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Behar, BeHar, Be-har, or B’har (בהר — Hebrew for "on the mount,” the fifth word, and the first distinctive word, in the parshah) is the 32nd weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the ninth in the book of Leviticus. It constitutes Leviticus 25:1–26:2. Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in May.

The lunisolar Hebrew calendar has a leap year every two or three years, in which an extra month is added to the calendar. In leap years (for example, 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2016), parshah Behar is read separately on the 32nd Sabbath of the annual cycle (which begins on Simchat Torah). In non-leap years (for example, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015), parshah Behar is combined with the subsequent parshah, Bechukotai, to ensure that the sequence of readings is completed by Simchat Torah.

Jemenittisk sjofar av kuduhorn

a shofar

Summary

A Sabbatical year for the land

On Mount Sinai, God told Moses to tell the Israelites the law of the Sabbatical year for the land. (Lev. 25:1–2.) The people could work the fields for six years, but in the seventh year the land was to have a Sabbath of complete rest during which the people were not to sow their fields, prune their vineyards, or reap the aftergrowth. (Lev. 25:3–5.) They could, however, eat whatever the land produced on its own. (Lev. 25:6–7.)

The people were further to hallow the 50th year, the Jubilee year, and to proclaim release for all with a blast on the horn. (Lev. 25:8–10.) Each Israelite was to return to his family and his ancestral land holding. (Lev. 25:10.) In selling or buying property, the people were to charge only for the remaining number of crop years until the jubilee, when the land would be returned to its ancestral holder. (Lev. 25:14–17.)

Dead Sea Sunrise

land near the Dead Sea

God promised to bless the people in the sixth year, so that the land would yield a crop sufficient for three years. (Lev. 25:20–22.) God prohibited selling the land beyond reclaim, for God owned the land, and the people were but strangers living with God. (Lev. 25:23.)

Judea

land in Judea

If one fell into straits and had to sell land, his nearest relative was to redeem what was sold. (Lev. 25:25.) If one had no one to redeem, but prospered and acquired enough wealth, he could refund the pro rata share of the sales price for the remaining years until the jubilee, and return to his holding. (Lev. 25:26–27.)

If one sold a house in a walled city, one could redeem it for a year, and thereafter the house would pass to the purchaser beyond reclaim and not be released in the jubilee. (Lev. 25:29–30.) But houses in villages without encircling walls were treated as open country subject to redemption and release through the jubilee. (Lev. 25:31.) Levites were to have a permanent right of redemption for houses and property in the cities of the Levites. (Lev. 25:32–33.) The unenclosed land about their cities could not be sold. (Lev. 25:34.)

Limits on debt servitude

If a kinsman fell into straits and came under one’s authority by virtue of his debts, one was to let him live by one’s side as a kinsman and not exact from him interest. (Lev. 25:35–36.) Israelites were not to lend money to countrymen at interest. (Lev. 25:37.) If the kinsman continued in straits and had to give himself over to a creditor for debt, the creditor was not to subject him to the treatment of a slave, but to treat him as a hired or bound laborer until the jubilee year, at which time he was to be freed to go back to his family and ancestral holding. (Lev. 25:39–42.) Israelites were not to rule over such debtor Israelites ruthlessly. (Lev. 25:43.) Israelites could, however, buy and own as inheritable property slaves from other nations. (Lev. 25:44–46.)

If an Israelite fell into straits and came under a resident alien’s authority by virtue of his debts, the Israelite debtor was to have the right of redemption. (Lev. 25:47–48.) A relative was to redeem him or, if he prospered, he could redeem himself by paying the pro rata share of the sales price for the remaining years until the jubilee. (Lev. 25:48–52.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Leviticus chapter 25

Leviticus 25:1–34 — a Sabbatical year for the land

Tractate Sheviit in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the Sabbatical year in Exodus 23:10–11, Leviticus 25:1–34, and Deuteronomy 15:1–18 and 31:10–13. (Mishnah Sheviit 1:1–10:9; Tosefta Sheviit 1:1–8:11; Jerusalem Talmud Sheviit 1a–87b.)

