The Limitations of Ownership

The Limitations of Ownership

May 20, 2022 By Yedida Eisenstat | Commentary | Behar

Rashi, the well-known medieval northern French biblical commentator, begins his commentary on this week’s parashah with a famous question, loosely paraphrased as follows: In what way does the matter of shemittah[the sabbatical year] have anything to do with Mount Sinai? In other words, the laws of Leviticus 25—beginning with the agricultural restrictions of the seventh year, the regulations regarding the jubilee year, limitations on sale of land and slaves—are wholly dependent on Israel living in Israel. So why, Rashi asks, were these laws commanded so long before they would become relevant? Of what relevance are the laws of shemittah to the Israelites at Sinai?

Read More
Why Do Jews Still Adhere to the Torah’s Covenant?

Why Do Jews Still Adhere to the Torah’s Covenant?

May 7, 2021 By Jeremy Tabick | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

Why do we, as Jews, have fealty to the Torah? Why do many of us feel bound by the Torah’s laws?

Read More
The Nature of Peace

The Nature of Peace

May 15, 2020 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

The description of peace and prosperity in this week’s Torah portion seems particularly fitting for our current situation.

Read More
Leveling the Field

Leveling the Field

May 24, 2019 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Behar

Growing up in Philadelphia, I often went with classmates to Independence Hall, where I swelled with pride to see that the Liberty Bell bore engraved words from the Torah:

 “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.” (Lev. 25:10)

Read More
The Theology of Meteorology

The Theology of Meteorology

May 11, 2018 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

Imagine if your weather app displayed not images of sun and clouds, but icons of good and evil, like this:  ☹. Each city might have a virtue index—with the weather forecast tracking not the jet stream but morality, indicated by a friendly or fierce face. City X has been charitable, so they can expect light rains followed by sunny skies, but City Y has seen an uptick in violent crime, so it is in for a drought or hurricane. Such a system sounds absurd, and yet it is basically what the Torah presents as a theology of weather.

Read More
The Limitations of Ownership

The Limitations of Ownership

May 19, 2017 By Yedida Eisenstat | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

Rashi, the well-known medieval northern French biblical commentator, begins his commentary on this week’s parashah with a famous question, loosely paraphrased as follows: In what way does the matter of shemittah [the sabbatical year] have anything to do with Mount Sinai? In other words, the laws of Leviticus 25—beginning with the agricultural restrictions of the seventh year, the regulations regarding the jubilee year, limitations on sale of land and slaves—are wholly dependent on Israel living in Israel. So why, Rashi asks, were these laws commanded so long before they would become relevant? Of what relevance are the laws of shemittah to the Israelites at Sinai?

Read More
בהר סיני (“At Mount Sinai”)

בהר סיני (“At Mount Sinai”)

May 19, 2017 By Louis Polisson | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

At Mount Sinai
We chose Her
And what did She say?

Declare liberty for boy and girl
There shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land
A Sabbath
For Being

Read More
Facing Our Past and Looking Toward the Future

Facing Our Past and Looking Toward the Future

May 27, 2016 By Michal Raucher | Commentary | Behar

Recently, the US Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, on the $20 bill. Tubman was born as a slave around 1820, ran away in 1849, and returned south repeatedly to usher more than 300 slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Her selection for the $20 bill is exciting news, because Tubman will be the first African American and the first woman to appear on federal paper currency. Women and civil rights leaders will be added to the $5 and $10 bills in the coming years, as well. While these changes are long overdue, the question is whether this change is merely symbolic or a further step toward acknowledging our nation’s ugly history of slavery. 

Read More
How Many Harvests

How Many Harvests

May 27, 2016 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Behar

In its radical reframing of our right to claim ownership of anything and anyone, Parashat Behar sets our mortality against God’s eternality, and our contingent lease to the Land against God’s permanent deed: “The Land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the Land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me” (Lev. 25:23).

Read More
God’s Earth: Between Blessing and Curse

God’s Earth: Between Blessing and Curse

May 15, 2015 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

Here is Leviticus—in many ways the most intimate of the Torah’s five books, because it usually meets us frail, mortal, human beings where we live, in our skins and with our families, in private spaces of home and tabernacle—instructing us as a society, as a species, that divine blessings of rain and sun will turn to curses if we do not do our part in stewarding God’s earth properly. The text insists that a fateful choice is in our hands. And it seems far from confident that we will make the choice wisely.

