Parsha Behar-Bechukotai – 5777

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai In-Depth

“G‑d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying . . . (Leviticus 25:1)

What has the Sabbatical year to do with Mount Sinai? Were not all commandments given on Sinai? But the verse wishes to tell us: just as with the Sabbatical year both its general principle and its minute details were ordained on Mount Sinai, so, too, was it with all the commandments—their general principles as well as their minute details were ordained on Mount Sinai. (Torat Kohanim; Rashi)

Rabbi Ishmael says: The general principles of the Torah were given at Sinai, and the details [when G‑d spoke to Moses] in the Tent of Meeting.

Rabbi Akiva says: The general principles and the details were given at Sinai. They were then repeated in the Tent of Meeting, and enjoined a third time in the Plains of Moab (i.e., in Moses’ narrative in the book of Deuteronomy). (Talmud, Chagigah 6a–b)”

Torah Sparks: Behar-Behukkotai 5777

“‘And the Lord spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai,’ Parshat Behar begins, enumerating the laws of shmita, the release of the land every seven years. That sounds quite simple, but Rashi here makes perhaps the most famous of all his comments on the Torah – Mah inyan shmitah etsel Har Sinai? “What is the connection of the laws of shmita to Mount Sinai?” Rashi’s comment has become a coin of Hebrew parlance for a non-sequitur, “what does this have to do with that?” But Rashi did not mean it in a casual fashion, and he answers himself – just as the laws and rules about Shmita came from Har Sinai, so did all the mitsvot come from Har Sinai (i.e. from God).”

Liberty and Freedom From Religion in America

“The Liberty Bell holds special fascination for American Jews, especially those of us who live in Philadelphia. For years, we lived happily with the knowledge that the Liberty Bell had been cast in England and brought to America in 1752 on a ship called the Myrtilla owned by two local Jewish shippers, Nathan Levy (the founder of the Philadelphia Jewish community) and David Franks (later one of the city’s leading Tories during the American Revolution). For better or worse, recent scholarship has changed all that and we now know conclusively that the bell was aboard a different boat, the Hibernia, captained by William Child but of unknown ownership. Moreover, the Hibernia’s docking was recorded on September 1 and the Myrtilla did not drop anchor until the end of the month.”

Blessings and Curses

“At the end of the traditional Birkat HaMazon, the Grace after the Meal, is a verse from the Book of Psalms that reads, “Once I was young and now I have grown old but I have never seen a righteous person abandoned nor his children begging for food” (Psalm 37:25). It is one of a series of biblical verses acknowledging God as the one who sustains all. There are many ways to sing the verse but I was taught to drop my voice when I came to this passage and recite it in a whisper. Why? Because it is not an accurate statement of life as we know it and it may be a source of pain to one with whom we may have eaten.”

Haftarah Parshat Behar-Behukotai

“Idolatry apparently had great allure to many ancient Israelites. This should not be surprising coming from a little people stuck in the midst of a good many larger civilizations. The pressures to conform to the larger cultures or to syncretistically borrow from them were probably great. This was no small problem for the prophets who were advocates for the ideal of total loyalty to the God of Israel. Jeremiah saw in these religious borrowings and the people’s passion for them a primary cause of the nation’s downfall: “As those who remember their children, so they longed for their altars, and their graves by the green trees on the high hills. You who sit upon the mountain in the field, I will give your substance and all your treasures for a spoil, and your high places, because of sin, throughout all thy borders.” (16:20-21 – according to the Talmud’s understanding of the verses)”