Behar Torah Portion: Leviticus 25:1–26:2
Possibly the most famous part of Parshat Behar is the discussion of the laws of Shemittah — the command that once every seven years, we are instructed to let the land rest.
We don't work the land, don't sow or plow — we just enjoy the fruits that grow naturally and hope that we've saved up enough to get us through the year! It seems like a beautiful idea.
But the question is: Why should land need to rest? In his video, "Why Does Land Have To Rest?", Rabbi Fohrman tackles this question and points out that part of the answer has to do with the theme of "Sabbath" which rears its head in the law of Shemittah – notice the idea of seven, the idea of rest. He offers a beautiful explanation of Shemittah which goes far beyond letting the land rest, and also shows the central connection between the laws of Shemittah and the laws of Yovel ("Jubilee") — which occurs in the fiftieth year, and which we observe by freeing slaves and returning land to its ancestral holder.
And if you're interested in further exploring the concepts of Shemittah and Yovel, Imu Shalev and David Block's video, "A Spiritual Economy," is a great next stop.
In that video, they point out that while (1) freeing slaves, (2) returning land to its ancestral holder, (3) letting land rest, and (4) releasing debts all seem like perfectly nice things to do, the list is a little random... Is there some central theme that they all share in common, that could help us to appreciate the concepts of Shemittah and Yovel more deeply?
After Parshat Behar lays out the basic laws of Shemittah and Yovel, most of the rest of the parsha addresses implications of following these laws, for example:
–If we can't work the land, then what are we going to eat??
–If land is going to automatically return to its ancestral holder and debts will automatically be released, how might that affect the economy and affect the way that people behave in the marketplace? How can we make sure that people still get their needs met and behave ethically under such circumstances?
The parsha also expounds on the theme of compassion and social justice with its discussion of helping a person who is struggling financially, the prohibition on charging interest on a loan to a fellow Jew, and the imperative to treat Jewish slaves in a respectful, not demeaning, way.