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Parsha Behar/Bechukotai  Leviticus 25:1-27:34

Parsha Behar/Bechukotai Leviticus 25:1-27:34

This week we have another double portion, which finishes up the book of Leviticus for this Torah reading cycle. While there are many different angles that could be pursued concerning this portion, my reading of this portion started immediately with a question. So let’s jump right into the text of the first verse of this reading. Leviticus 25:1 says, “And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai…” If this verse doesn’t strike you as peculiar, then let me explain. The book of Leviticus begins with the words, “Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting…” Since then, throughout the book of Leviticus, God’s ongoing instructions to Moses seem to come from Moses’ encounters with God in the “Mishkan—Tabernacle.”
All of a sudden, at the end of the book of Leviticus, Chapter 25, begins by referring to Mount Sinai? Why bring up Mount Sinai all of a sudden? We can understand this verse perhaps by saying Moses is clarifying and expounding upon a law, which he received on Mount Sinai. But didn’t Moses receive the whole Torah on Mount Sinai? Why does this verse seemingly go out of its way to tell us something we already know? We know Moses received the Torah on Sinai, so shouldn’t every commandment be introduced with the wording used in Leviticus 25:1, “the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai?” Because of this, we are still left with the question, “why does this chapter go all the way back to Sinai?” Before I answer this question, I want to give a little background concerning Mount Sinai. There is a Rabbinic story concerning why Sinai was chosen as the place where God would give His Torah. The story goes as such, “And it happened that all the mountains began to argue with one another for the honor of being chosen as the spot for the giving of the Law. Finally, a voice thundered from heaven and said, ‘Silence! God’s presence will not rest upon mountains that are proud and that quarrel among themselves. As it is written, ‘Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble.’ The mountains ceased their arguing and listened to what the heavenly voice would say next. The heavenly voice continued and said, ‘Of all the mountains in the world, I choose the lowest, smallest, most insignificant of all, Mount Sinai.’ At this the other mountains were offended. But the heavenly voice went on to give an explanation. The voice said to Sinai, ‘I have chosen you for the honor of receiving my Torah, not only because of your humility, but also because no idol has ever been worshipped upon your slopes, because your height is far to low for the pagans.’ And so it was that Mount Sinai became the site for the giving of God’s law, and it is fitting that Mount Sinai was a mountain in the desert, because it tells the entire world, that the giving of the Torah wasn’t only for Israel, but rather Torah belonged to the entire world!” From this story we learn three reasons why the Torah was given on Sinai. First, the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, because no idol or false god had ever been worshiped on Sinai’s slopes. Second, the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, in the middle of a barren wilderness, to tell the world that the Torah doesn’t belong to some specific land or people, rather it is for everyone. Third, the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, because Sinai was one of the humblest and smallest of mountains. Keep this in mind as we move forward.   Sinai represents humility.
“The Ten Commandments
 Illustration from Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company. (1907)
So, how does this connect to our weekly Torah portion? Well, first let’s look at what this portion is about. Leviticus 25, God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and said, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord.  Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord… And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants…In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession… Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.’”
All of Leviticus 25 is about the Shmittah and Yovel years. Every seventh year there was to be a “Shmittah—Release” year, when the agricultural Land of Israel would be allowed to rest. Once 7 Shmittah cycles had been completed the nation of Israel would then celebrate the 50th “Yovel—Jubilee” year. This 50th year was like a new beginning for everyone. Debts were forgiven, slaves were freed, and the Land of Israel once again received a year of rest. Seeing that I’ve talked about these two concepts we find in the Torah portion = Mount Sinai and the Shmittah/Yovel years.  Now we must ask ourselves; what do the Shmittah/Yovel cycles and Mount Sinai have in common?
The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai happened on the 50th day after the children of Israel left Egypt. It was a new time period for the nation of Israel, experiencing freedom from slavery. The Jubilee happened every 50th year since the time the nation of Israel came into the Land of Israel. Every Jubilee was a new time period for the nation of Israel, when slaves were freed and debts forgiven. It was a “restart” and reminder, as God says in this portion, “…the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt…” In some ways, the “Yovel—Jubilee” year was a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt.
Another thing that connects Sinai to the Shmittah/Yovel years is the counting that takes place to get to each one. Seven sevens (49 days) is what it took to get Israel out of Egypt to Sinai, and Seven sevens (49 years) is the amount of time it takes to get to a Jubilee year = 50 years.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the meaning of the number Eight. Here’s part of what I said, “God created the world in seven days and after every seven days comes…the first day. But in this verse we read about an “eighth day.” Why is this important to note? Because if God fit all of creation into seven days, then anything done on an eighth day could be considered, “out of this world” right? The number eight represents the things beyond our realm. Think about it; if you flip the number 8 sideways you get the symbol for infinity.” The number Seven represents wholeness or completeness. As it says in Genesis 2:2, “…the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”
Therefore, if seven represents completeness or wholeness, then seven times seven, or, seven sevens, (whether days, or months or years) can be said to represent complete completeness or whole wholeness. Seven sevens represent a complete fullness of something. But after a multiple of seven sevens comes the number 50! As aforementioned, eight represents the things beyond this realm. So, whether we read about an eighth day or a fiftieth year, both represent things beyond our realm and understanding. These numbers, 8 and 50, in Rabbinic terms can be related to the phrase, “The era of the Messiah.” The giving of the Torah on the 50th day, the jubilee during the 50th year, the counting of the Omer (7 days x 7 weeks) until “Shavuot—Pentecost” which was the day of the giving of the Law, or the counting of the years (7 years x 7 years) which lead to the Jubilee, all these things point to a time when the Messiah will reign on the earth.
Remember, earlier I said to keep in mind that Sinai was a perfect illustration of humility. Well, Mount Sinai is the perfect place of humility. But what is the time that represents a perfect day of humility? It is the very day when the Jubilee is announced. “Yom Kippur—The Day Of Atonement.” As it is written in Numbers 29, “On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall afflict your souls; you shall not do any work.”
The Hebrew word used here for “Afflict” is the word “Anah” which can also mean, “to be bowed down, lowly, submissive.” In other words, Humble. “Yom Kippur—The Day Of Atonement” is a day of humbling oneself before God, yet, it is also the day when the Jubilee year of freedom is announced. So which is it, a day of humble affliction or a day of jubilating freedom? It is both.
“Yom Kippur—The Day Of Atonement” is also known as “The Day of Judgment.” The day when the books are opened and each individual is judged according to their own deeds, misdeeds and non-deeds. Yom Kippur, is not only a day when we remember the coming judgment, it is also the day, we should remember the coming Jubilee, when we all will rejoice at the freedom found in God. For those who put their trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Day of Judgment becomes a Day of Freedom!
                       
