Behar | פרשת בהר

Sefer Vayikra | ספר ויקרא

Vayikra 25:1-26:2 [Hebcal] [על-התורה] ויקרא כה א-כו ב

Haftarah: Yirmeyahu 32:6-27 (Sefardi and Ashkenazi) | Yirmiyahu 16:16-17:14 (Teimani) | When doubled with Bechukotai, the haftarah for Bechukkotai is read

[על-התורה] | ירמיהו לב ו-כז (ספרדים ואשכנזים) | ירמיהו טז יט-יז יד (תימנים ) כשנקרא ביחד עם בחקתי הפטרת בחקתי נקראת

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Behar is a largely self-contained parsha, covering two distinct topics: the Shemita year and the Yovel (Jubilee) Year. Both of these pertain once Bnei Yisrael inherit Eretz Yisrael, and both are forms of a Shabbat for the land—specifically, the Land of Israel.

The Shemita Year

[Vayikra 25:1-7]

For 6 years, the land may be sown and vineyards pruned as per usual; on the 7th year, neither of these things may be done, as it functions like a Shabbat for Eretz Yisrael. It is a true sabbatical year (Shabbat shabbaton – שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן) when no cultivated produce may be reaped or gathered, although produce that grows by itself in the land may be consumed. These passages are the source of a complex set of laws and apply to produce of Eretz Yisrael specifically.

The Yovel (Jubilee) Year

[Vayikra 25:8-54]

The Yovel (Jubilee) occurs every 50th year, following a count of 7 times 7 years (וְסָפַרְתָּ לְךָ שֶׁבַע שַׁבְּתֹת שָׁנִים שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים), equaling 49. On Yom Kippur of the 50th year, the shofar is sounded throughout the Land. Each person returns to their original landholding and family. As in the Shemita year, there is no cultivation of the land (sowing or reaping), though that which the land produces itself may be eaten.

Buying and selling land is tied to the Jubilee year, in that the price of land use is to be fairly calculated by the number of years left since the previous Jubilee year.

G-d explains that He will ensure the land produces enough to feed the people during the Shemita year. Land is only held by Bnei Yisrael, but it belongs to G-d (וְהָאָרֶץ לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתֻת כִּי לִי הָאָרֶץ כִּי גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם עִמָּדִי, 25:23). As such it must be redeemed. If a person does not have the means to redeem their landholding and must sell it, it is a priority for them or their kin to redeem it, properly calculating what is owed to buy it back from the person to whom it was sold. In any case, in the Jubilee year the landholding reverts to its original holder. An exception is a dwelling in a walled city, which may only be redeemed for a year after sale, after which it becomes the property of the buyer, including during the Jubilee. This does not apply to houses outside of walled cities, which are subject to return in the Jubilee year.

Lending money or food at interest, or requiring a deposit for the loan, are forbidden, although this is another complex area of the law, and must be read along with the Oral Tradition.

Hired laborers and bondsmen serve only until the Jubilee year, when they, along with their families, are freed from contract and return to their landholdings. While serving, hired laborers must be treated well (לֹא תִרְדֶּה בוֹ בְּפָרֶךְ). Slaves from among the nations are not subject to being freed in the Jubilee year. Slaves from among Bnei Yisrael may be redeemed by their kin, who pay in reference to the Jubilee year. If not redeemed before then, a Hebrew slave and his family goes free in the Jubilee year, because Bnei Yisrael are avadim of Hashem (כִּי לִי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדִים עֲבָדַי הֵם).

Reminders: No Idolatry, Shabbat, Mikdash

[Vayikra 26:1-2]

Parashat Behar ends with a reminder against practicing idolatry, to keep (tishmoru – תִּשְׁמֹרוּ) Shabbat, and to venerate the sanctuary (Mikdash).

Haftarah Summary: ויאמר ירמיהו וגו’ הנה חנמאל

[Yirmeyahu 32:6-27]

This haftarah is a prophecy of Yirmeyahu that occurs while Yirmeyahu is imprisoned, and Yerushalyim is under siege by the Babylonians. Yirmeyahu had been imprisoned by King Tzidkiyahu of Yehudah due to his prophetic activities concering the fall of Yerushalayim. Yirmeyahu is now told that his cousin Chanamel, the son of his uncle Shallum, will come to Yirmeyahu asking him to redeem the former’s land in Anatot (in the territory of Binyamin). When the prophecy comes to pass, Yirmeyahu recognizes it and agrees to buy the land in Anatot, which he does with 17 silver shekels, overseeing the appropriate transfer of the deed to the land. Yirmeyahu then prays for an answer to why the Almighty would be concerned with such a matter in the wake of all the miracles He has performed, while the people in the Land have failed to follow His commands and Yerushalayim lies in siege. Hashem replies, “is anything too wonderous for Me?” (הֲ‍ֽמִמֶּ֔נִּי יִפָּלֵ֖א כָּל־דָּבָֽר), which is where the haftarah ends.

Image: Luis Meléndez, The Afternoon Meal (La Merienda), c. 1772, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (used with permission).

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