Weekly Reading Insights

Behar 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Behar
To be read on 15 Iyar 5763 (May 17)

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

Pirkei Avot - Chapter Four

Stats: Behar, 9th Reading out of 10 in Leviticus and 32nd overall, contains 7 positive mitzvot and 17 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 99 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 50th out of 54 in overall length.

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.


"For the children of Israel are servants to Me." (25:55)

The Jewish people are sometimes referred to as G-d's servants and sometimes as His children. As far as the Jewish body is concerned we are His servants, unconditionally accepting the yoke of heaven to carry out His will. As concerns the soul, however, every Jew is a child of G-d, for the soul serves G-d with love as a child serves his father.

(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntresim)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

Rashi explains that one must not sell one's land in Eretz Yisroel unless one has absolutely no other choice. If one sells for, say, speculative reasons, one may find oneself impoverished.

* * *
This rule of owning Gentile slaves (as opposed to Jewish servants), is rooted in the status of Canaan as a slave since the days of Noach. The status was conferred upon Canaan in retribution for his having uncovered the nakedness of Noah, his grandfather. The curse is connected with the original pollutant introduced into Eve by the serpent having conjoined with her.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:32-63 Behar)

"And G-d spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai". (Lev. 25:1)
What does this teach us regarding our service to G-d? The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that in all aspects of Judaism, one is required to stand firm like a mountain that can not be moved from its place, unaffected by all the surrounding difficulties. This is akin to the statement by Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch: "Never did the soul go into exile".

There is a part of us that never was and never will be truly affected by this world. Furthermore, the Talmud says (Shavuot 47), "The servant of a king is himself a king". Every Jew is a servant of G-d. It is therefore forbidden to relinquish our own honor - not because we are concerned with our own prestige, but rather because we are responsible for the honor of the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Our weekly Torah portion discusses the laws of shemita, of "release". Just as we keep a weekly day of Shabbat, so too, once in seven years there is a Sabbatical year for the Land, called shemita, when it is released from activity. Rashi asks why is shemita the first commandment discussed after the words "…at Mount Sinai"? He answers that this is to tell us that just as the details of the mitzva of shemita, which are written here, were given completely at Mt. Sinai, so too the details of all the laws of the Torah, even if not written, were given completely there.

Rabbi Eliezer Lipman, in the book Otzar Maimarim, comments on the 32nd chapter of Tanya, where the concept of loving your neighbor is discussed.

The Tanya explains that the key to fulfilling the whole Torah is by elevating the soul over the body. Loving others and loving G-d is only possible when we disregard the false divisions created by our worldly consciousness and focus on the true spiritual unity of our souls. Those who make their body primary and their souls secondary are incapable of truly loving. Rabbi Lipman explains that from this lesson we learn that it is impossible to truly fulfill any mitzva unless one has first attained the level of "loving your neighbor". Without loving others, we cannot truly love G-d, the basic requirement for doing all of the commandments.
This is the message of Rashi's first commentary on Behar: As the laws of shemita were given completely at Mt.Sinai, so too all of the laws of the Torah were given completely there. The only way to do any mitzva is "from Sinai". When the Jews gathered at Sinai, they had attained true unity, real love for each other. So too in our generation, if we begin by loving our fellows, we are then capable of loving G-d, and then any commandment is easy.

The Torah predicts the Jews' reaction to the shemita year: "What will we eat in the 7th year?" G-d answers that He blesses the produce of the 6th year to be threefold (one for the 6th year, one for the shemita year, and one for the 8th year when the farmers await the produce to grow and become edible). Yet why would there be a doubt as to G-d's blessing; didn't it happen just a few years before, too?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that any farmer knows that with each passing season, a field becomes less fertile. By the 6th year, the land should be "maxed-out"! What are the chances of that same field producing its normal yield, let alone three times as much?

Obviously, such a feat is only miraculous, surpassing any natural, logical explanation. When something defies our logic, we are left asking, "What will we eat…?" Shemita laws teach us to let go of our logic and personal expectations, and rely on G-d and His commandments. We nullify ourselves before Him. Nevertheless, one's sense of self cannot be totally nullified.

Therefore, each time shemita approaches, the doubt rises anew. So too, in our lives when we repeatedly hesitate or react in a certain way to a challenge, this does not mean we have not made any progress. It just means that we should persist and keep moving ahead!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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