Weekly Reading Insights

Behar-Behukotai 5762

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Behar/Bechukotai
To be read on the Shabbat of 22 Iyar, 5762 (May 4)

[for mystical and other insights for the Shavuot festival, go to holidays and kabbala.]

Torah: Lev.25:1-27:34
Haftorah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14 (rebukes, as in Behukotai)
Shabbat Mevorachim - Blessing the New Month
Pirkei Avot: Chapter Five

Stats: Behar contains 7 positive mitzvot and 17 prohibitive mitzvot. Among the Weekly Readings,
ranks 50 out of 54 in number of verses, 50 in number of words, and 50 in number of letters
Bechukotai contains 7 positive mitzvot and 5 prohibitive mitzvot. Among the Weekly Readings,
ranks 46 out of 54 in number of verses, 47 in number of words, and 47 in number of letters

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. Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) opens with a description of the physical rewards that we reap for fulfilling G-d's commandments. This is followed by an outline of the consequences resulting from disobeying G-d, and the eventual repentance and forgiveness that will come in the future. The last sections concern endowment valuations of people, animals, real estate, and crops to G-d (consecrating their monetary value to the sanctuary). With the conclusion of B'chukotai, we also complete the book of Vayikra (Leviticus)-and so upon the close of its reading in synagogue, we proclaim, "Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek!"

FROM THE CHASSIDIC REBBES (V:32.33-62/Behar/Bechukotai)


"You shall not deceive one another." (25:17)

Can a person really deceive another, especially in spiritual matters? Even if he succeeds in his deception, the victory is only temporary and the deceit is always eventually revealed. The only person, therefore, who has been effectively deceived is the deceiver himself. And is it so difficult to fool a fool?

(Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)

"Behar" -- literally, "on the mountain" -- is symbolic of growth, increase and ascending upward.
"Bechukotai" -- literally, "in My statutes" -- comes from the word meaning "engraving" or "carving," symbolic of permanence and regularity, things not subject to change.
The fact that these two Torah portions are read together teaches us the necessity of combining both these attributes: We must never become complacent about our religious observance and must always strive upward; at the same time, our spiritual growth must be constant and permanent.

(Likutei Sichos)


"If you walk in My statutes." (26:3)

The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must never become settled in his habits and fixed in his ways, for G-d's laws are meant to be "walked in." The service of G-d should never be static, but should lead us to higher and higher levels of sanctity.

(Keter Shem Tov)


FROM THE MASTERS OF KABBALAH (O:32.33-62/Behar/Bechukotai)

Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.


"You shall not give him your money upon interest;" [25:37]

Here the Torah explains what the words neshech umarbit (interest) are all about; they darken the divine light G-d provides.
The word "your money" refers to the material things man yearns for in this world believing them to be of real value though their value is totally illusory.
"You shall not give him your money upon interest": when man fulfills his animalistic instincts and thereby tries to gratify his spiritual needs his spirit is actually "bitten" - neshoch and the poison of sin is absorbed by that person's ruach. The Torah continues: "and you must not give him your food in return for increase." The Torah means that even your food, i.e. something that is certainly permissible for you to eat you must not consume to excess, i.e. marbit.
When a person follows the needs of his palate he gradually increases his appetite for more food than is needed to sustain him. This is turn also leads to the divine light G-d has granted us by means of our pure soul being gradually more and more "blacked out."
The stronger the physical in man the weaker his spiritual capacity. Encouraging the body to grow stronger through gratifying its appetites therefore is sinful. This is why Proverbs 13:25 teaches us "the righteous eats only to satisfy the needs of his life-force, nefesh."
Solomon says this to remind us that it is not our palate, which should dictate the quantity or quality of our food-intake. When the Torah continues Ani HaShem (verse 38) this means that although G-d has taken us out of Egypt in order to give us the land of Canaan, the purpose was not in order for the Jewish people to stuff themselves on the good fruit of the land but in order for Him to be our G-d, something that requires the land of Israel. Our sages in Torat Kohanim say that anyone who merely lives in the land of Israel is as if he had accepted for himself G-d's sovereignty.


