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   by Jacob Solomon

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON PARASHAT BEHAR - BECHUKOTAI AND ITS COMMENTARIES - from 5766


QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT BEHAR

A. Referring to the text and commentaries indicated, give the reasons for the following:

1.The command of letting the farmland rest (Shemitta) every seven years (25:4) - according to the Chinuch.

2. The return of real estate to its original owner during the Jubilee year - (25:13) according to the simple explanation given by the Chinuch.

3. The prohibition of a person causing grief to another person (25:14) - according to Rashi.

4. The prohibition of a person causing grief to another person (25:17) - according to Rashi.

5. The differences between the rights of seller to buy back his real estate in an open city, on one hand, and in a walled city, on the other hand.

6. The need to help a person to avoid bankruptcy - according to Rashi.

7. The need for the prohibition for taking interest to be underlied with 'You shall fear your G-d' (25:36) - according to Rashi.

8. The prohibition of working an Israelite slave 'be-farech' ('with rigor' 25:46), according to (a) Rashi, and (b) the Chinuch.

B. Where, in this Parasha, may the following be learnt?

1. The legitimate rights of a Gentile are indeed enforced by Torah law.

2. Sin causes sin and misfortune, which in turn cause more sin and more misfortune.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT BEHAR

A 1. The command of letting the farmland rest (Shemitta) every seven years (25:4) - according to the Chinuch - is to remind people of their great dependence on the munificence of the Almighty even in so basic activities as food cultivation. Indeed, keeping this Mitzvah will be the source of even greater material blessing from G-d.

2. The return of real estate to its original owner during the Jubilee year - (25:13) - according to the simple explanation given by the Chinuch, is as follows. The Jubilee laws impress on people that land and freedom are Divine gifts, and that He has the will to determine who enjoys what. If people, by counting (25:8) the years to the Jubilee, realize that its restoring of former ownership comes from the Supreme Owner, they will be less likely to cheat and steal - as they see their possessions likewise as having their title granted by the Supreme Owner.

3. The prohibition of a person causing grief to another person (25:14), according to Rashi, applies in this instance to specifically business transactions - such as inducing a person to enter a deal which is clearly extortion.

4. The prohibition of a person causing grief to another person (25:17), according to Rashi, applies in this instance to hurtful words in personal relationships. It is forbidden to remind people of their earlier sins, embarrassing aspects of their past, or their ancestry. Money may be replaced, but shame lingers on…

5. The differences between the rights of seller to buy back his real estate in an open city, on one hand, and in a walled city, are as follows. In the open city, all real estate purchases are leasehold by definition - they revert to their owner in the Jubilee year, when all their leases expire. There is also the opportunity for the seller to buy back his property if his financial situation improves. That is to remind people that 'all property belongs to G-d' (c.f. 25:23) - He is the owner of the 'freehold', as it were. The Biblical exception is the sale of a house in a walled city - the seller has one year's grace to buy back his property, after which its title transfers to the seller as an absolute freehold.

6. The need to help a person to avoid bankruptcy - according to Rashi, is derived from 'When your brother becomes poor… you shall strengthen him' (25:35). Rashi illustrates this point with the load on the ass' back. It is much easier to 'strengthen' - adjust a load in danger of falling, than to let the whole thing smash to the ground and try to pick up the pieces. So the Torah implies that one must assist the person to avoid bankruptcy by helping him out with a loan (25:35-38).

7. The need for the prohibition for taking interest to be underlied with 'You shall fear your G-d' (25:36), according to Rashi, is for the following reason. Without this fear it would be difficult to restrain someone from taking interest, because it seems reasonable to receive something in return for the use of one's money. [However, in Halacha, loans may be converted into business partnerships with shares of profits and losses, by the 'Heter Iska'.]

8. The prohibition of working an Israelite slave 'be-farech' ('with rigor' - 25:46):

(a) According to Rashi, it means that he should not be assigned to degrading meanial, or useless labor - just to 'keep him busy'.

(b) According to the Chinuch, he must still be regarded as a fellow-Israelite with time-consuming and financially non-profitable obligations in 'mitzvot bein adam la-makom' - between Man and G-d. The idolator, on the other hand, is free from such obligations, and as such fulfils his role in the Creation through work and production.

B. 1. The legitimate rights of a Gentile are enforced by Torah law are shown where an Israelites finds himself having to sell himself to a Gentile in the Holy Land. Although such a situation is regarded as a tragedy, Israelite forces are not sent to free him. Rather, he should be redeemed by paying the Gentile pro-rata what he would lose from his service (25:47-54).

2. Sin causes sin and misfortune, which in turn cause more sin and more misfortune may be learnt, according to Rashi, by observing the sequence of the laws in this Parasha. That hints at the following. If a person neglects the rules of the Seventh Year, he will find himself reduced to poverty and have to sell his possessions. If he continues in that way, his deeper poverty will force him to sell his real estate, get into deeper (even illegal) debt, and finally become enslaved - even to a idolator - leading to personal involvement in idolatory (c.f. 26:1).

