The Terrifying Third Aliyah of Behukkotai

The Terrifying Third Aliyah of Behukkotai

May 31, 2024 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Behukkotai | Shavuot

Why do we continue to read such horrible curses, and another passage much like it in Parashat Ki Tavo (Deut. 28:1–68), each year? The simplest answer is that we read the entirety of the Torah each year, omitting nothing. However, the Mishnah (Megillah 3:6) already notes something special about the curses of the Leviticus passage: “The section of curses must not be broken up but must all be read by one person.”

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Growing Into Torah

Growing Into Torah

May 12, 2023 By Megan GoldMarche | Commentary | Behar | Behukkotai

For this week’s parashiyot, Behar-Behukkotai, I might ask: What is something that you took or borrowed from someone that you know it is time to return, perhaps because it is the right thing to do or because it will make you feel lighter? This can be a physical thing like a book or shirt, or something intangible like the hope or support you received from someone. If you are hosting shabbat dinner this week I encourage you to try it out, with a brief explanation of the ideas of Jubilee and returning land to its original owners that appears in this week’s parashah.

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The Blessings of Curses

The Blessings of Curses

May 27, 2022 By Ellie Gettinger | Commentary | Behukkotai

It is easy to see the last two years as a curse. A million people have died in the US alone; lives have been upended. We are in a constant state of emotional whiplash, responding to whatever new national emergency faces us. Reading the curses at the center of Parashat Behukkotai, I was struck by how chaos and lack of control presented within the tokhehah, or admonition, dovetails with the constant emotional disruption of the pandemic.

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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?

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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.

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Remember the Land

Remember the Land

May 31, 2019 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Behukkotai

Spring is my favorite season because it draws me outdoors, enticing me to leave the city and enjoy the rivers, fields, and mountains of this glorious earth. Even near the city I often find myself in nature, biking along the Hudson and up the Palisades past waterfalls and nesting eagles. Returning to the land reminds me of the many blessings of our world, filling me with gratitude and awe. It also causes foreboding since the signs of stress on the natural systems that make our lives possible are everywhere evident. While this era of anthropogenic climate change may be new, the concern that human conduct could lead to ruin and exile from the earth is found already in our Torah portion.

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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.

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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?

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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

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Behukkotai’s Challenge to Us

Behukkotai’s Challenge to Us

Jun 4, 2016 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Behukkotai

Blessing comes to fruition through journey. The journey may be as simple as lighting Shabbat candles or it may be as complicated as leaving the comfort of one’s home to discover new worlds. Either way, that which is familiar is left behind, and a new reality challenges one to grow and thus to earn God’s blessing. Such is the challenge of this week’s parashah.

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Making Space for New Grain

Making Space for New Grain

Jun 4, 2016 By Ofra Arieli Backenroth | Commentary | Behukkotai

Naomi Shemer, one of the most famous songwriters and performers in Israel, is known for her thoughtful songs that touch upon universal themes. In this song, she speaks about the need for rejuvenation. Every morning is an opportunity for a new experience. As successful as our days might be, there is always a need to go back to the beginning and start again.

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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.”

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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.

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Walking Together with God

Walking Together with God

May 16, 2014 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Behukkotai

I saw a strange thing on my walk to minyan the other morning.

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Between Heaven and Earth

Between Heaven and Earth

May 16, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Behukkotai

Fertility of humans and of the land is the essence of divine blessing.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Blessings From the Inside Out

Blessings From the Inside Out

May 19, 2012 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Behukkotai

One of the claims that seems to have been made at different moments in my Jewish education is that Judaism concerns itself with what a person does in the world, and not with what a person thinks. The Torah demands we pursue a life rightly lived over beliefs rightly held.

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Blessing From the Inside Out

Blessing From the Inside Out

May 21, 2011 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Behukkotai

One of the claims that seems to have been made at different moments in my Jewish education is that Judaism concerns itself with what a person does in the world and not with what a person thinks. The Torah demands we pursue a life rightly lived over beliefs rightly held. This argument underscores that the project of Torah is concerned with our behavior and not our internal life.

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