However, the correlations don’t stop there. “Shavuot—Pentecost” is fifty days after “Pesach—Passover” and the Jubilee is announced on “Yom Kippur—The Day Of Atonement” every fifty years. We see the connection here. But did you know there was a second giving of God’s law? There was. Moses went and received the “Torah—Law of God” on “Shavuot—Pentecost” but when Moses came back down the Mountain“As he came near the camp…he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.” 
The Golden Calf incident happens and the two Tablets of stone = the 10 commandments, well, let’s just say, Moses managed to break them all at once.
In Exodus 34, God instructs Moses to “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke.” Moses then ascends Mount Sinai and is up there again for 40 days and nights. What is interesting is that you can divide this whole incident up into 3 sets of 40 days. If you count 40 days from “Shavuot—Pentecost,” the amount of days Moses was on Mount Sinai the first time, you arrive at the date, the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day for the Jewish people. This fast commemorates some tragic events, which have occurred throughout Jewish history. Some of the more notable events are “the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, [in which] the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of sheep.” Another notable event was “The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege.”
However, the day, which set this day apart as infamous in history, was the day of the Golden Calf incident when the “Aseret HaDibrot—The 10 Words—The 10 commandments” were smashed into smithereens. From this point, you can count 40 days, which will bring you close to the start of the Hebrew month of Elul. Elul begins a time of preparation for the High Holidays of “Rosh HaShanah—The New Year” and “Yom Kippur—The Day Of Atonement.” It would have been this date when Moses would have ascended Mount Sinai again. If you count 40 days from this point, you arrive at when the “Torah—God’s law” and the “Aseret HaDibrot—The 10 Words—The 10 commandments” would have been given to Moses a second time. What is this day on the calendar? The 10th of Tishrei, which is, “Yom Kippur—The Day Of Atonement.” The second set of tablets were given on “Yom Kippur—The Day Of Atonement.” Not only is it the Day of Judgment; not only is it the Day of the announcement of the Jubilee, it is also a remembrance of the day when “Torah—God’s law” was given to mankind a second time.
“On the eve of Yom Kippur (Prayer).”
By Jakub Weinles from the National Museum in Warsaw (1870-1935)
Ezekiel 36 gives a beautiful prophecy of a future that we are starting to see even today in our times. The prophecy is quite long so I’m going to shoot straight to the point, but I would encourage everyone to read the whole chapter, and maybe even read chapter 37 as well, just for good measure. God says to His people, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” In Jeremiah 31, God speaks of a “New Covenant” made with Israel and Judah, He says, “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Together these verses are referring to a time when God removes “hearts of stone” and instead “writes His law on His peoples hearts.” I think we could view these prophecies in a sense, as a “second-giving” of God’s law. The first time the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, the people of Israel still had “stony hearts” and strayed after the Golden Calf. However, the second time the Torah was given at Sinai, the people were ready to receive it. God is going to do this again in the future. He is going to give the Torah a “second time” in a spiritual sense. We often hear the phrase “Spirit of the Law versus the Letter of the Law,” but do we really understand what this means? It means God will transform our stony letter-of-the-law hearts into soft, spirit-of-the-law hearts of flesh that can receive and understand Him and His ways.
God is like a Sculptor. Even as He carved out the 10 commandments, He carves our hearts into hearts of flesh. You recognize that in order to create letters in stone, rock must be cut away, right? This is what God is doing in our hearts. The more of His word that we allow Him to carve into our hearts, the more our stony heart is chiseled away. A sculptor doesn’t chisel a stone into a statue, instead it is as Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” This is how God “chisels and carves” us into the people He wants us to be. He sees and knows who we are, and if we allow Him to, He will turn us into the masterpiece we were created to be.
  As we close out another Book of the Torah, we say:
“Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek—
Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!”
 
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

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