Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.


In this double-parshah we conclude Leviticus. Behar considers the long cycles of seven and fifty years that return the land to the original owners, relieve any debts and every fifty years free slaves. The key idea in Behar is that we don’t own the land — God owns the land.


That idea is continued in Bechukotai — our residence in the land is contingent on our relationship with God.


The very last section of Leviticus returns to the beginning — rules concerning offerings.


Vayikra 25:23

But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.

For Thursday


The Talmud is concerned with the legal and practical implications of the Jubilee year.


Bava Metzia 109a:6

The Gemara asks: But still, this is difficult; does the Jubilee Year release the term of a contractor? The Merciful One states: “Permanently” (Leviticus 25:23), which indicates that only land that was permanently sold returns to its owner, whereas land that was rented does not revert to the owner at the Jubilee Year. Rather, say that the baraita reads as follows: In the case of one who purchases a field from another and the Jubilee Year arrives, the court appraises it for him.

The Sages allow the land to be rented past fifty years.


Gittin 47a:8

GEMARA: Rabba says: Even though a gentile has no capability of acquisition of land in Eretz Yisrael to cause the abrogation of the sanctity of the land, thereby removing it from the obligation to tithe its produce, as it is stated: “For the land is Mine” (Leviticus 25:23), which teaches: The sanctity of the land is Mine, and it is not abrogated when the land is sold to a gentile; a gentile does have, however, the capability of acquisition of land in Eretz Yisrael to allow him to dig pits, ditches, and caves in the land he has purchased, as it is stated: “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but the earth has He given to the children of men” (Psalms 115:16).


The land can be rented to anyone, and it can be used in any fashion as long as the tithe to the Temple is continued.


Thoughts about the justification?

For Saturday


Moshe of Sudylkov, 18th century, Ukraine

Now it is well-known that the Holy One is like a resident alien in this world, for God has no one upon whom to let the Divine Presence rest for “they are few.” This is why King David prayed, “I am a resident alien on earth” — that is, I also want to be a foreigner in this world, and I am only a resident in this world. Therefore, “do not hide Your commandments from me”: as resident aliens pour out their hearts to each other. And this is the allegorical interpretation of the verse “You are foreigners and resident aliens with Me.” When you are in the category of a resident alien in this world and a foreigner in the world to come, then you are “with Me,” for I am also a resident alien in this world, as mentioned above, and then I will obviously not hide My commandments from you, as implied above. Understand this well.


The remarkable idea is that God is a stranger in this world. If we, too, view ourselves as strangers in this world, we find our ability to connect with God is easier.


What do you this means? What does it mean to be a stranger in the world, only a temporary resident?


There is certainly a sense of this that our time in this world is limited — we are only temporary residents in our physical lives.


Vayikra 26:3 (Robert Alter, trans.)

If you go by My statutes and keep My commandments and do them …


For Saturday


Zohar III, 113a

What does “and shall do them” mean, since it [the verse] already says “you shall walk … and shall keep”? Why [does it say] “and shall do them” [as well]? Whoever does the commandments of the Torah and walks in God’s way is, as it were, as if they made God above. Said the Holy One: “As if they had made Me.”

God is only alive in our world, so to speak, if we actually live according to the Torah.


Vayikra 27:9-10,32-33

If [the vow concerns] any animal that may be brought as an offering to the LORD, any such that may be given to the LORD shall be holy. One may not exchange or substitute another for it, either good for bad, or bad for good; if one does substitute one animal of another, the thing vowed and its substitute shall both be holy.

All the tithes of the herd or flock — of all that passes under the shepherd’s staff, every tenth one — shall be holy to the LORD. He must not look out for good as against bad, or make substitution for it. If he does make substitution for it, then it and its substitute shall both be holy: it cannot be redeemed.


When you vow an animal as an offering or it is tithed as an offering you cannot substitute something to your preference. If you try, both animals are holy — belong to the God.


For Thursday


Mishnah Nazir 5:1

Beit Shammai say: Consecration that one performs in error nevertheless renders property consecrated,and Beit Hillel say it is not consecrated. How so; what is considered an act of erroneous consecration? If one said: A black bull that will emerge from my house first is consecrated, and a white bull emerged first, Beit Shammai say it is consecrated and Beit Hillel say it is not consecrated.


Mishnah Temurah 1:1

Everyone substitutes a non-sacred animal for a consecrated animal, both men and women. That is not to say that it is permitted for a person to effect substitution; rather, it means that if one substituted a non-sacred animal for a consecrated animal, the substitution takes effect, and the non-sacred animal becomes consecrated, and the consecrated animal remains sacred.

Rabbi Akiva said to him: But isn’t it already stated: “Then both it and its substitute shall be sacred” (Leviticus 27:10), which juxtaposes the consecration of the consecrated animal with that of its non-sacred substitute? Where is the consecrated animal imbued with sanctity? It is in the house of the owner. So too, the substitute animal is consecrated in the house of the owner.


For Saturday


Maggid of Mezritch, 18th century, Ukraine

This refers to the love of inferior things that fell downward through the mystery of the “breaking of the vessels” and that may rise upward. Then you may take that love to serve God. And this is the meaning of the verse “The shall [vehayah]” — this is a term for happiness – “it and its replacement shall be holy.”


The interpretation here is shifted — all of our offerings of love are holy, even if we are not capable of the highest spiritual service.