After several chapters about purity and the sacrificial system, our Torah portion “Behar”, feels necessary to refer back once again to the time of the revelation of the Torah. This chapter appears as if it is an afterthought, something that Moses had neglected to mention until now.
I am saying this due to the sheer fact that we have read the last few weeks more or less nothing else than how to do sacrifices or to maintain holiness. Leviticus is actually not a history book. Its first part seems more to be the User’s Manual for the sanctuary – with its instructions and events. Leviticus effectively occupies just four weeks and that means that even by Leviticus 25 we are still in the early days of what is to become a forty-year odyssey through the wilderness. The Israelites are still a disorganised rabble, they have no land, no crops, no harvests – they have no need for any Sabbatical years, and their journey will in any case eventually stop short of the time required for a Jubilee as well.
And right there, we are switched abruptly back to the top of Sinai, receiving instructions that seems to be out of context: “When you come into the land which I will give you….“
Suddenly we are thinking long-term, strategically, we are thinking in terms of land and vineyards and fields and orchards, we are thinking in half-centuries and what to do to correct any imbalances in land-ownership that may develop. We receive a wonderful vision of a society based on checks and balances and respect for the mortality of man and the shortness of human ownership and the eternity of a Covenant and a God. So – Why is it necessary to state suddenly that these laws were given on Mount Sinai? – It is as though the Torah text, having got distracted into allowing itself to muse upon the problems of skin diseases and issued decrees concerning the moral duties incumbent upon all to care for and ‚love‘ the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the poor, the stranger – suddenly has to pull itself together and return to the mode of “As I was saying……“.
Having dealt with some inconvenient and rather messy incidents in the present, the Torah can now look again to the future – the presumed future, the presumed imminent future. God will give us the Land, and all we can do is to possess it in a form of leasehold; the terms will be strict; the Land must not be bled dry, its resources wasted, we need to protect it for the next generations to come. The early Zionists took this vision and worked hard at it, building up an Israel worth claiming as our homeland, even though it is not perfect (yet), and creating a model for many to follow.
Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild.)
|Torah Reading for Shabbat Behar
The Israelites are commanded to observe a Sabbath-Year for the land and a jubilee year with its special regulations after 49 years.
Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6-27 (P 861); H p. 539)
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