Parashot Behar & Bechukotai – Erev Shabbat 15 May 2020
Week of 10-16 May 2020
Torah portion: Leviticus 25:1-27:34 Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14
Theme: Walking with God in the Land
Today’s Torah portions continue and conclude the “Holiness Code” as laid out in Lev 17-26, encompassing the two preceding Parashot. Both Parashot Behar and Bechukotai emphasize the strong covenantal relationship between the God of Israel, the people of Israel and the Land of Israel. The land is not just any land but the land God assigned to his people (25:2). This land is the reason why God has taken his people out of Egypt, out of a land of slavery, so that his people may serve their God in freedom (25:38). For this life in freedom, God’s people need an environment, a space where they can implement God’s commandments, in order to be true servants of their God. The God-given land functions as a witness and blueprint of whether the Israelites take God’s commandments seriously. A significant feature of this land is its personification: this land can become tired and requires rest (25:3; Etz Hayim, 738). Just as God rests on the Shabbat and commands his people to observe the Shabbat, the land also needs to rest every seventh year, in order to recuperate. In Parashat Kedoshim two weeks ago, the land was even portrayed as having a ‘stomach-ache’: when the people do not respect God’s commandments the land is described as “vomiting” them out as a consequence (Lev 20:22). The regulations laid out in Behar with regard to the Shmitta and the Jubilee Year have social implications and are given to protect God’s people from becoming slaves again in the land of freedom. God provides a restriction of power. Acquisition of wealth is allowed only to a certain point; then the possibility of redistribution of resources takes over. Thus, everybody, especially the less fortunate is given a new perspective after seven years and after seven times seven years.
In Parashat Bechukotai God confronts his people with a choice, either to follow his commandments or to reject them. The implications of a life with God will be directly manifested in the land: blessings in the form of rain in due season; a plentiful harvest; and secure living in the land. Moreover, as a culmination, God promises his people “to dwell” in their midst and even “to walk” with them – not as slaves, but as free people (26: 11-13). The use of the word “walk/halach” in the verb form Hitpael signifies a mutual action. Rashi, commenting on Lev 26:12 (Thorat Kohanim 26, 15/Aleph Beta) connects its meaning to Gen 3:8ff., where the verb is used in the same form. God “walks” in the Garden of Eden and asks Adam and Eve where they are hiding, since he wants to walk with them. In Genesis obviously something went wrong, thus God and his creatures were unable to continue to stroll together. Rashi further comments that this Parasha promises that when God’s people keep his commandments, a second chance is given. God will not only dwell in their midst but will take strolls with his people in complete unity and with no fear involved (Aleph Beta).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Does my environment reflect my walk with God? 2. Why not take a mutual Shabbat stroll with God in his magnificent nature?
Bibliography: Etz Hayim. Torah and Commentary (New York: 1999); Aleph Beta, Parashat Behar-Behukotai, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1FGPOv6_P4