"If you will despise My statutes, and if your heart will be disgusted of My laws so as not to do them…." [26:15

The verses under discussion may also be understood along the lines of the Zohar volume 1 page 100, that in order to achieve perfection in one's service of the Lord three ingredients have to be present, i.e. thought, speech, and deed.
By repeating the words "and if," the Torah alludes to all of these three factors.
The words "and if you will despise [not listen to]" refer to a flaw in one's speech when serving G-d; the words "not do" refer to a flaw in the deeds required when serving the Lord. The words "and if you will despise" refer to flaws in the thought processes which accompany one's service of G-d.
Inasmuch as one's thoughts are generated both in one's brain and in one's heart, the Torah employed the term timasu (you will despise) when speaking of thoughts originating in one's brain, whereas it used the term tig'al nafshechem (your heart will be disgusted) when referring to thoughts originating in one's heart.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter

(W:32.33-62/Behar/Bechukotai )

In a double Torah reading, the two parshiyot are joined at the 4th aliya, when verses are read from the end of the first parsha and beginning of the second, without a pause in-between. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this is also how we may view them: taking a message from each parsha individually, and from both of them combined.

First, Behar-"On the mountain" (25:1)-teaches us to transcend the travails of the world. Even though we are 'the least of the nations' (Deut. 7:7), the Torah elevates us, so we should not allow the world to affect us. Bechukotai opens with the verse, "If you will follow my laws" (26:3) and refers to all Torah commandments. Yet why does the Torah use the specific word chukim for laws, as opposed to the more general word mitzvot? Chukim refers to commandments that do not have apparent reasons, like keeping kosher, or not wearing wool and linen together. Just as we observe these commandments only because G-d commanded them, without comprehending their reason, so too we must observe all of the commandments-even the ones that are apparently rational-solely because G-d commanded them.

Now it would appear that these two ideas are contradictory. Behar connotes a strong sense of self, albeit in holiness, while Bechukotai connotes self-negation. The lesson, however, is that we require both realities. We need a strong self-image to engage the world. We must impose our reality on the world, and not let the world impose its reality on us. Secondly, we cannot deceive ourselves by believing that we have to understand each detail in Judaism before living according to Torah. Rather we should fulfill the commandments in a way of "do them first and then you will come to understand." Through perseverance, we will eventually attain the level where Behar is done in a way of Bechukotai, surmounting the world's challenges because G-d commanded it; and Bechukotai is performed in the way of Behar, performing all of G-d's commandments with vigor and confidence.

* * *

"If you follow my laws....I will give you rain at their correct time" (26:3-4). Why does the Torah emphasize these physical rewards; shouldn't it focus on spiritual rewards in the afterlife? Rebbe Michil of Zlotshuv is even more astounded. Why does G-d promise us anything at all? Are we not supposed to serve the Almighty without the expectation of receiving any reward (see Ethics of Our Fathers 1:3)? If this is the case, it does not matter what is promised! Any promise only confuses the situation. Isn't it preferable not to mention any rewards at all, and preclude the need for rabbinic warnings not to serve G?d with the intention of receiving a reward. Blessings will come on their own to those who deserve them.

Rebbe Michil answered that any person who serves G-d is most certainly blessed for his efforts with all manner of physical and spiritual blessings (as all the commandments are conduits for blessings). Nevertheless, this service has to be done sincerely for G-d's sake, with great love, awe and modesty-without even a trace of an ulterior motive, of 'serving the Master for the sake of receiving a reward'. If someone is prompted by the thought of gain, he will not be rewarded, because he is motiovated personal benefit. This is the meaning of the words, "If you will follow My laws and keep My commandments." If you serve G-d properly, as a result, there will be for you a sign, an indicator, viz., the rains will fall at the proper time and the earth will bear fruit. You will see that the blessings come as a result of executing the commandments properly, only for the sake of Heaven. As young lady attending one of my classes astutely commented, 'It is important to know that G-d is listening'.

* * *

Lag Ba'Omer, which we celebrated this past week, commemorates the cessation of the plague that wiped out Rabbi Akiva's students, who were punished for their lack of respect for their colleagues. Rebbe Shmuel Shmelke of Nicholsberg explained how to love a person who has done you harm. All of us are one integrated entity, because we are all small parts of the original soul of Adam, the first man. We can be compared to parts of a body. Sometimes a person may unintentionally hurt himself, by dropping something on his foot or by walking into a pole. If we would then take a stick and vengefully hit the offending part of the body, we would really be in pain. So it is with when someone else harms you. It is only because of a lack of understanding of how we are all connected. If we would pay him in kind, we are only doing ourselves more damage. Rather, we should remind ourselves that we deserved what we got, and the Almighty has many messengers. If this thought does not suffice, we should try meditating on the other person's soul, literally 'a portion of G-d from Above,' which has fallen so low, and we should have compassion for His holy spark.

Shabbat Shalom!

Redesign and implementation - By WEB-ACTION