For Hashem or for Ourselves? by Leor Rapps


The general theme of this week’s Parashah, Parashat BeHar, is resting from working the land. This Jewish concept essentially stems from the Mitzvot of Shemitah and Yoveil, and all of the laws that go along with them. However, the Parashah ends with the prohibition of worshiping idols (VaYikra 26:1), and the Mitzvot of observing Shabbat and respecting Hashem’s holy places (26:2). What is the connection between the core of the Parashah and its conclusion? What does not working the land have to do with these three specific commandments?

This Parashah can be compared to Parashat Mishpatim, in which the laws of Shemitah and Yoveil also appear. Our Parashah opens with the laws of Shemitah and ends with the three aforementioned commandments. However, in Parashat Mishpatim, all of the commandments are found together in one unit.

In Mishpatim, the commandment of Shemitah is a Mitzvah of supporting the poor. The Pesukim state (Shemot 23:10-11), “VeSheish Shanim Tizra Et Artzecha VeAsafta Et Tevu’atah. VeHaShevi’it Tishmetenah UNetashtah VeAchlu Evyonei Amecha VeYitram Tochal Chayat HaSadeh Kein Ta’aseh LeCharmecha LeZeitecha, “And six years shall you sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh, you shall let it rest and lie fallow - let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves.” One would get the impression from reading only these Pesukim that Hashem commands us with the obligation to stop working, in order to support the poor for a year. However, in Parashat BeHar, the focus of the commandment is on resting from working Hashem’s fields; that is, we are commanded to work for six years, and on the seventh to rest. The Pesukim refer to everyone eating from the field, regardless of their economic status: “LeOchlah Lecha ULeAvdecha VeLaAmatecha VeLiSechircha ULeToshavcha HaGarim Imach. VeLiVhemtecha VeLaChayah Asher BeArtzecha Tiheyeh Kol Tevu’atah Le’echol,” “You, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield” (VaYikra 25: 6-7).

We see that the commandment to not work the land in Mishpatim focuses on man’s aspect, while the commandment in Parashat BeHar focuses on the aspect of honoring Hashem. Similarly, the commandment of Shabbat in Mishpatim is (Shemot 23:12), “Sheishet Yamim Ta’aseh Ma’asecha UVaYom HaShevi’i Tishbot Lema’an Yanu’ach Shorcha VaChamorecha VeYinafeish Ben Amatcha VeHaGeir,” “Six days shall you engage in your work, and on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and that your bondsman and the stranger may be refreshed.” While Mishpatim intently focuses on man resting, in BeHar, Hashem merely says (VaYikra 26:2), “Et Shabbetotai Tishmoru,” “You shall keep my Shabbatot.” This contrast between the Parashiyot is also evident regarding Avodah Zarah, which can also be broken down into Hashem’s aspect and man’s aspect. Mishpatim relates man’s role as not worshipping any other god, while BeHar focuses on keeping the Land of Israel holy, and free of idol worship.

The commands concerning the Mikdash reflect the same basic distinction. Parashat Mishpatim focuses on the behavior of man, commanding the farmer to bring his first fruits to the Beit HaMikdash, both out of joy and to draw close to God. In comparison, the text of Parashat BeHar focuses on fearing the Mikdash.

Overall, the differences between Parashiyot Mishpatim and BeHar follow the distinction of the subject being affected. In Mishpatim, all the laws are given in order for every person to feel special, and believe that Hashem is making the laws specifically for him. On the other hand, BeHar, much like Sefer VaYikra, emphasizes the fact that every Jew has an obligation to spiritually grow closer to Hashem. Nevertheless, the Torah writes many Mitzvot in both Parashiyot to make a point - striking a balance between these two aspects is crucial to surviving as a Jewish nation. We hope that the Jewish nation will come to accept all of Hashem’s Mitzvot, and observe them for not only personal perfection, but for spiritual elevation as well.

The Soil Sabbatical by Doni Cohen

A Topic of Interest by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein