Weekly Reading Insights: Behar 5784



Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Behar - 17 Iyar 5784 / May 25

Torah: Leviticus 25:1-26:2 ; Haftorah: Jeremiah 32:6-27 (redemption of hereditary land by relatives, as in 25:25)

Pirkei Avot: Chapter Four

Behar is the 8th Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and it contains 2817 letters, in 737 words, in 57 verses

Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2) begins with laws concerning the sabbatical and jubilee years. These include the laws concerning the redemption of fields and houses. These are followed by the laws enjoining us to help fellow Jews and forbidding us to charge interest. Behar concludes with the mitzvot regarding Jewish and non-Jewish servants.

An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

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At the beginning of the Torah portion we read this week, Behar, the Torah teaches us that "When you come to the Land, you should make a Shabbat, a resting for the land; a Shabbat, a resting for G-d" (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:2).

This is the commandment of Shemitah (Sabbatical year) as explained in the following verses, "Six years you should plant your fields and the seventh year should be a resting for the land" (ibid. 25:3-4).

The Torah is from G-d. The words chosen and their order is all from G-d, meticulously recorded by Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher). For 3335 years we have protected that text, as befits handling something so precious, unique and Divinely given only to us.

The order of the words in our verse beg an immediate question. It appears that the Torah is telling us, as soon as you come to the land, you have an obligation to make a Shabbat for the land, meaning to immediately stop working it. In fact, that is not the case. You first need six years of working the land once you have settled there and only afterwards comes the Shemitah, the year of resting.

This is how it was historically. First there were twenty-four years spent conquering the land and then dividing it among the tribes. Only then followed six years of planting and harvesting. After this thirty years came the first Shemitah.

What is the message? The Torah wants to tell us the purpose and goal of all the work of those six years. A person might think that main thing is to work for six years. Transforming the earth into something usable, something with which to sanctify G-d. And that the time of rest for the land is something else, something separate. The Torah is teaching us that the entire purpose of all the plowing, planting and harvesting is for one thing only, that the land should rest, a rest for G-d.

True, the order is six years of work and only afterwards comes Shemitah, Shabbat for the land. But the Torah (the word Torah actually means "teaching") is demanding that we be constantly conscious that Shemitah is the goal.

In simple terms we have to remember that all of the physical work for six years is to bring us to the seventh, a year of holiness and spirituality. This is the reason G-d gave us the land of Israel, so that we should imbue holiness (the Shemitah Shabbat) into our lives of action (the previous six years).

On a deeper level, Jewish tradition teaches that this world is a combination of six thousand years of action and the seventh millennium, which will be 1000 years of the Era of Mashiach, peace and rest.

The Torah is teaching us, "When you come to the land…", when a person's soul descends to this lowest plane, this physical world where we have to work for six thousand years, we have to remember that the goal and purpose is the resting of the land, a resting for G-d, to reach the seventh millennium, the period of Shabbat for all of existence.

This is something that must be ingrained in each of us, that the whole purpose of all the work and travail and effort is to prepare the world for its Divine destination, that the world should be a dwelling place for the Almighty. This is what will happen in the seventh millennium.

This same applies not just for the span of the world, it also applies every single day. Most of our routine life is involved in mundane activities, various physical needs. However, we have to remember that life has a higher purpose - the holiness of "Shabbat". These are the hours of Torah study and prayer and mitzvah observance. This is the Shabbat of each day, the goal and purpose of all our material activities.

This recognition transforms a Jewish person's day, changing the way we view all our actions. If it does not bring me to a higher level of holiness, maybe I do not need to do it. This is emphasized in the very first instruction of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch). When a Jew wakes up, it is incumbent on us to remember before Whom we are waking up. We express this by saying, Modeh ani lefanecha - I acknowledge before You, G-d, that this is the sole purpose of my life. To serve You and bring You into the world of action.

Rabbi Hilel of Paritch said in the name of the Alter Rebbe, Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi [1], that for tzadikim of the elevated spiritual level of Reb Shimon bar Yochai [also known as "Rashbi", whose yahrzeit falls this coming Sunday, Lag BaOmer], it was as if the holy Temple in Jerusalem had never been destroyed.

Concerning the level of the secrets of the Torah, its most inner essential level, the Temple's destruction, a physical occurrence, has no bearing.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained the power of Rashbi. The Zohar [2] teaches that rains would fall due to the merit of [his] saying Torah learning alone, rather than through prayer, as in the case of Choni "HaMa'agel" (the Circle-Drawer [3]). Why this difference? Prayer is connected to speech, worldly actions - Choni's prayers asking for rain. Not so with Rashbi. He was unconnected to the physical world, as we see in the Talmud that he said, "A person can plow… and sow … and what will become of the Torah [who will learn Torah?]" (Brachot 35). Rather, he was informed that there was a material world and that this world needed rain. His solution was to say Torah, something higher than the material world. Through this he activated a Divine flow from the highest realms above that reached into the physical material world.

Since Rashbi's main Torah involvement was with the inner dimension of Torah, revealed by him in the Zohar, which is completely good and unsullied, referred to as the "Tree of Life" and not the "Tree of Good and Evil", we can easily understand that the secrets of the Torah have no commonality with the Temple's destruction, as it is with Rashbi himself.

He lived as if the Destruction had never happened, in a totally Torah existence, a "Shabbat" - Torah being on a spiritual level above physicality. So his Torah learning was able to bring rains and affect the world without him having to speak in prayer.

[Adapted from Shulchan Shabbat. Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Likkutei Sichot("Collected Talks"). Parshat Shemini. 1950]

Shabbat Shalom , Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more, click to Behar
one sample:

Contemporary Kabbalists

Three Levels of Shabbat
By Rabbi Avraham Brandwein

There are three levels of this ascent of the worlds. First is the Shabbat after six weekdays, when every person receives an additional soul. Second is the Shabbat of the Seventh Year, where the land, corresponding to the sefira of malchut, ascends a level. Third is the Shabbat of Yovel; the worlds from the sefira of malchut ascend to the sefira of bina, also called the World of Freedom.


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