ADDITIONAL QUESTION ON PARASHAT BEHAR

The text states: G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai… The land shall rest, it is a Sabbath for G-d…(25:1-2).Of all G-d's communications with Moses, this was the only one that was explicitly singled out to have taken place at Mount Sinai. The commentators give many reasons for the connections between Mount Sinai and the Sabbath - here the shemitta (the sabbatical year, during which time there is a prohibition of working agricultural land in Israel).

In looking at this issue, the Sifra opens with the following comment: 'In the same way that shemitta was given at Mount Sinai… so were the other mitzvot given at Mount Sinai.' (Sifra, Behar 1:1)What, therefore was so special about Shemitta, over and above other Mitzvot, that it merited the special title of 'Behar Sinai' in its own right - as being used to teach the above lesson.

My attempts to answer the above may be found on the Shema Yisrael website under Behar-Bechukotai 5761

PARASHAT BECHUKOTAI - QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES

1. Blessings are mentioned briefly, with little detail. Curses are described graphically, and at length. Why, according to Ibn Ezra, is that so?

2. Why, according to the Ramban, are the rewards and punishments described in the Parasha earthly and materialistic, rather than spiritual and in the World to Come?

3. 'If you do not perform "all" these commandments' (26:14). What is the significance of the word "all" according to the S'forno?

4. What message is given to those who conquer and settle the Holy Land when the Israelites are exiled - following the text according to Rashi?

5. 'Those who remain', say the Curses, 'shall disintegrate in their sins in the "land of their enemies"'. (26:39) What is the meaning of "the land of their enemies" according to Hirsch?

6. Why is the section of the Torah detailing voluntary gifts to the Temple placed at the end of the Book of Leviticus, rather than in the earlier sections dealing with the offerings - according to Hirsch?

7. What types of 'ma'aserot' (tithes) are mentioned in this Parasha, and who gets to eat them, following Rashi's explanation?

PARASHAT BECHUKOTAI - ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES

1. According to Ibn Ezra, the curses are given special prominence and detail because they are meant to impress on the Israelites the importance of keeping on the right path.

2. The Ramban's explanation regards spiritual reward in the World to Come as a natural sequel to earthly spiritual achievement and service of G-d. What is unnatural is that spiritually worthy behaviour should bring earthly physical blessings - such as security, prosperity, and good health. The Torah states the unnatural, not the natural.

3. 'If you do not perform "all" these commandments' (26:14), stresses "all" for the following reason. The Israelites must endeavour to keep the entire Torah to the best of their ability - not to pick and choose what they want to keep and what they want to ignore. [That might well include the mentality that is ultra-meticulous on the length of the sidelocks, yet would not observe the mitzvah of standing up for the aged a few verses later - for example, in giving up one's seat on a crowded bus]

4. Those who conquer and settle the Holy Land following the sins of the Israelites will not proper there. 'I will make the Land desolate. Your enemies who live upon it shall be desolate.' (26:32) Although the Israelites would be exiled from the Land, none of conquerors would thrive there (Rashi ad loc). Indeed, history shows that the Land deteriorated during the period of the exiles - few conquering countries succeeded in eking more than a mere existence out of it.

5. They shall 'disintegrate… in the land of their enemies' (26:39), according to Hirsch, applies to those Israelites who adopt the elements of Gentiles' lifestyle that are against Torah teaching, with the claim that Torah Law applies in the Holy Land only.

6. According to Hirsch, such voluntary gifts, whilst being commendable, are not as important as the performance of the commandments, and certainly cannot atone for laxity in performing the Mitzvot. Their placement at the very end of Leviticus is precisely to make that point.

7. The two types of Ma'aseh are Ma'aseh Sheini (second tithe - 27:30) and Ma'aseh Beheima (tithe for cattle 27:32). The former, (following Deut. 14 22-27, and Rashi here) applies in Years 1,2,4,and 5 of the seven year Shemita cycle, where the produce may be eaten by the owner in 'the place that G-d chooses' (Jerusalem) only. Likewise the ma'aseh beheima - each tenth animal that passes from the corral through the exit 'under the stick, is holy' (27:32). Rashi points out that this does not go to the Priests, but is made into an offering and eaten by the owners (in Jerusalem).

ADDITIONAL QUESTION ON PARASHAT BECHUKOTAI

'They will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers, for the treachery in which they have betrayed Me, and for having behaved towards me in a contrary manner. I too will behave towards them in a contrary manner, and I will bring them into the land of their enemies… perhaps then their unfeeling heart will be humbled, and they will gain appeasement for their sins… I will remember My covenant with Jacob…' (26:40-2).

So concludes the Tochacha - the words of rebuke G-d communicated through Moses, regarding what would eventually happen to the Israelites on abandoning the Torah. However traditional Torah teaching - that Vidui - confession to G-d - is an essential element of Teshuva, does not seem to fit into these pesukim. The first part of the above quotation states that G-d will continue to punish the Israelites, even after they have acknowledged their wrong-doings and confessed them to the Almighty. Why does G-d respond by intensifying their persecution instead of accepting their Teshuva?

My attempts to answer the above may be found on the Shema Yisrael website under Behar-Bechukotai 5761

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara

e-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il

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