The commandments recorded in the two Parashiyot we read this week, BeHar and BeChukotai, include the laws of Shemitah and Yovel, the laws of slavery, and the Tochecha. At first glance, these three subjects seem unrelated; however, they are taught in close proximity to each other to teach important messages regarding redemption and heritage.
The Halachot of Shemitah concern the working and resting of land in Israel in seven year cycles. One may work his land for six years, but in the seventh year of the Shemitah cycle, he must rest from working his land. The Torah refers to Shemitah as “Shabbat HaAretz,” resting of the land, creating an analogy that the land had been in bondage for the first six years of the cycle. Continuing the connection between bondage and land, the Torah introduces the laws of slavery after concluding the laws of Shemitah. The laws of slavery are strangely similar to those of working the land, as Avadim Ivriyim may not be given strenuous work and are freed in the seventh year just as the land is freed in the seventh year or in Yovel, the fiftieth year.
Furthermore, the Tochecha, a warning from G-d to Bnei Yisrael to follow the laws of the Torah, also relates to Shemitah. The Tochecha states that if Bnei Yisrael do not follow the commandments, they will be punished and exiled from the land. In describing the exile, the Torah states that when Bnei Yisrael are out of Israel, the land will rest. This is an obscure reference to Shemitah, in which the land rests. It concludes that G-d will remember his agreement with our forefathers, and if we repent we will be forgiven.
A possible connection between these three subjects is that they all end in redemption. The Shemitah cycle ends in Yovel in which the land is “redeemed” or returned to its original owners, Jewish slaves are automatically redeemed, and the Tochecha states that when Bnei Yisrael eventually atone, they will be redeemed and allowed back into Israel from Galut. The theme of redemption is important because it reminds us that there is always hope for redemption. Just as redemption exists for slaves and even land, redemption exists for us as well.
Another common factor between these subjects is their constant references of a return to ancestral heritage. During the Yovel year, all land deals are reversed and every man’s ancestral property is returned to him. Slaves are commanded to return to their ancestral heritage once they are freed, and the Tochecha concludes with G-d remembering the covenant he made with our ancestors. This obsession with ancestry may be written to remind us that no matter what situations we face, whether we are forced to sell land, be in temporary bondage, or even exiled from Israel, we must remember our ancestors and what they stood for. When removed from our usual environment, be it home, job, or country, we must keep our ancestors’ ideals with us wherever we go. Hopefully, we will always keep our ancestors in mind and eventually be redeemed with the Beit HaMikdash, BeMeheirah VeYameinu.