This Week’s Torah Portions (Behar-Bechukotai): Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
Leviticus ends with a breathtaking promise of beauty, a gruesome warning of failure, and a brief appendix that seems out of place. People are more aware that Deuteronomy ends with covenant blessings and curses, and for some reason the blessings and curses of Leviticus are less well-known.
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A Few Highlights from the Hebrew and the Commentary
Leviticus 25:19 — viyshavtem labetach aleyha, וִישַׁבְתֶּם לָבֶטַח עָלֶיהָ׃, “you will dwell securely on it [the land].” These words perfectly picture future paradise. We will all dwell on the green, abundant land in perfect peace. No nation had potential and promises like Israel. Keeping a national Torah would bring about miraculous peace and bountifulness. Paradise was within their grasp. Yet human nature is such that we cannot hold on long to the reality, to the good, to what is best for us. Driven to question and grasp more and to be our own worst enemy, we let paradise slip from our grasp and write songs about what we’ve lost. So Israel sand, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psa 137:1).
Leviticus 26:5 — vehishig lachem dayish et-batzir uvatzir yashig et zera, וְהִשִּׂיג לָכֶם דַּיִשׁ אֶת־בָּצִיר וּבָצִיר יַשִּׂיג אֶת־זָרַע, “the season of threshing wheat will overlap with the grape vintage, and the time of grape vintage will overlap with the sowing.” People are more aware that Deuteronomy ends with covenant blessings and curses, and for some reason the blessings and curses of Leviticus are less well-known. But this beautiful verse, Leviticus 26:5, is the basis of one of the great promises in the prophets, “Days are coming when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed,” (Amos 9:13). The picture of paradise is simple and yet beautiful. The people will always be harvesting, celebrating, and enjoying. In agricultural life, the community comes together at the threshing floor for grain and the wine press for grapes, to work together and also rejoice. If Israel will follow Torah, the seasons of harvest and vintage will over lap, so that it seems always like festival time and food and wine will overflow.
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Leviticus 26:13 — va’eshbōr mōtōt ullechem va’uleich etchem qōmemiyōt, וָאֶשְׁבֹּר מֹטֹת עֻלְּכֶם וָאוֹלֵךְ אֶתְכֶם קוֹמְמִיּוּת, “I broke the bars that were upon you and made you walk upright.” Israel had experienced an elevation in their condition. They once were subjugated, treated as worthless and less than human. Their background story was one of redemption from a status of contempt to a condition of freedom. Bars were removed, perhaps referring to a literal yoke sometimes placed on people being marched as prisoners. In their new condition, God placed them like a parent sets a child on its feet to teach the child to walk. They were repurposed in the world from slave status to a new identity as children of God. We could read their story and find common ground. Has God added meaning to our lives? Apart from God, what are we? Random creatures in a meaningless universe? With and in relation to God, what are we? Children with a future.
ish ki yafli’ neder be’erchecha nefashōt, אִישׁ כִּי יַפְלִא נֶדֶר בְּעֶרְכְּךָ נְפָשֹׁת, “anyone who makes a difficult vow, involving the valuation of a person.” According to the Torah, a situation like the infamous vow of Jepthah (who vowed the life of his daughter) need never have happened. He could have paid thirty shekels of silver.
Outlines of the Week, Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
LEVITICUS 25:1-13 Sabbath years (shemittah, 1-7), Jubilee years (yovel, 8-12), return to clan estates (13).
LEVITICUS 25:14-18 Return of estates to clans and families.
LEVITICUS 25:19-24 Blessing over observance of resting the land (19-22), the main principle of Jubilee and land-redemption (23-24).
LEVITICUS 25:25-28 Stage 1 of destitution — land sold.
LEVITICUS 25:29-38 A house in a city (29-30), a house on farmable land (31), Levitical houses and land (32-34), stage 2 – lost land (35-38).
LEVITICUS 25:39-46 Stage 3 of destitution – an Israelite must sell himself to his fellow and be enslaved (39-46).
LEVITICUS 25:47 – 26:2 Stage 4 – he must sell himself to a Gentile (47-55), restatement of essential Torah teachings for national blessing (26:1-2).
LEVITICUS 26:3-5 The condition and blessing of abundance.
LEVITICUS 26:6-9 Continued national blessings for covenant obedience: peace in the land (6), success against enemies without (7-8), fruitfulness and confirmation of covenant (9).
LEVITICUS 26:10-46 God’s dwelling and walking with Israel (10-13), curses stage 1: war, disease, famine (14-17), stage 2: seven judgments (18-22), stage 3: increased hostility from God (23-26), stage 4: wrathful hostility (27-39), repentance and restoration for Israel (40-45), these are the statutes (46).
LEVITICUS 27:1-15 Redemption price of people dedicated in a vow to God (1-7), provision for the poor (8), for offerable and unofferable animals (9-13), for a house (14-15).
LEVITICUS 27:16-21 Valuation and redemption of land consecrated.
LEVITICUS 27:22-28 Lands leased and consecrated by the lessee (22-24), the gerah as the shekel standard (25), firstborn animals consecrated (26-27), things put under the ban (28).
LEVITICUS 27:29-34 People under the ban (29), the tithe is the Lord’s (30), agricultural tithes can be redeemed for money of a fifth is added (31), every tenth animal is the Lord’s with no substitutions (32-33), summary of book (34).
Commentary Links of the Week
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