Parashat Behar: Summary

God tells Moses to instruct the people in the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, as well as how to relate to those in the community who become impoverished.

Commentary on Parashat Behar, Leviticus 25:1-26:2

God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and told him to tell the Israelites the following:

When you enter the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather the crops. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Lord. You shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat the Sabbath produce of the land.

In the seventh month, on the 10th day of the month, it shall be the Day of Atonement.  You shall sound the shofar horn loud throughout the land.

You shall make the 50th year sacred and it shall be a jubilee for you. In the fiftieth year, the Jubilee Year, you shall not sow, nor reap. You may only eat the growth direct from the field. In this year of jubilee, you shall not wrong another in buying or selling property.

You shall observe My laws and faithfully keep My norms so you may live upon the land in security, and the land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill. If you ask, “What are we to eat in the Sabbath year if we are not to sow or gather our crops?” I respond that I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year in order to yield a crop sufficient for three years.

The land must not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and settlers with Me. You must provide for the redemption of the land.

If your brother is in trouble and has to sell part of his property holdings, the nearest closest relative able to redeem the land shall come to redeem it. If a man has no one to redeem for him or if he lacks sufficient means to recover it, what he sold shall remain with the purchaser until the Jubilee Year. In the Jubilee Year it shall be released and he shall return to his holding. The redemption laws regarding dwelling houses in a walled city are different, as are the redemption rights of the Levites.

Treat your brother who is in trouble fairly and do not exact from him advanced or accrued interest. If your brother becomes impoverished and must give himself over to you, you shall not work him with slave labor. He shall remain under you as a hired laborer or resident and shall only serve until the Jubilee Year. Then he and his children with him shall be free of your authority. He shall go back to his family and return to his ancestral holding. You shall not rule over him ruthlessly, nor sell him in the manner of a slave.

Male and female of the nations about you may become your slaves and be your property. You may treat them as slaves. But as for your Israelite brothers, no one shall be subjugated through hard labor.

If a stranger who is a settler becomes rich, and if your brother, being in trouble, gives himself over to this stranger, he shall still have the right of redemption. One of his brothers or family members shall redeem him or, if he prospers, may redeem himself. The payment for redemption will be as if he was a hired laborer until the Jubilee Year. In the Jubilee Year, even if he has not been redeemed, he and his children with him shall go free. For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants: they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.

You shall not make idols for yourselves, or set up for yourselves carved images or pillars or place stones in your land to worship upon. You shall keep My Sabbaths and honor My sanctuary.

Parashat Behar Discussion Questions

1) Why do you think God insists that even the land have a Sabbath, a year of complete rest?

2) God commands that a brother in trouble must be treated fairly and with a respect that preserves his dignity. Think about your own dealings with your siblings. What are some ways you have helped (or could help) a family member in trouble and still preserve his or her dignity?

3) This portion describes the Jubilee Year, the 50th year, as a time of release and freedom. Is this concept of a Jubilee Year still meaningful? In what ways?

This article is reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!

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