Parashat Behar Weekly Torah Portion
Parashat Behar talks about a few very interesting topics like The laws of the Land, Shmittah, 6 years the farmer can work the land the 7th Shabbat for the land, Yovel- 7×7 cycles of Shmittah ends with the Jubilee year- all debts are canceled, slaves are freed and the land is returned to the original owners, also the all-important Laws against interest. But how do these topics apply to us today? How does Parashat Behar relate to Positive Peer Pressure?
The Parashat Behar opens with the words: ” וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בְּהַ֥ר סִינַ֖י לֵאמֹֽר׃” “The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: (Lev 25:1)”
Shmittah Why Mentioned Now In Parashat Behar?
The Parasha then continues to describe the laws of Shmittah. This prompts the commentators to ask, Why now do we mention mount Sinai in relation to the laws of Shmittah? Answers the commentators, that just as the laws of Shmittah were given in all it’s details, so too are all the laws of the Torah given in detail at Sinai.
Are The Torah Lessons Of Parashat Behar Applicable Today?
As the events of Sinai were eternal so too the principles taught are eternal. We must then ask the question. There are many laws in the Torah that no longer apply in our generation. What are we to do with them? Gloss over them or can we still learn messages from them?
The truth is that the Torah is both a timely and timeless document. It was given to us in one generation, to our ancestors who left Egypt. but embedded within the text are timeless messages and teachings.
Free Your Slaves
In our Parasha we read that on the Jubilee year, a shofar was sounded and all the slave owners had to release their slaves and return them to their original homes. We, of course, cannot understand this. We would view it as a given. However, think about Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Even after the 10 plagues and freeing of the Jewish People, within a week they were chasing them to bring them back to be slaves in Egypt! Egyptian society could not function without its slaves. The Torah demands that every landowner was to free his slaves. A command that was difficult if not impossible for them to do. So the Torah writes, “
וְהַֽעֲבַרְתָּ֞ שׁוֹפַ֤ר תְּרוּעָה֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִעִ֔י בֶּעָשׂ֖וֹר לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ בְּיוֹם֙ הַכִּפֻּרִ֔ים תַּעֲבִ֥ירוּ שׁוֹפָ֖ר בְּכָל־אַרְצְכֶֽם׃
Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month—the Day of Atonement—you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land.
קִדַּשְׁתֶּ֗ם אֵ֣ת שְׁנַ֤ת הַחֲמִשִּׁים֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ לְכָל־יֹשְׁבֶ֑יהָ יוֹבֵ֥ל הִוא֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם וְשַׁבְתֶּ֗ם אִ֚ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּת֔וֹו וְאִ֥ישׁ אֶל־מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֖וֹ תָּשֻֽׁבוּ׃
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family. (Lev. 25:9-10)
Shofar and Slaves- What Is The Connection?
On Yom Kippur of the 50th year, the Shofar was sounded and all the slaves were free. Why sound the shofar? When the slave owner heard the shofar, he realised that it was not only him that was releasing slaves, but so were his friends and neighbours.
Hearing the Shofar, was a call of community, of shared experience. The owner was not alone. He was not the only one observing the commandment, he was part of a larger community, who were all engaged in this mitzvah.
The Demands Of The Torah
The Torah demands from us an elevation. She wants us to become the best people we can be. This is tough. Each of us has a mitzvah that we struggle with. It could be praying, kashrut, controlling our mouths, both what goes in and what comes out.
When we are part of a community of like-minded people, even the toughest tasks are manageable. We all know the power of the support group to assist the addict on his journey to back to health.
The Torah may be teaching us about the mitzvah of releasing the slaves. What I, however, hear, is the Torah teaching and guiding me about the strategies required to keep mitzvot. This is summed up in three words: Positive Peer Pressure.
When we know that others are doing it. We feel that we too can do it.
But it goes deeper. When we have a shared experience it connects us to the event in a far deeper way. Sitting at the Pesach seder, knowing that all my friends are doing the same thing with their families means that we are connected to them even if we are not with them at this moment. The same can be said with the Shabbat meal or praying with a minyan.
On the other hand when we have to do something difficult or work through a tough scenario, knowing that there are others who are going through the same experience helps us. Hearing the shofar taught us that we are not alone. If they can do this so can I.
When we are part of a community, not only can we share the pain, quite often we can receive an insight or suggestion that can help us overcome our own problem. Even if they can’t help, knowing that we are in this together helps us cope and overcome.
A deep message from our Parashat Behar.