Read More
A Little Black Mark

A Little Black Mark

May 15, 2015 By Rachel Bovitz | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin describes a personal practice that involved daily focus on 13 moral virtues. Franklin’s memoir, translated into several languages in the late 18th century, became widely influential, reaching even Eastern Europe, where Rabbi Menahem Mendel Lefin of Satanov wrote Heshbon Hanefesh, published in 1808. Rabbi Lefin included justice and most of the other virtues in Franklin’s list when he created his 13 primary middot (moral virtues) to be focused upon in mussar practice (the Jewish approach to cultivating these virtues). Rabbi Lefin’s definition of tzedek (justice) paraphrases a classic Talmudic teaching attributed to Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”

Read More
Shemitah, Freedom, and Covenant in the Face of Assimilation

Shemitah, Freedom, and Covenant in the Face of Assimilation

May 9, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Behar

Parashat Behar opens with the commandment to observe the sabbatical cycle (for six years, one may plant crops and work the land and then, in the seventh year, the land must rest—what is known in halakhic terms as shenat shemitah, “the year of release”); shemitah or “release” is observed today in the Land of Israel.

Read More
Peacemaking and the Quest for Holiness

Peacemaking and the Quest for Holiness

May 9, 2014 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Behar

The book of Leviticus could not be clearer on the point that extraordinary action is called for as part of the Israelite’s calling to be “holy unto the Lord your God.” 

Read More
Yom Yerushalayim—Inhabiting the Land

Yom Yerushalayim—Inhabiting the Land

May 1, 2013 By Burton L. Visotzky | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai | Yom Yerushalayim

Our double Torah portion opens with God’s command to Moses to tell the Israelites, “When you come to the land that I am giving you, and you inhabit the land.” No sooner did I read this verse as I prepared to write these words of Torah, than my own counting of the days flashed back 46 years to my first time ever in Israel, when I was a teenager on Camp Ramah Israel Seminar.

Read More
The Promise of Security

The Promise of Security

May 1, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

Parashat Behukkotai opens with a dramatic quid pro quo.

Read More
Raising the King’s Sons

Raising the King’s Sons

May 19, 2012 By David Levy | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

In Parashat Behukkotai, God spells out a list of blessings that will come if the Israelites will follow God’s rules. This is followed by a harrowing list of curses that will ensue if the Israelites fail in this task. Finally, at the end of chapter 26, God foretells that even after the curses, when the Israelites repent, He will remember the covenants He made with our ancestors, and will remember the land. 

Read More
We Are All Borrowers

We Are All Borrowers

May 13, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Behar

I love discovering rabbinic texts like the one above that make such radical claims about Torah and God in general or about particular laws like tzedakah (righteous giving), one subject at the heart of this week’s Torah portion.

Read More
Freeing Today’s Slaves

Freeing Today’s Slaves

May 13, 2011 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Behar

“Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” These words from our parashah (Leviticus 25:10) are famously inscribed upon the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and they have resounded as a message of hope for the oppressed throughout the world. Yet our parashah also contains a darker message that endorses slavery, just as America has paired proclamations of liberty with cruel practices of slavery and discrimination throughout its history. In the same chapter of Leviticus, we read that non-Israelite residents of the land may be acquired as permanent slaves, and may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property for all time.”

Read More
Our Relationship to God

Our Relationship to God

May 10, 2010 By Lisa Gelber | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

As I chanted this verse from the end of Parashat B’har, over and over again, in preparation for reading Torah, it suddenly occurred to me how clear the Torah is about our relationship to God as slaves. Not so many weeks ago, we focused on our enslavement in Egypt. Think back to the Passover seder, where we sang Avadim Hayinu (We Were Slaves). Not to God; rather, l’Pharaoh b’meetzrayeem (to Pharaoh in Egypt). We know the story, and can name the oppressor. So if we were slaves to Pharaoh, and then God took us out of bondage—out of the narrow places, the straits of Egypt—what are we to do with this idea of our enslavement and servitude to God?

Read More
Rashi’s God and Ibn Ezra’s God

Rashi’s God and Ibn Ezra’s God

May 16, 2009 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

I am in the midst of reading Michael Fishbane’s recently published book Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology. Especially compelling, from my perspective, is the emphasis he places on experiencing the act of biblical interpretation which “is understood to foster diverse modes of attention to textual details, which in turn cultivate correlative forms of attention to the world and divine reality” (page xi). To quote my student Rachel Isaacs (rabbinical student in my Advanced Exegesis class), “Fishbane articulates most clearly the reason why rabbinical students are engaged in the types of learning they are. Close reading [of the Torah text] is not a useless skill or a rite of passage. It forces us to have an intimate, thoughtful, and challenging relationship with the text. As a result, we acquire new revelations through the process of encountering the text as much as we do from the content itself.”

Read More
Reset Search

SUBSCRIBE TO TORAH FROM JTS

Our regular commentaries and videos are a great way to stay intellectually and spiritually engaged with Jewish thought and wisdom.