פָּרָשַׁת בְּהַר סִינַי Parashat Behar Sinai
Parashat Bahar Sinai (Lev. 25:1-26:2) contains the following sidrot:
Ninety-Nineth Sidra՚ (continued from the previous parasha), the Sabbatical Year, and the proclamation of the Jubilee Year;
Hundredth Sidra՚, selling and purchasing land prior to the Jubilee Year, the Divine guarantee, the redemption of landed property and residential property in walled cities;
Hundred-and-First Sidra՚, loans, and slaves.
Ninety-Nineth Sidra՚ (Lev. 25:1-25:13 continued from the previous parasha): The Sabbatical Year, and the proclamation of the Jubilee Year.
The seventh day of the week is the Shabbath when all activity ceases and both Man and beast rest. The land of Israel also has its Shabbath. Six years we can sow our fields, prune our vineyards, and gather in the good produce of the land, but the seventh year is a Shabbath of ceasing for the land; a Shabbath to YHWH. Our fields we cannot sow, our vineyards we are not to prune, the after growth of our harvest we cannot reap, and our consecrated grapes can't be amassed; we are to cease from working the land for the entire seventh year. However, we, our servants, hired-hands, the resident settler, even our domestic animals, and the wild animals, may all eat freely from the produce of the land.
We are to count seven Sabbatical Years - thus, 7 years x 7 years = 49 years. In the forty-ninth year on the tenth day of the Seventh Month, which is Yom Hakkippurim [The Day of Atonement], there is to be a trumpeting [תְּרוּעָה] of the shofar [ram's horn] throughout the land. The fiftieth year is to be declared holy and freedom is proclaimed for the inhabitants of the land. The fiftieth year is to be a Yovel [יוֹבֵל] on which each man is to return to his possession, and to his clan. Just as with the Sabbatical Year, in the Year of the Yovel there is to be a complete ceasing of working the land, and just like in the Sabbatical Year the produce of the land may be used for food.
Hundredth Sidra՚ (Lev. 25:14-34): Selling and purchasing land prior to the Jubilee Year, the Divine guarantee, the redemption of landed property and residential property in walled cities.
When we sell or purchase property to or from our kinsman, "you shall not deceive (any) man his brother" (Lev. 25:14). We are to calculate the value of the land according to the number of years of produce that are left until the next Yovel. Thus the value of the land will increase and decrease in proportion to the distance in years from the time of purchase to the next Yovel, "you are to revere your God; for I am YHWH your God" (Lev. 25:17).
"And you have done My laws, and My judgements you shall keep and you have done them; and you have settled on the land in security. And the land has given its fruit, and you have eaten to satiety; and you have settled in security on it" (Lev. 25:18-19). However, come the Sabbatical Year the nation might be worried that there will not be enough to eat if seed cannot be sown nor the produce harvested in the seventh year. Nevertheless, if we keep YHWH's commandments then the produce grown in the sixth year will be enough for three years. And while we are sowing in the eighth year we will still be eating the old produce until the harvest and ingathering of the ninth year. We are not to sell the land for perpetuity since the land belongs to YHWH and we the Children of Israel are regarded as being sojourners and resident-settlers with YHWH.
If one of our brothers - in this sense clansman or distant relative - becomes lowly i.e. has financial difficulties, and sells his landed possession, his Go՚el [גֹּאֵל - redeemer, in this case a family member who is financially secure] is to redeem the property. If he doesn't have a Go՚el but over time he is able to secure the funds to redeem his property, he is to deduct the amount of years that the property was in the purchaser's hands from the total purchase price and return to the purchaser the surplus. If he cannot secure the funds to redeem his property then the purchaser retains the property until the Year of the Yovel when it is returned to the original owner. Therefore landed possession in the land of Israel cannot be sold in perpetuity, but only rented until the Year of the Yovel. A residential property that is in a walled city (all major cities were walled for defensive purposes) can only be redeemed within the first year of its sale. If it is not redeemed during this period the property belongs to the purchaser for perpetuity and is not returned to the original owner in the Year of the Yovel. A residential property in a village that doesn't have a wall around it, has the same status as landed property i.e. it can be redeemed and in the Year of the Yovel it is returned to the original owner. However, residential property in the cities of the Levites is always redeemable in the Year of the Yovel, and a field or a suburb of a Levitical city cannot be sold. This is because unlike the other tribes of Israel, the Levites don't own landed property and their cities are their possession.
