We read two Perashot this Shabbat.
Perashat Behar begins with the laws of Shemittah – the Sabbatical year. There is a cycle of seven years which the land is subjected to. For six years, a landowner may work his fields, and reap their benefits, and on the seventh year, known as Shemittah the land must rest, and no produce taken from it. By leaving the field untended and unguarded for a year, the Jew demonstrates that human material success are in G-d’s will and human’s worthiness. After 7 cycles of Shemittah there is the year of Yobel – the Jubilee year. On the 50th year the Shofar is sounded and all land must be returned to its original inhabitants. The number seven represent the cycle of completion in Creation; six day of Creation, Shemittah, and the Jubilee cycle.
The Torah also prescribes the treatment for impoverished people, and the need to care for those less fortunate in the proper manner. No interest should be charged if you are lending him money, and if he is sold into slavery he should not be abused or overworked.
There are many laws defining the parameters of servitude, and there is a tremendous emphasis on human rights and kindness. Rather than slaves, they are “indentured servants” who for a specific period of time they sell themselves into servitude, and are not free to resign their employment, but whose masters must treat them with such delicacy and consideration that our Sages said: “one who buys himself a slave buys himself a master”
The Perasha ends with a reminder of the prohibition of idol worship, and the prohibition of prostrating on a stone floor. Hashem asks Bene Yisrael to keep all of his Sabbaths, and to revere his Holy Sanctuary. The Torah lists here three primary symbols of our faith through which a person can remain strong spiritually; the avoidance of Idolatry, the observance of Shabbat and the reverence for the Temple. Through his adherence to these commandments a Jew will find the strength to observe all others, thereby preserving his faith in the most adverse circumstances.
Perashat Behukotay begins with blessings promised from Hashem to reward Bene Yisrael if they obey the laws of the Torah and live up to their covenant with G-d. Hashem promises prosperity and peace throughout the land. The blessings include material gain, military victories, wealth and tranquility. Material blessings are hardly the primary reward. But someone who enjoys good health, prosperity and security finds it much easier to perform the commandments that will earn him or her infinite rewards in the afterlife.
In contrast, if Bene Yisrael do not obey the laws of Hashem the portion of the Perasha known as the Tokheha or Admonition is defined. The Tokheha – Admonition is a sobering account of a series of punishments, frustrations and tragedies that will be the inevitable outcome of any attempts to disobey and destroy the covenants. These punishments are not meant to be as a revenge, but to influence the people to mend their ways. It is for this reason they are brought in stages of increasing severity. If the first stage comes and Israel does not derive the desired lesson, their refusal to recognize and heed the word of G-d makes the sin more serious. Consequently, the next stage and more severe stage will befall them, and so on, until as the climax of the chapter states, repentance and G-d’s mercy finally comes.
The remainder of the Perasha discusses gifts to the temple. These are voluntary contributions that were not included among the commandments. By excluding them, the Torah means to imply these voluntary gifts, while commendable, are not essential as the performance of the commandments. No one should ever feel that voluntary contributions can atone for laxity in what is commanded.
One can also vow to contribute the value of oneself or of another person or thing. The valuation of human beings depending on their gender and their age, also the valuation of animals and things depended on other qualifications. Hashem explains the laws of sanctification and redemption in the context of both animals and property. Tithing of both property and animals is also discussed. The premise of all of these laws is to remind humanity that everything is actually Hashem’s, and to always set aside a portion of our earnings and ownership reflects that idea.