D’var Torah: Parashat Behar-Bechukotai
By Cantor David E. Reinwald
I was recently reminded by a friend that 20 years ago, I celebrated my bar mitzvah. It was a Jewish leap year in 1992, and thus the Torah portions were broken up from their double portions to fill four extra weeks added to the extra month granted to us in a Jewish leap year. (It was a secular leap year too, but, alas, that makes no impact on the Jewish calendar.) So, my Torah portion was the second of the two of this week’s double portion, Behar-Bechukotai. There are direct relationships between these two portions, and thus we have the decision of the ancient rabbis to connect these together in the greater amount of non-leap years that we find.
In the first portion (Behar, “on the mountain”), we learn of the sh’mittah year, a sabbatical year for the land. This occurs every seven years, when we are commanded to let the land rest, and then also every half century, a jubilee (yuval) occurs where again the land is resting and all land returns to its original owners. What is made clear here is that “the land is God’s property, made available for the use of God’s people (Lev 25:23). It is not to be exploited for the enrichment of some individuals to the detriment of others” (Plaut, 849).
In the second portion (Bechukotai “in my laws/statutes”), we are left with the listing of a series of blessings and curses, almost seeming to be a precursor to the second paragraph of the V’ahavta (which we do not chant aloud in Reform tradition), in directing us to fulfill our commitment to mitzvot and to bring us the blessings without the curses. The similar ideas of the second paragraph of the V’ahavta will appear in our readings in a few months, when we arrive at Deuteronomy 11:16-17. It, too, is a shear warning for us to follow what we have been instructed to do, lest it lead us along the wrong path. Parashat Bechukotai ends with a reminder of our direct connection to the nature around us, of which we have been divinely provided and blessed. It reads “All tithes from the land, whether seed from the ground or fruit from the tree, are the Eternal’s; they are holy to the Eternal” (Num. 27:30).
And this is how we are left at the end of the book of Leviticus, filled with more laws and commandments than any other book of the Torah. I think back to the young student I was when I first encountered this portion at age 13. I understood only a small bit of what this portion had to teach, but I lived it every day in my budding interest as an Eco-conscious kid. I was aware of the little things I could do to help the land rest and to pay respect to what we have been given. I loved to recycle, to make sure that I was being conscious of the amount of energy I was using in our house, and I started a chapter of a kid’s eco-conscious organization, KIDS FACE (For a Cleaner Environment). And, the lessons of the portion ring loud today—perhaps, much louder than they did in their earlier days. This portion is a “green portion.” As we close this third book of the Torah, let us say “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik,” (our phrase which we say every time we end a book of the Torah) not only for ourselves, but for the commitment we can and will make to strengthen the land and nature which surround us and ultimately strengthen our livelihood.