Rabbi Isaac taught that the words of Psalm 103:20, “mighty in strength that fulfill His word,” speak of those who observe the Sabbatical year. Rabbi Isaac said that we often find that a person fulfills a precept for a day, a week, or a month, but it is remarkable to find one who does so for an entire year. Rabbi Isaac asked whether one could find a mightier person than one who sees his field untilled, see his vineyard untilled, and yet pays his taxes and does not complain. And Rabbi Isaac noted that Psalm 103:20 uses the words “that fulfill His word (dabar),” and Deuteronomy 15:2 says regarding observance of the Sabbatical year, “And this is the manner (dabar) of the release,” and argued that “dabar” means the observance of the Sabbatical year in both places. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:1.)

The latter parts of tractate Arakhin in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the jubilee year in Leviticus 25:8–34. (Mishnah Arakhin 7:1–9:8; Tosefta Arakhin 5:1–19; Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 24a–34a.)

The Mishnah taught that the jubilee year had the same ritual as Rosh Hashanah for blowing the shofar and for blessings. But Rabbi Judah said that on Rosh Hashanah, the blast was made with a ram’s horn shofar, while on jubilee the blast was made with an antelope’s (or some say a goat’s) horn shofar. (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:5; Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 26b.)

The Mishnah taught that exile resulted from (among other things) transgressing the commandment (in Leviticus 25:3–5 and Exodus 23:10–11) to observe a Sabbatical year for the land. (Mishnah Avot 5:9.)

A midrash interpreted the words “it shall be a jubilee unto you” in Leviticus 25:10 to teach that God gave the year of release and the jubilee to the Israelites alone, and not to other nations. And similarly, the midrash interpreted the words “To give you the land of Canaan” in Leviticus 25:38 to teach that God gave the Land of Israel to the Israelites alone. (Exodus Rabbah 25:23.)

At a feast, Rabbi served his disciples tender and tough cuts of beef tongue. When his disciples chose the tender over the tough, Rabbi instructed them so to let their tongues be tender to one another. Rabbi taught that this was the meaning of Leviticus 25:14 when Moses admonished: “And if you sell anything . . . you shall not wrong one another.” (Leviticus Rabbah 33:1.) Similarly, a midrash concluded that these words of Leviticus 25:14 taught that anyone who wrongs a neighbor with words will be punished according to Scripture. (Leviticus Rabbah 33:5.)

In a Baraita, the Rabbis interpreted the words “you shall not wrong one another” in Leviticus 25:17 to prohibit verbal wrongs, as Leviticus 25:14 had already addressed monetary wrongs. The Baraita cited as examples of verbal wrongs: (1) reminding penitents of their former deeds, (2) reminding converts’ children of their ancestors’ deeds, (3) questioning the propriety of converts’ coming to study Torah, (4) speaking to those visited by suffering as Job’s companions spoke to him in Job 4:6–7, and (5) directing donkey drivers seeking grain to a person whom one knows has never sold grain. The Gemara said that Scripture uses the words “and you shall fear your God” (as in Leviticus 25:17) concerning cases where intent matters, cases that are known only to the heart. Rabbi Johanan said on the authority of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai that verbal wrongs are more heinous than monetary wrongs, because of verbal wrongs it is written (in Leviticus 25:17), “and you shall fear your God,” but not of monetary wrongs (in Leviticus 25:14). Rabbi Eleazar said that verbal wrongs affect the victim's person, while monetary wrongs affect only the victim's money. Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said that while restoration is possible in cases of monetary wrongs, it is not in cases of verbal wrongs. And a Tanna taught before Rav Nahman bar Isaac that one who publicly makes a neighbor blanch from shame is as one who sheds blood. Whereupon Rav Nahman remarked how he had seen the blood rush from a person’s face upon such shaming. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 58b.)

