As was the case two weeks ago and the week before that we will read two parshiot this coming Shabbat. There are only seven possible “double” parshiot in the Torah and it is logical to ask as to why the chachamim chose specifically these parshiot to be read together. We will examine this question with respect to Behar-Bechukoti.
Parshat Behar begins with a discussion of the mitzvah of shemitta, the sabbatical year. This year is known as “Shabbat L’Hashem”. One wanders why Hashem would need a shabbat or alternatively why the land needs a year off. There are several suggestions given by the mefarshim. The Sefer Hachinuch writes that the concept of of six units of work followed by one unit of rest is familiar to us from the story of creation. The shemitta cycle is supposed to enhance our belief in the Almighty and in His role as creator of the world. This year of rest is therefore called a “Shabbat L’Hashem” as it reiterates our belief in G-d. It is also a year when, freed from the mundane responsibilities of tending to the land, one is able to involve oneself in more spiritual pursuits. This could also be why this year is termed “Shabbat L’Hashem” as the farmer is now devoted to things godly.
[A similar statement is made by Radak and Malbim on Mizmor 92 which we say on Shabbat. This mizmor is designated for Shabbat as it deals with philosophical issues and this is the day when one is free to discuss such concepts.]
Once we have cited that the mitzvah of shemitta is detailed in Parshat Behar it is simple to see the connection to the next parsha. Parshat Bechukoti details the berachot and kellalot – the blessings Am Yisrael will receive in reward for fulfillment of Torah and mitzvoth and, on the other hand, the punishments or consequences as a result of not keeping Hashem’s word. Only one mitzvah is singled out in the context of these kellalot:
“Oz tirtzeh ha’aretz et shabbtotehah… Then shall the land make up for its Sabbath years…” (Vayikra 26:36)
The Torah states that the land feels the need to replace those shemitta years which were not observed previously. As a result of Am Yisrael going into exile and the land remaining desolate Eretz Yisrael will now be able to rest. Admittedly this is a somewhat strange idea but it naturally is connected to the fact that the shemitta year symbolizes the nature of our bond with the land. Through our observance of the shemitta year we demonstrate our acceptance of the fact that both the land and its produce are a gift from Hashem. In this way too we fulfill the definition of this time period as “Shabbat L’Hashem”. We therefore see that the lack of observance of the shemitta year is seen as an affront to Eretz Yisrael and Hashem, and a prime reason for galut.
Many of the mefarshim on the above pasuk state that the shabbatot which the land desires refers not only to the shemitta year but also the yovel year. This occurs once in 49 (or 50 years) and is also discussed in Parshat Behar. In introducing the yovel year the Torah writes:
“Vesafarta lecha sheva shabbtot shanim, sheva shanim, sheva peamim, vehayu lecha yemei sheva shabbtot hashanim tesha vearbaim shana.
You shall count off seven weeks of years – seven times seven years- so that the period of seven weeks of years give you a total of forty-nine years” (Vayikra 25:8)
This verse seems to abound with the number seven. This idea fits in with the comment of the Sefer Hachinuch quoted above but takes the notion one stage further. In similar fashion to Sefirat Ha’Omer, we are commanded not only to celebrate the yovel year but to count towards it. The arithmetic itself is not sufficient – we must count in units of seven. [The number seven is prevalent in the Torah and in Jewish tradition. The larger significance of this will not be discussed in this shiur.]
On turning again to Parshat Bechukoti and referring to the kellalot we stumble across the following phrase:
“Veim ad eleh lo tishmeu li, veyasafti leyasera etchem sheva al chatoteichem.
And if for all that you do not obey Me, I will go on and discipline you sevenfold for your sins.” (Vayikra 26:18)
The use of the word “sevenfold” in reference to the nature of Am Yisrael’s punishment requires clarification. Rashi explains that the seven refers to seven sins mentioned in the previous section. Rashi does the mathematics based on the wording in the Torah. A similar equation is suggested by Or Hachayim. Rashbam states that seven is not meant to be understood literally; rather it means that the punishment will be severe.
As the phrase “sheva al chatoteichem” or sevenfold occurs a number of times in this perek, we could suggest that it is connected to the mitzvah of shemitta and yovel. The word sheva is used four times in the pasuk describing the counting towards yovel and four times in the parsha of the kellalot. This parallel underlines the intrinsic connection between the observance of the mitzvot of shemitta and yovel and our right to remain in Eretz Yisrael.
Thus far we have shown that the two parshiot, Behar and Bechukoti are thematically and linguistically connected. This parallel is further found in expressions which are common to both parshiot. Exmples of such phrases can be found in the laws of yovel in Behar and the berachot in parshat Bechukoti. Readers are invited to investigate this on their own.
There is a well known discussion amongst the mefarshim as to why the parsha begins by stating that Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai. Rashi begins his commentary to Parshat Behar with the question: “Ma inyan shemitta etzel Har Sinai? What is the connection between shemitta and Har Sinai?” Ramban also addresses this question.
We are not going to analyze the answers provided by these two commentaries to this question but rather point to another mention of Har Sinai towards the end of Sefer Vayikra. The pasuk which concludes the section in Bechukoti of the berachot and kellalot states:
“These are the laws, rules and directions that Hashem established, through Moshe on Har Sinai, between Himself and Bnei Yisrael. This pasuk appears to complete a section of Torah which begins at the beginning of Parshat Behar and ends at the conclusion of the berachot and kellalot. Aside from the subjects already discussed in the shiur, this unit is comprised of various laws, many of them in the realm of Bein Adam Lechavero.
This section of the Torah reminds of the covenant of Matan Torah, which as we explained in a previous shiur also spans two parshiot, Yitro and Mishpatim. It seems that the Torah is emphasizing the centrality of the civil interpersonal laws to the covenant between Am Yisrael and the Almighty. On the other hand, the fact that a unit such as this is found at the end of Sefer Vayikra would suggest that in fact the entire sefer is connected to the brit made at Har Sinai. The comments of Rashi and the other mefarshim at the beginning of this week’s parsha allude to this notion. The mitzvah of shemitta was delivered at Har Sinai; other mitzvot were likewise delivered at Har Sinai. Our Torah stems from Sinai and from the covenant into which we entered there.
Parshat Bechukoti, the detailed ramifications of our acceptance of the covenant or lack thereof, signifies the responsibilities entailed in this brit. The agreement made between Hashem and Am Yisrael is not merely a suggestion; it will have a direct effect on our lives and on our existence in Eretz Yisrael. It is no wonder that these parshiot are always read during this time of year as we count towards the festival of Matan Torah.
Shabbat Shalom – Rav Yonatan