The Covenantal Mitzvot by Binyamin Kagedan


At the very end of Parshat Behar, there are a number of Mitzvot that seem out of place.  The Parsha discusses Shmittah, Yovel, and various other monetary- and land-related issues until the last two Pesukim, where the Torah seems to stray: “You shall not erect for yourselves a statue or a pillar, and in your land you shall not emplace a flooring stone on which to prostrate oneself; I am Hashem, your God.  My Shabbatot you shall observe, and My sanctuary you shall revere; I am Hashem” (26:1-2).  Ramban says that in mentioning the Bait Hamikdash the Torah is referring to the Aliyot Leregel on the three Regalim.  Why are these three Mitzvot presented here?  They are no doubt important, but they seem to be out of context.

 Rabbi Zvi Grumet explains that these three Mitzvot have meanings that go beyond their importance as commandments.  The Torah tends to list these three themes, Shabbat, Yom Tov, and Avoda Zara, together whenever the Brit between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael is mentioned.  Another time we see this is in Shemot 23, right after the Aseret Hadibrot are given.  Why were these three chosen to herald the covenant between man and Hashem?

Let us start with Shabbat.  Shabbat is a celebration of Hashem’s creation of the universe.  Just as He rested on the seventh day, so do we.  However, shouldn’t this celebration of creation apply to all peoples of the world?  The world does not only house Jews, but billions of others who should be equally grateful.  The fact that Shabbat is reserved exclusively for Jews demonstrates that we have a special relationship with Hashem that no other nation shares.

All ancient civilizations had festivals based on the agricultural calendar.  There was the harvest, the sowing, the first budding, and various other occasions that deserved celebration.  Similarly, we have agricultural festivals: Chag HaAviv, the spring festival; Chag HaKatzir, the harvest festival; and Chag HaAsif, the ingathering festival; in other words, Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot.  The fact that we dedicate our agricultural festivals to Hashem shows that we have a special connection to Him.

Avoda Zara makes sense as a choice to herald the Brit because in order to serve Hashem we must believe that He is the only God.  It is the most basic part of the relationship between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael.

Clearly, these three Mitzvot are the formula for a functional Brit.  Why, then, is it necessary to place them at the end of a set of laws about property?  Because man has the potential to become arrogant regarding his own abilities.  He may think that he earned his property through his own actions, and it is therefore exclusively his.  He might begin to wonder why he must give credit to Hashem for his wealth by leaving his field fallow for one year or by giving charity to those in need.  The Torah reminds him of the Brit through these three Mitzvot and reestablishes his unique relationship with Hashem.

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