Hundred-and-First Sidra՚ (Lev. 25:35-26:2): Loans, and slaves.
If one of our brothers becomes lowly and requests financial assistance we are to strengthen him for he has become like a sojourner or a resident-settler. We cannot take interest [נֶשֶׁךְ - literally bite] or increment on any loan extended to him, "you shall revere your God" (Lev. 25:36); whether the loan is for silver or food. "I am YHWH your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt; to give to you the land of Canaan to be to you for a God" (Lev. 25:38).
If one of our brothers becomes lowly and is sold he cannot be made to work the work of a slave. He is to do the work of a hireling or of a resident-settler and is not to be oppressed with tyranny nor dominated with harshness. In the Year of the Yovel he is to go free along with his children, returning to his clan and to the possession of his fathers. "For they are My servants, whom I have brought out from the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as the sale of slaves" (Lev. 25:42). We may purchase servants and maids for possessions from the nations surrounding us or from the resident-settlers that sojourn in the land of Israel; from them we can take servants for perpetuity but not from our own - the Children of Israel. If a Sojourner or resident-settler becomes financially successful and an Israelite who has become lowly has been sold to him, the Israelite should be redeemed by a member of his clan or by himself if he is able to secure the necessary funds. (Here the Torah lists in descending order of priority the member of the family who is to act as Go՚el: brother, uncle, cousin, other near relative, other clan member. The fact that the Torah does not mention the father could mean it is assumed that either the father is dead or is not of the financial means to redeem his son.) The years that he served are to be deducted from the years left to the next Year of the Yovel and the surplus is returned to the purchaser. If he is not redeemed he goes free in the Year of the Yovel, along with his children. The Sojourner or resident-settler is to treat his Israelite servant like a hireling, and we are not to let the Sojourner or the resident-settler oppress him with tyranny.
Parashat Bahar Sinai concludes with a decree against physical representation; we are not to make an idol or carved image, rise up a standing stone, nor place a figured stone in our land to bow down on - along with a warning to keep YHWH's Sabbaths and to revere His Holy Place.
TEACHINGS OF HAKHAM REKHAVI:
In Parashat Ki Tissa՚ we are commanded not to work our fields on the Shabbath, "Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall cease; at ploughing time and at harvest time you shall cease" (Ex. 34:21) - even at the times of the year when the farmer will be at his busiest. Ploughing time when the land needs to be sown before the commencement of the heavy winter rains, and harvest time when the crop needs to be reaped before the heat of the sun parches it or rodents and insects devastate it. Thus, the loss of an extra day's work could mean in the farmer's eyes the difference between success and failure. For the farmer the keeping of the Shabbath day becomes a test of trust in YHWH's provision, and this trust can easily be transferred to a business situation where not being able to close the deal on the Shabbath could mean the loss of the sale. With the Sabbatical Year we aren't talking about one day in seven, but one year in seven. Every seventh year all agricultural activity ceases and the land lays fallow. All produce that grows of its own accord during the seventh year - whether from the outgrowth of the crop of the field or from the fruit of the orchard - becomes a banquet for Man and beast, for land-owner and hired-hand, for Israelite and Sojouner as well as for the resident settler. This seems great, the farmer has a year off work and can catch up with all those odds and ends, and everyone gets a free lunch. Well not quite! If there is no ploughing and seeding then there will be a shortage of grain for bread. Farm labours might have a source of free food, but some of them are going to have to find temporary employment during the seventh year. Grocers and Green-Grocers are going to find it hard as the overgrowth of the seventh cannot be harvested and sold. Other business will also suffer and things aren't really going to get up and going until the harvest of the eighth year. Now imagine the same scenario when it is the Year of the Yovel; two consecutive years without ploughing and sowing!!! So the fear, "What shall we eat in the seventh year; lo we shall not sow, and we shall not gather in our produce" (Lev. 25:20) is a very real one, but YHWH's response is just as real. If we keep His commandments He will bless us in the sixth year and we will produce enough produce for three years, "And you shall sow in the eighth year, and you shall eat from the old produce, until the ninth year until the arrival of its produce, you shall eat the old" (Lev. 25:22). The message is simple, keep His Torah, get on with our lives, and if we do observe His ways even though we might fear for our very sustenance He will provide for us with more than enough.