1 May, 2013 | 24 Iyar 5773
T E A C H I N G T O R A H
Reprinted with permission by
©Behrman House, Inc.
A Treasury of Jewish Insights and Activities
By Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden
Bechukotai, which means “My Laws,” is generally read as a double portion with the preceding portion, BEHAR. Bechukotai begins with a promise and a curse.
If the Israelites follow God’s laws and commandments, God will bless them. Their land will be fertile and peaceful and their enemies will flee before them. But if the people do not obey, God will spurn and punish them. Their enemies will dominate them, their land will not produce, and they will live in fear. At last, those who survive the punishment will repent, and God will remember the covenant with Jacob, Isaac and Abraham.
The Book of Leviticus concludes with a section detailing three types of gifts which might be promised to the sanctuary.
The first type of gift consists of a promise to contribute a certain sum of money (specified in the text) equal to the valuation assigned to persons based on gender and age. For example, the amount to be given for a male of 60 years is 15 shekels and, for a female over this age, 10 shekels.
The second type of gift involved the giving of animals or property. Both were sold, and the proceeds went toward the maintenance of the sanctuary. Animals without blemish could be specified by the donor for use as a sacrifice. Gifts of this type are redeemable at their value as assessed by a priest, plus one-fifth.
The third type of contribution which a person dedicated to God (be it man, beast, or land) cannot be redeemed; everything thus given is totally consecrated to God.
The Book of Leviticus concludes with several verses on tithes and the redemption of tithes, and with the statement: “These are the commandments that Adonai gave to Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai.”
This portion is called BEHAR – on the Mount (Sinai) – the name of the location where these laws were given to Moses. BEHAR is usually read as a double portion with Bechukotai, which follows.
Moses speaks to the Israelites about some laws that are to take effect in the land that God will give them.
For six years, the people will be permitted to plant and harvest from their fields and vineyards. But the SEVENTH YEAR is to be a year of COMPLETE REST FOR THE LAND. In the SEVENTH YEAR, the Israelites will not be permitted to work their fields, but they will be allowed to GATHER and to SHARE whatever the land produces. God assures the people that in the year before the Sabbatical year, there will be a bountiful harvest so that there will be sufficient food to tide them over until the harvest of the eighth year.
The Israelites are told to count SEVEN TIMES SEVEN YEARS – a total of FORTY-NINE – and to mark the arrival of the fiftieth year with a blast of the horn on the DAY of Atonement. The fiftieth year is to be a JUBILEE, a year of release for the land and all its inhabitants.
In the fiftieth year, the land is to lie fallow, property is to revert to its original owner, and all Hebrew slaves are to be freed. Houses in walled cities are exempt from this regulation – they can be redeemed for only one year after their sale. The houses of the LEVITES are to be redeemable forever.
The Israelites are to make special effort to redeem land or persons who have been forced to sell their holdings or bind themselves into slavery. Israelite slaves are to be treated as hired laborers and are to be freed in the JUBILEE year, whereas non-Israelite slaves are seen as property – they are not subject to the laws of the JUBILEE year.
The portion concludes with a reminder to the people not to set up or worship idols, but to keep God’s Sabbaths.