Weekly Manna – Parashat Bahar

Parashat Behar–

I recently heard this portion referred to as the heart of the Torah, based on the following: It is the 32nd portion we have read in 5779.  The letter “lamed” has a numeric value of “3”, and the letter “bet/vet” has a value of “2”.  Lamed-Vet spells “Lev”, heart, and their values are, side by side, 32.  However, the most compelling evidence to me that this portion is the heart of the Torah lies in the mitzvot it contains – in particular the shemita and yovel years, and the mitzvah of not charging interest when you lend money to a fellow Israelite.  These are all mitzvot that will only be done by someone who truly cares about others!

I am fascinated by the concept of the sabbatical years.  Can you imagine if we all got a whole year off once every seven years?  Who wouldn’t love that!  And if you had made some serious errors that had resulted in debt and/or the loss of freedoms, all that would be reversed and you’d get a “do-over”, with a clean slate.  Sadly, from everything I have read, it doesn’t appear that the Jewish people have ever really observed the sabbatical years properly. Why?!?!?  We know that they went into Babylonian captivity for 70 years for having neglected to give the land its rest for 490 years! One year of captivity for every missed shemita. Add another 10 years for the missed yovel’s and that’s a total of 500 years that Hashem patiently waited for the people to follow His instructions.  Talk about slow to anger!  B”H!

I remember when my kids were little and I told them it was nap time.  They would cry and beg me not to make them nap, and I was thinking, “man, do I ever wish someone would tell me to go take a nap!”.  What is it that makes us reluctant to rest when we are told to?  Why do we act like children, when we are told to take a break from the activities that keep us so busy in this world?  What would we do if we were given a break from the mundane things of this world?  The time off, as it were, would need to be used wisely.  I imagine that Hashem wanted to give even those with the busiest schedules and the most demanding jobs, an opportunity to stop, take a deep breath, and realize who is really running the show.  Then, it would seem natural to me, that one would want to utilize this gift of time to draw closer to the One in charge, which is done through prayer and Torah study.

“All the Torah we learn, and everything we do to serve Hashem, is for the purpose of rectifying the world for Hashem and His Shechinah, and for destroying the thorns and thistles from the yineyard.”  (The Abir Ya’acov, Pituchei Chotam on Behar)

We are told in Pirkei Avot that there are 48 ways to acquire the Torah.  In order for a person to learn Torah with proper kavanah, he must follow all 48 of these ways.  The numerical value of the word Yovel (yod, vav, vet, lamed) is 48 (10 + 6 + 2 + 30 = 48).

“Torah is even greater than the Kehunah or royalty; for royalty is acquired along with thirty prerogatives, and the Kehunah with twenty-four (gifts), but the Torah is acquired by means of forty-eight qualities.” (Avot 6:6)

The point being, that if one must have all 48 ways to acquire the Torah properly, it must be extremely powerful! The Abir Ya’acov tells us further that the Yovel year, being the 50th year, represents the 50th gate, where Hashem’s “right hand” is open wide to receive anyone who repents (Tikkunim 76b).  He then suggests that one read “it shall be a yovel year for you” to mean “make a yovel for yourself”, by learning Torah with all 48 ways.  Rabbi Shmuel Wittow in his book, “The Forty-Eight ways to Acquire Torah”, lists the 48 as follows:

  • Learning, Listening, Verbalizing Divrei Torah, Understanding of the Heart, Awe, Fear, Humility, Joy, Purity, Serving the Sages, Careful Analysis with Peers, Yeshiva, Chumash and Midrash, Limited Business Activity, Limited Sleep, Limited Physical Pleasure, Limited Speech, Limited Laughter, Limited Activity in Worldly Affairs, Patience, A Good Heart, Faith in the Sages, Acceptance of Suffering, Knowing One’s Place, Being Happy with One’s Lot, Making a Fence Around One’s Words, Not Claiming Credit for Oneself, Being Beloved, Loving Hashem, Loving Mankind, Loving Righteous Ways, Loving Rebuke, Loving Honesty, Keeping Far from Honor, Not Being Arrogant About One’s Learning, Not Enjoying Halachic Decision-Making, Sharing his Fellow’s Yoke, Judging his Fellow Favorably, Guiding his Fellow Towards the Truth, Guiding his Fellow Towards Peace, Reaching Charity in One’s Heart, Questioning and Answering, Listening and Adding, Learning in Order to Teach, Learning in Order to Accomplish, Making his Teacher Wiser, Attaining a Complete Understanding, and last but certainly not least, Repeating a Saying in the Name of the One Who Said it.

