In this week’s Torah portion of Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2) we are instructed to count seven Sabbatical years (7x7=49) and proclaim and sanctify the 50th year. During this jubilee year, all slaves (indentured servants) are freed, the land reverts to its original owner, and agricultural restrictions allow the soil to rest.
This portion also includes a directive to conduct business ethically, a prohibition against idolatry and concludes with a command to keep the Sabbath.
What do these diverse commandments have in common?
Spiritually, these commandments share a theme that we should trust in God alone because everything belongs to Him.
King David understood this when he said in Psalms. לְךָ֣ שָׁ֭מַיִם אַף־לְךָ֥ אָ֑רֶץ “The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours” (Psalm 89:12). Reverting land to its original owner reminds us that God is the ultimate “owner.”
Freeing slaves reminds us that men should not serve another man. Unless, for example, it is to help them pay off a debt. It should be noted that these indentured servants were treated with the utmost respect.
The commandment to free slaves reminds us that we are servants to God alone. As it says in Leviticus 25:55, כִּֽי־לִ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ עֲבָדִ֔ים “to Me the Children of Israel are servants.” This servitude is the greatest freedom because it enables finite beings to have a connection to the infinite God.
Being honest in business reminds us that we should not cheat to obtain possessions because doing so would indicate a lack of trust in God who can supply all our needs. King David stated this beautifully in Psalm 145:16, פּוֹתֵ֥חַ אֶת־יָדֶ֑ךָ וּמַשְׂבִּ֖יעַ לְכָל־חַ֣י רָצֽוֹן “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
Obviously, we need to do our part to acquire possessions, however, at the same time, we must remember that blessings come from God.
Whatever we possess is merely lent to us by God so that we may make a conscious choice to dedicate it to fulfilling God’s will, thereby sanctifying these acts and revealing Godliness in the world. By doing so, we proclaim that God is everywhere, and “there is none else beside Him” אֵ֥ין ע֖וֹד מִלְבַדּֽוֹ (Deuteronomy 4:35).
We are warned in this portion to avoid worshiping idols because idolatry denies God’s sovereignty. Finally, we must keep the Shabbat because this is a reminder that God created the world and sustains it.
The commandments found in this week’s portion might appear mundane; however, they serve to light our way to perceive the oneness of God.
The positive Jewish attitude toward the commandments was highlighted by the first century Jewish Sage Onkelos when he translated the Bible into Aramaic. In his accepted translation, the word “Torah” is translated as, אוֹרַיְתָא (oritah), which literally means “light.”
However, in the non-authoritative Greek translation, the word Torah is translated as “nόmos,” which simply means “law” a harsh sounding word that does not convey the warmth, beauty, and spirituality of Torah.
May we not only merit to practice the Torah of light, but we should also fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah to be “a light to the nations - לְא֣וֹר גּוֹיִ֔ם” (Isaiah 49:6).
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz