Bits of Torah Truths, פרשת בהר ובחקתי, Parshiyot Behar-Bechukotai, The Shemitah and having Mercy
This week’s Torah portion states the following in Vayikra / Leviticus 25:17-19 saying, ולא תונו איש את־עמיתו ויראת מאלהיך כי אני יהוה אלהיכם 25:17 Do not wrong one another, but fear your God; for I the LORD am your God. ועשיתם את־חקתי ואת־משפטי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם וישבתם על־הארץ לבטח 25:18 You shall observe My laws and faithfully keep My rules, that you may live upon the land in security; ונתנה הארץ פריה ואכלתם לשבע וישבתם לבטח עליה 25:19 the land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill, and you shall live upon it in security. In the context of the Shemittah we read the Lord saying obedience to His Mitzvot (commandments) leads to living in safety in the land in which we dwell. The Shemittah is the sabbatical year (שמיטה which literally means “release” and is the 7 X 7th year of the agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel to remain at rest for one year and to release all debts. In the commentary Chizkuni on Vayikra / Leviticus 25:18 Part 1 we read the following, “ועשיתם את חקותי, “You will keep My laws;” this is a reference to all laws pertaining to land in the Holy Land and any laws subject to being performed only in the Holy Land as much as they apply during the sh’mittah and Yovel years.” Chizkuni states in Part 3 of his commentary saying, “if you do this you will live in this and securely, where your security will be bound up with your loyalty to God’s Torah. (וישבתם על הארץ לבטח)” Note how Chizkuni concludes our faithfulness (loyalty) to the commandments will lead to a blessing upon our lives and the lives of our children. The Shemitah and Yovel laws belong to the commandments categorized as “decrees.” The Scriptures say וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, “and My social laws you shall keep/observe,” which follow immediately refer to the rules about reversing the sales into service, or the sale of property due to duress which when the party making the sale became more affluent can be reversed, as well as to all the laws involving wrongdoing. Rashi on Leviticus 25:18 Part 1 states saying, “וישבתם על הארץ לבטח [WHEREFORE YE SHALL DO MY ORDINANCES] AND YE SHALL ABIDE IN THE LAND IN SAFETY — It states this because as a punishment for the sin of neglecting the laws of ”Shemittah” Israel becomes exiled, as it is said (Leviticus 26:33, 34) “(And I will disperse you among the nations…] Then shall the land makeup for the Sabbatical years… even then make up for her Sabbatical years that she has not observed” (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 33a). The seventy years of the Babylonian exile were indeed a punishment corresponding to the seventy Sabbatical years which they had neglected (cf. Rashi on Leviticus 26:35).” Notice how Rashi concludes the seventy years of Babylonian exile were in direct relation to the neglect of seventy occurrences of the command on the Shemitah. The reason is we do not read of Israel obeying this command on the Shemitah in the Tanach following their entry into the Promised Land. Take note how mercy is connected to the Shemitah release. If we consider all of these things in context, the Lord says וַעֲשִֹיתֶם אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי“you shall carry out My decrees, etc.” these words not only refer back to the Shemitah but also to the commands on social behavior (וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ, “and you are to observe My social laws”). This is interpreted from the Hebrew words חקים and משפטים making two categories, the חקים (statutes) such as the Shemitah, and cheating (not having mercy to release debt or being dishonest) belongs to the category of משפטים. These two categories juxtaposed together suggest the freeing of slaves and the social laws, illustrate how we are to be merciful towards others. As a result of such behavior, fairness, mercy, justice, and truth lead to dwelling in the land securely. This is the point of God’s Torah, His Commands are holy, righteous, and good! (Romans 7:12) Israel went into exile as a result of her failure to heed these warnings. These things summarize for us not just the importance of the Shemitah but also the importance of all of Torah as the instruction book for our lives. The Lord calls us to holiness, to apply all of His words to our lives. This week’s Torah portion illustrates for us the reasons why it is so important to study, apply, and to teach others to apply God’s Word as the Children of God. This is what is meant when Yeshua said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15, Luke 14:23, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:7-8) Note how in Matthew 28:19 Yeshua says “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The gospel message is found in God’s helping us to obey his commands, and baptism is found in the mikvah and repentance (turning from sin), and devoting our lives to the Lord determining our hearts to serve Him all the days of our lives!