It appears to me that the Torah is achieved by doing what the Torah teaches.  It’s all about working on ourselves by consciously improving our middot (literally middot = measures – it’s about improving our character traits), and building a solid relationship with man and G-d.

Rabbi Avraham Areh Trugman says that the Shemitah is, “practically, spiritually, and even mystically, the cornerstone of Torah Society”.  He explains that the Sabbatical years teaches us that all human striving and achievement must be in tune with Hashem’s cycle and plan for humanity.  Hashem repeatedly gives us clues in the cycles of 7:

* Work 6 days, and rest on the 7th day

* Work the land 6 years, and rest both the land and from your labor on the 7th year

“Like all the other mitzvot, the sabbatical year is ultimately meant to manifest and fulfill Judaism’s spiritual values, underscoring the fact that in Judaism religious practice and belief are not divorced from daily life.  Loving and honoring G-d goes hand in hand with loving one’s fellow man, and in fact the two are dependent on one another.” (R’ Avraham Arieh Trugman, Orchards of Delight on Behar)

That is why Hashem has given us so many mitzvot pertaining to our behavior towards one another.  Mitzvot like the shemita & yovel years, or lending money to a brother in dire straits, out of the sheer goodness of your heart, as it would appear that there is nothing for you to gain by doing so.  Actually, by the wisdom of the world of economics and finance, the one lending the money without interest is losing money, since, due to inflation, the money he lends will likely be worth less when it is returned, than it was when it was lent.  Not to mention he is giving up the opportunity to invest the money elsewhere, where he is likely to receive a return on his investment. Similarly, when the shemita and yovel years come, the one who has helped his brother, will have to relinquish the right to be compensated further, whether the debt is paid in full or not.  Without a healthy love for others, and a strong emunah and bitachon in Hashem, these mitzvot would be very difficult to do.

“You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land.” (Vayiqra 25:10)

Vayiqra 25:39-40 states that a master may not abuse an indentured servant, and after six years of service or in the Jubilee year he must let the servant go free.  Just prior to the destruction of the first Temple, the Israelites violated this law and refused to emancipate their servants.  The Navi Yirmeyahu strongly reprimanded them, and although they did initially listen and let their servants go free, we are told that they soon reneged and took them back.  The Navi then told them that their refusal to obey would bring Divine Wrath, and that they would be punished.  Soon after they were conquered by their enemies and exiled from the Land. (See Yirmeyahu 34).

Apparently, we humans have a deep-seated drive to have mastery over others, and we find it very difficult to yield control once we have a taste of it.

“I suspect that the need to control others may stem from feelings of inadequacy and poor self-esteem.  If the person felt better about himself, he might not need to exert his power over other people. The need to control others is most unhealthy.  It does not mean that one is a powerful person.  To the contrary, it is an indication that a person is trying to overcome his sense of weakness by dominating others.  A truly powerful person is a person who is master over himself, who can exert self-control rather than control others.”  (R’ A. J. Twerski, M.D., Twerski on the Chumash, Behar)

“Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? He who learns from every person, as it is said: ‘From all my teachers I grew wise.’ Who is strong? He who subdues his (evil) inclination, as it is said: ‘He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man, and one who rules his passions is better than one who conquers a city.’  Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot, as it is said: ‘When you eat of the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy and all is well with you.’ ‘You are praiseworthy’ – in this world; ‘and all is well with you’ – in the World to Come.” (Avot 4:1)

Isn’t it amazing that we can learn so many important lessons from just three mitzvot?  These are no small matters.  Time and again, our Sages and Rabbis tell us we cannot love Hashem if we do not love our brothers and sisters!   I pray that we learn to have compassion when we see our fellow struggling and it is in our power to help him.  I also pray that once given this amazing opportunity, we do not then feel that this brother is our servant or that we are allowed to control him.  When we eat of the labor of our hands, I pray we are praiseworthy and all will be well with us.

Be blessed and be a blessing,


About the author
Rhonda has traveled from Utah to Toronto in what seemed to be a season of wanderlusting, which ended up being a relocation in the making. Using her life experiences, Rhonda teaches from the heart and is a perfect example of what it means to follow your heart and dedicate yourself to your spiritual community. Join Rhonda every week as she gives us our Weekly Manna on the Torah Portion for Women.

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