Summary of Parshat Behar and Bechukotai
Parshat Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2) focuses primarily on mitzvot concerning the land of Israel, beginning with the command to observe Shemittah the mitzvah to leave one's fields uncultivated every seventh year, refraining from the normal cycle of planting and harvesting. Similarly, the earth in Israel is to remain unworked in the Yovel, or 50th year, at which time the ownership of land automatically returns to its ancestral heritage. Hashem promises that He will bless the land in the sixth year so that it will produce enough to last throughout the Shemittah period. After describing the process by which original land owners can redeem their ancestral property in the years before Yovel, the portion shifts to speak about the poor and downtrodden. Not only are we commanded to give them tzedakah (charity) and to do acts of loving kindness for them, but ideally we are to provide them with the means to raise themselves out of their poverty-stricken state. We are prohibited to receive and pay any interest on loans made to other Jews. The Torah then discusses the various details regarding Jewish and gentile servants working for Jews, and the mitzvah to redeem Jews who are servants to gentiles. All Jewish servants are to be set free at the onset of the Yovel year. The portion concludes by repeating the prohibition of worshipping idols, and the mitzvot to guard the Shabbat from desecration and revere Hashem's sanctified places.
Parshat Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34), the last Torah portion in the book of Leviticus, begins by briefly listing some of the blessings and rewards that the Jewish people will receive for diligently following the Torah and performing Hashem's mitzvot. The portion then shifts to the subject matter which has made it famous the tochachah, Hashem's harsh rebuke. Step by step, the Torah describes the tragedies which will befall the Jewish people, often in graphic terms, as they abandon the observance of Hashem's Torah and mitzvot, providing an eerie account of what has been our history to this day. The portion then goes on to speak about the sanctification of voluntary gifts to the Temple and the process by which a person can monetarily redeem those sanctified items for his own use. The book of Leviticus concludes with a brief discussion of tithes, including a portion which the farmer must himself consume within the city of Jerusalem called ma'aser sheni.
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