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary.”
Parashat Bechukotai presents a series of blessings that God will bestow upon the people Israel if they obey His commandments and comply with the covenant.
In contrast, a much lengthier catalogue of curses and harsh consequences is invoked as the punishments if the Israelites neglect God’s law.
God’s loyal devotion to the covenant, however, is unflagging. God assures the Israelites that even when they are exiled to the land of their enemies, even when Israel as a nation fails in its covenantal duties and “forgets” God, God never will forget Israel or abandon it to destruction. God will continue to support and to shield Israel out of fifidelity to the divine “covenant with the ancients” – referring either to the patriarchs or to the tribes of Israel that gathered at Sinai – or to
God’s promise to safeguard Israel in perpetuity has inspired a number of writers, among them Leo Nicholaivitch Tolstoy: “The Jew is the emblem of eternity. He who neither slaughter nor torture of thousands of years could destroy, he who neither fire, nor sword, nor Inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth.
He who was the first to produce the Oracles of God. He who has been for so long the Guardian of Prophecy and has transmitted it to the rest of the world. Such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as Eternity itself.”
Parashat Bechukotai continues with the valuation of possessions and livestock, so that payment can be made properly and vows can be fulfilled correctly in support of the sanctuary; it describes the procedure for redemption of property and tithes consecrated to the sanctuary and the limitations placed on the redemption process.
With the conclusion of Parashat Bechukotai, the Book of Leviticus also draws to a close. The divine authority for the sacrificial cult, the fundamentals of significant areas of Jewish ritual practice, and – more specifically – the laws prescribed in the closing chapters of Leviticus, is explicitly restated in the final verse:
“These are the commandments that the Lord gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai.”
May 7 - 8
26 Iyar 5781
Shabbat Begins (Candles) – 7:13 p.m. Friday
Shabbat Ends (Havdalah) – 8:13 p.m. Saturday
Lev: 25:1—27:34 (Etz Hayim p. 738)
Triennial (2nd Cycle)
Leviticus25:39 — 26:46 (Etz Hayim p. 744)
1) Leviticus 25:39 — 43 (Etz Hayim p. 744)
2) Leviticus 25:44— 46 (Etz Hayim p. 744)
3) Leviticus 25:47 — 54 (Etz Hayim p. 744)
4) Leviticus 25:55 — 26:2 (Etz Hayim p. 745)
5) Leviticus 26:3 — 5 (Etz Hayim p. 747)
6) Leviticus 26:6 — 9 (Etz Hayim p. 748)
7) Leviticus 26:10 — 46 (Etz Hayim p. 748)
Leviticus 26:44 — 46 (Etz Hayim p. 752)
Jeremiah 16:19—17:14 (Etz Hayim p. 762)