Rabbi Phinehas in the name of Rabbi Reuben interpreted the words “If your brother grows poor . . . then shall his kinsman . . . redeem” in Leviticus 25:25 to exhort Israel to acts of charity. Rabbi Phinehas taught that God will reward with life anyone who gives a coin to a poor person, for the donor could be giving not just a coin, but life. Rabbi Phinehas explained that if a loaf costs ten coins, and a poor person has but nine, then the gift of a single coin allows the poor person to buy the loaf, eat, and become refreshed. Thus, Rabbi Phinehas taught, when illness strikes the donor, and the donor’s soul presses to leave the donor’s body, God will return the gift of life. (Leviticus Rabbah 34:2.) Similarly, Rav Nahman taught that Leviticus 25:25 exhorts Israel to acts of charity, because fortune revolves like a wheel in the world, sometimes leaving one poor and sometimes well off. (Leviticus Rabbah 34:3.) And similarly, Rabbi Tanhum son of Rabbi Hiyya taught that Leviticus 25:25 exhorts Israel to acts of charity, because God made the poor as well as the rich, so that they might benefit each other; the rich one benefiting the poor one with charity, and the poor one benefiting the rich one by affording the rich one the opportunity to do good. Bearing this in mind, when Rabbi Tanhum’s mother went to buy him a pound of meat, she would buy him two pounds, one for him and one for the poor. (Leviticus Rabbah 34:5.)

The Gemara employed Leviticus 25:29 to deduce that the term yamim (literally “days”) sometimes means “a year,” and Rab Hisda thus interpreted the word yamim in Genesis 24:55 to mean “a year.” Genesis 24:55 says, “And her brother and her mother said: ‘Let the maiden abide with us yamim, at the least ten.” The Gemara reasoned that if yamim in Genesis 24:55 means “days” and thus to imply “two days” (as the plural implies more than one), then Genesis 24:55 would report Rebekah’s brother and mother suggesting that she stay first two days, and then when Eliezer said that that was too long, nonsensically suggesting ten days. The Gemara thus deduced that yamim must mean “a year” in Genesis 24:55, as Leviticus 25:29 implies when it says, “if a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; for a full year (yamim) shall he have the right of redemption.” Thus Genesis 24:55 might mean, “Let the maiden abide with us a year, or at the least ten months.” The Gemara then suggested that yamim might mean “a month,” as Numbers 11:20 suggests when it uses the phrase “a month of days (yamim).” The Gemara concluded, however, that yamim means “a month” only when the term “month” is specifically mentioned, but otherwise means either “days” (at least two) or “a year.” (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 57b.)

Leviticus 25:35–55 — limits on debt servitude

In the words, “Take no interest or increase, but fear your God,” in Leviticus 25:36, “interest” (neshech) literally means “bite.” A midrash played on this meaning, teaching not to take interest from the poor person, not to bite the poor person as the serpent — cunning to do evil — bit Adam. The midrash taught that one who exacts interest from an Israelite thus has no fear of God. (Exodus Rabbah 31:13.)

Rav Nahman bar Isaac (explaining the position of Rabbi Eleazar) interpreted the words “that your brother may live with you” in Leviticus 25:36 to teach that one who has exacted interest should return it to the borrower, so that the borrower could survive economically. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 61b–62a.)

A Baraita considered the case where two people were traveling on a journey, and one had a container of water; if both drank, they would both die, but if only one drank, then that one might reach civilization and survive. Ben Patura taught that it is better that both should drink and die, rather than that only one should drink and see the other die. But Rabbi Akiba interpreted the words “that your brother may live with you” in Leviticus 25:36 to teach that concern for one’s own life takes precedence over concern for another’s. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 62a.)

Abaye said that because the law (in Leviticus 25:39–43 and elsewhere) required the master to treat a Hebrew slave well — and as an equal in food, drink, and sleeping accommodations — it was said that buying a Hebrew slave was like buying a master. (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 20a.)

Rabbi Levi interpreted Leviticus 25:55 to teach that God claimed Israel as God’s own possession when God said, “To Me the children of Israel are servants.” (Exodus Rabbah 30:1; see also Exodus Rabbah 33:5.)

