Parashat B'har

Sowing Seeds Of Redemption

The Jubilee year encourages us to take time to appreciate our labors and the role God plays in our lives.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from the Union of Reform Judaism.  

Parashah Overview

  • God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that in every seventh year, the land shall observe a Sabbath of complete rest: Fields should not be sown and vines should not be pruned. (25:1-7)

  • After 49 years, a jubilee year is to be celebrated when all the land that had been sold during that time should be returned to its original owners and slaves are to be freed. (25:8-55)

  • God warns the Children of Israel not to create and worship idols, and to keep the Shabbat. (26:1-2)

Focal Point

In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his holding. When you sell property to your neighbor or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another (Leviticus 25:13-14).

Do not wrong one another, but fear your God; for I, Adonai, am your God (Leviticus 25:17).

But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me (Leviticus 25:23).

Your Guide

To whom does God address the command "You shall not wrong one another" in Leviticus 25:14?

Why is this sentiment repeated in Leviticus 25:17, "Do not wrong one another, but fear your God?" What is the difference between the two statements?

What is the significance of the statement "You are but strangers resident with Me?"

This sedrah (portion) is primarily about observing the jubilee, a year of release, in the fiftieth year. Why is the command not to wrong one another juxtaposed with the command to observe the jubilee year?

Why is God concerned that the Israelites do not sell the land "beyond reclaim?"

We are commanded to observe a Shabbat every seven days and to observe a Sabbath year for the land every seven years. What is the connection between these two edicts?

What can we derive from the jubilee sabbatical that we can use to enhance our personal Shabbat experience?

By the Way…

Evidently, the Torah protects not only the purchaser from exploitation nor only the seller--i.e., the landowner who is forced by circumstances to sell land--since it warns both: You shall not wrong one another! It is justice and righteousness that the Torah seeks to enthrone and protect from the effects of greed (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Vayikra, volume 2, World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem,1993).

Said the Lekhivitzer Rebbe: "We read, 'And ye shall not wrong one another; but thou shalt fear thy God; for I am Adonai your God.' This means: 'Do not deceive one another by asserting that you are truly God-fearing persons'" (M. S. Kleinman, Or Yesharim, Piotrkov, 1924, translated by Louis I. Newman and republished in The Hasidic Anthology, Schocken Books, New York, 1963).

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I Adonai am your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).

"We live in an unredeemed world. But out of each human life that is unarbitrary and bound to the world, a seed of redemption falls into the world, and the harvest is God's" (Martin Buber, "Spinoza, Shabtai Zvi, and the Baal Shem Tov," The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism, Horizon Press Publishers, New York, 1960).

The land was ours before we were the land's. She was our land more than a hundred years before we were her people (Robert Frost, "The Gift Outright").

Nevermore shall you be called "Forsaken,"
Nor shall your land be called "Desolate;"
But you shall be called "I delight in her,"
And your land "Espoused."
For Adonai takes delight in you,
And your land shall be espoused.
As a youth espouses a maiden,
Your children shall espouse you;
And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
So will your God rejoice over you

(Isaiah 62:4-5).

Do not envy a lawless man,
Or choose any of his ways;
For the devious man is an abomination to Adonai,
But God is intimate with the straightforward

(Proverbs 3:31-32).

Your Guide

How does Nehama Leibowitz's observation that the Torah seeks to protect justice and righteousness from the effects of greed relate to the reminder that the land belongs to God?

To whom does the Lekhivitzer Rebbe address the admonition "Do not deceive one another by asserting you are truly God-fearing persons"? Does he mean to suggest that no one is truly God-fearing, or is he directing his comments toward a particular kind of individual? If so, who might that be?

Compare Leviticus 19:33-34 with Leviticus 25:23. What does God mean by referring to the Israelites as "strangers?"

The excerpt by Buber seems to suggest that redemption comes from human beings and is reaped by God, instead of the other way around. What might the land represent in the scenario of human beings depositing the seed and God reaping the harvest?

What does Robert Frost mean by "She was our land more than a hundred years before we were her people?" Based on this statement, are we more or less consequential?

Isaiah 62:4-5 depicts a time when Israel will be God's beloved and the land will be married to God. How does this vision compare with that in Proverbs 3:31-32? What will lead to this intimacy between God and God's people?

D'var Torah

Imagine that God commands you to cease working for a living for one year at the age of fifty, just as you are in the prime of your life and at your highest earning potential. The idea of setting aside the work you do for your very survival for a whole year is daunting: It may even seem preposterous for you to imagine actually carrying out such a command.

At the same time, however, wouldn't you also feel a sense of excitement about the possibilities of a year spent unconstrained by the daily grind? What would you do with your time in such a case? What unrealized dreams would you attempt to fulfill? What unreconciled relationships would you attend to? What self-understanding would you pursue?

Often we rationalize our insensitivity and inaction as a necessary consequence of our too-busy lives. But suppose we no longer had that excuse to fall back on. Is this the challenge of the jubilee--not merely to refrain from working for a living, which can often be a distraction from the truly important work of striving for holiness and improving our broken world, but also to practice human relations with the conscious effort not to harm one another?

If the meeting of God and human being occurs in the acts of righteousness that this mitzvah seeks to preserve, perhaps the bounty of the land is like a flowering that occurs when care is given to one's garden, combined with the providence of rain and sunshine from the heavens. If one understands the opportunity afforded by such a once-in-a-lifetime sabbatical, perhaps one would be inclined to incorporate its potential into each and every week's Shabbat observance.

To urge us to stop and enjoy the fruit of our labors and to appreciate the role played by God in our lives seems to be the intent of the jubilee year. To study our actions and strive to improve our relationships with others so that we may add to the store of redemption's seeds through our righteous deeds is the potential consequence of observing Shabbat.

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Judith Ovadia is the cantor at Temple Ohev Sholom in Harrisburg, Penn.