Behar-Behukotai 2021 Rabbi Moshe Goodman, Kollel Ohr Shlomo, Hebron בס"ד
Discover the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
A common theme of both parshiot Behar and Behukotai we read this week is the Shemita/Yovel theme. In Behar, this is obvious, but also Behukotai describes Israel’s exile from the Land in the context of them not keeping the Shemita year in the Land properly, and the end of Behukotai discusses the laws of a sanctified field in the context of the Yovel year. A common theme of Shemita and Yovel is freedom. Shemita, “Shabbat of the Land,” provides the People and the Land freedom from the labors of agriculture by forbidding this labor. Yovel carries yet higher levels of freedom, calling for the emancipation of servants, “emancipating” lands from their buyers and returning them to their original owners, and more. The laws of Shemita and Yovel may seem restricting, but it is actually through these restrictions imposed by Hashem that man can truly break free from manly imposed “personal/national systems by which man has been enslaved.” One practical halachic example of this is the prohibition for one to sign a three (or more) year contract (H”M 333, 3, for more details and some situations where this may not apply (see http://www.daat.ac.il/encyclopedia/value.asp?id1=3979). If both sides agree on this contract, why should halacha impose on their agreement? The answer is, halacha says, that Israel are meant to be servants of Hashem and not “servants of servants,” i.e., men of flesh and blood. Signing a contract for such a long period is considered to be a contradiction to a Jew’s inherent freedom before God, as this contract turns man into an overly obligated individual towards another man.
Explaining the differentiation between Shemita and Yovel, we may say that the Shemitta year represents acknowledgment of God’s Presence in a natural way, a way that many, even outside Judaism, can relate to on a natural level as giving time for the Land to rest from normal agricultural activities (even though the real meaning of Shemitta is of course much deeper). However, the fiftieth year, Yovel, is not readily understandable on a natural level. Why should a proper sale of land be suddenly abdicated during this year in favor of the previous owner? Why should a Torah-ordained Hebrew servant be suddenly rendered free on the Jubilee year? These laws and other laws of the Jubilee year are not comprehensible unless we take into consideration God’s supernatural mastery of the cosmos: “And the Land shall not be sold forever, for the Land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me”(Vayikra 25:23). Therefore, during the Jubilee year, human mastery over servants disappears, and land is returned solely to the owner who received the land without human intervention, similar to rules of inheritance ordained by God (Bamidbar 27:6-11).
Both of these natural and supernatural levels of holiness, the Shemitta year and Jubilee year, are dependent upon the majority of our People living in the Land of Israel (Rambam, Hilchot Shemitta VeYovel 10: 9). When our People live as a whole in our Holy Land and revive the power of the Holy Presence therein, it is more understandable how the Torah can require the masses to have such high standards of faith to believe: “I will command my blessing upon you on the sixth year (before Shemitta), and it (the Land) shall make produce for the three years” (Vayikra 25:21). On the opposite side of the spectrum, it is specifically the lack of faith in Hashem that the Torah ties to the lengthening of exile from the Land, as we see from the curses in this parsha and their explanation by our Sages: “If you do not listen to Me, and regard my ways of judgment as temporary (coming by chance), then I will make you temporary in the world” [i.e., through exile outside of the Land, God forbid] (Sifra on Vayikra 26:27). Even today, we can see Israel’s redemptive freedom unfolding with Israel’s great return to the Holy Land, as can be seen in Israel’s national sovereignty, leadership, and more in the Land today. This national emancipation also leads the way for personal emancipation, for all to be freed from our personal “enslavements” such as over-obligation (as we gave one example of this above), addictions to the internet, smoking, alcohol, etc., desires, and negative traits that keep us away from Hashem, and more.
Parshat Behukotai teaches us that Redemption and the end of these curses comes with the remembrance of four elements: The three Forefathers (with the Matriarchs, according to the Sifra) and our Holy Land (Vayikra 26:42). It is Hebron, as “City of the Patriarchs” in the Holy Land, which in essence incorporates all four elements into one whole. When we connect to Hebron, we connect to these four elements, corresponding to the four letters of Hashem’s Name (Avraham – yod, Yitzchak –heh, Yaakov-vav, Land-heh – see Zohar 2, 53a). These elements open our hearts to the four primary letters/ways of God, thus allowing us to contemplate Hashem’s mastery, the ways of faith, the ways of “remembrance” before Hashem, the ways of redemption.
Real Stories from the Holy Land:
“One week, I lost my cell phone charger. A day or two later, my cell phone case broke, and a little bit later that week, I lost the cell phone itself. Since so many unusual things regarding my cell phone happened in such a short period of time, I decided to examine my ways with regard to speech and repent. Suddenly, the next week my cell phone was found by the same people who had said the previous week that they searched thoroughly and didn’t find it…”