Commandments

According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 7 positive and 17 negative commandments in the parshah:

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 064

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (painting by Rembrandt)

(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 3:363–461. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1984. ISBN 0-87306-297-3.)

Haftarah

The haftarah for the parshah is Jeremiah 32:6–27.

When parshah Behar is combined with parshah Behukotai, the haftarah is the haftarah for Behukotai, Jeremiah 16:19–17:14.

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Biblical

Early nonrabbinic

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Sheviit 1:1–10:9; Rosh Hashanah 3:5; Ketubot 9:9; Nedarim 9:4; Kiddushin 1:2–3; Bava Metzia 5:1–11; Sanhedrin 3:4; Makkot 3:9; Avot 5:9; Bekhorot 9:10; Arakhin 7:1–9:8. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 68–93, 304, 424, 487, 544, 588, 618, 687, 807, 821–24. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Sifra 245:1–259:2. Land of Israel, 4th Century C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifra: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 3:291–344. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-207-0.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Peah 67a; Sheviit 1a–87b; Maasrot 31b, 42b; Orlah 8a. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 3, 6a–b, 9, 12. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006–2009.
  • Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael 1:2. Land of Israel, late 4th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:6. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-237-2.
  • Leviticus Rabbah 1:1; 2:2; 7:6; 29:11; 33:1–34:16. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 4:2, 21, 98, 378, 418–45. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
    First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)

    Talmud

  • Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 12b, 36b, 47b; Shabbat 33a, 96b, 131b; Pesachim 51b, 52b; Yoma 65b; Sukkah 3a, 39a, 40a–b; Beitzah 34b, 37b; Rosh Hashanah 2a, 6b, 8b–9b, 13a, 24a, 26a, 27b, 30a, 33b–34a; Taanit 6b, 19b; Megillah 3b, 5b, 10b, 22b, 23b; Moed Katan 2a–4a, 13a; Chagigah 3b; Yevamot 46a, 47a, 78b, 83a; Ketubot 43a–b, 57b, 84a, 110b; Nedarim 42a, 58b, 61a; Nazir 5a, 61b; Sotah 3b; Gittin 25a, 36a–39a, 44b, 47a, 48b, 65a, 74b; Kiddushin 2b, 8a, 9a, 14b–17b, 20a–22b, 26a, 33b, 38b, 40b, 53a, 58a, 67b; Bava Kamma 28a, 62b, 69a–b, 82b, 87a, 101a–02a, 103a, 112a, 113a–b, 116b, 117b; Bava Metzia 10a, 12a, 30b, 47b, 51a, 56b, 57b, 58b, 59b, 60b–61b, 65a, 71a, 73b, 75b, 79a, 82a, 88b, 106a, 109a, 114a; Bava Batra 10a, 80b, 91b, 102b, 110b, 112a, 137a, 139a; Sanhedrin 10b, 12a, 15a, 24b, 26a, 39a, 65b, 86a, 101b, 106b; Makkot 3b, 8a–b, 11b–12a, 13a, 21b; Shevuot 4b, 16a, 45a; Avodah Zarah 9b, 20a, 50b, 54b, 62a; Menachot 84a; Chullin 6a, 114b, 120b; Bekhorot 12b–13b, 51a, 52b; Arakhin 14b, 15b, 18b, 24a–34a; Temurah 6b, 27a; Niddah 8b, 47a–48a, 51b. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
  • Tanhuma Behar. 6th–7th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Metsudah Midrash Tanchuma: Vayikra. Translated and annotated by Avraham Davis; edited by Yaakov Y.H. Pupko, 5:502–30. Monsey, N.Y.: Eastern Book Press, 2006.
Rashi woodcut

Rashi

Medieval

  • Rashi. Commentary. Leviticus 25–26. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 3:317–46. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89906-028-5.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 2:18. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 93. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
  • Zohar 3:107b–111a. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.

Modern

Thomas Hobbes (portrait)

Hobbes

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