2001Behar begins with the laws of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, where the Jewish people are commanded not to plant their fields or tend to them in the seventh year. Every fiftieth year is the Yovel, the jubilee year, where agricultural activity is also prohibited.
These two commandments fall into one of the seven categories of evidence that God gave the Torah. If the idea is to give the land a rest, then do not plant one-seventh of the land each year. To command a society based on agriculture to completely stop cultivating for every seventh year, one has to be either crazy... or God.
Also included in this portion are: the ability to redeem land which was sold; to strengthen your fellow Jew when his/her economic means are lacking; not to lend money to your fellow Jew with interest; the laws of indentured servants. The portion ends with the admonition not to make idols, to observe the Shabbat and to revere the Sanctuary.The second portion for this week, Bechukotai, begins with the many blessings we will receive for keeping the commandments of the Torah. It also contains the Tochachah, words of rebuke, "If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments..." There are seven series of seven punishments each.
G-d does not punish for punishment's sake; He wants to get us to introspect, recognize our errors and correct our ways. G-d does not wish to destroy us or cancel His covenant with us. He wants us to know that there are consequences, positive and negative, for our every action. He also wants to get our attention so that we do not stray far away, assimilate and disappear as a nation. (see Leviticus 26:14 - 45 and Deuteronomy 28.)
When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall rest a Sabbath unto God (25:2)
Why should the land rest?
The Torah states, "You shall not hurt the feelings of one another, and you shall fear the Almighty" (Leviticus 25:17).There is a profound message in this verse. There are a number of approaches that Jews take to the observance of Mitzvot. One is the Jew who is careful about performing the commandments between people and God (ben adam le'makom) but who is not as careful with the commandments about how we are to treat each other and other people (ben adam Lechavero). This is clearly problematic.
Another approach is the one taken by those who are only concerned about the commandments between people and ignore the commandments between people and G-d. This is also problematic but the ramifications are less obvious. The mitzvot were given to us as part of a Covenant and therefore implies an obligation - an obligation not only towards G-d, but also towards others. We Jews do not give charity only because we "feel like doing so" - we do so because we are obliged (and to do it in a cheerful way!). Similarly in the compassionate and sensitive way we are required to relate to all humankind - it is not dependent on how we feel today but on the degree of commitment we make to the obligation the mitzvot place upon us.This is the implication of "fear(ing) the Almighty."
Prepared by Rabbi Ian J. Azizollahoff, Executive Director, Hillel at Baruch College.