Sabbath Rest for the Land

You've heard of the Sabbath day, but have you ever heard of the Sabbath year? It happens once every seven years.

Agricultural fields in the Galilee region in Israel. (Image: © Bigstock/evgeshag)

Behar-Bechukotai

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Behar-Bechukotai (בהר/בחקותי | On the mountain/In my statutes)
  • Torah: Leviticus 25:1-27:34
  • Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14
  • Gospel: Luke 4:14-22; Matthew 16:20-28

Regular readings above are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the current Torah Portion Schedule for all these variations, and special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Leviticus 25:1 | The Sabbatical Year
    • Leviticus 25:8 | The Year of Jubilee
    • Leviticus 26:1 | Rewards for Obedience
    • Leviticus 26:14 | Penalties for Disobedience
    • Leviticus 27:1 | Votive Offerings
  • Prophets
    • Jer 16:14 | God Will Restore Israel
    • Jer 17:1 | Judah's Sin and Punishment
    • Jer 17:14 | Jeremiah Prays for Vindication
    • Jer 17:19 | Hallow the Sabbath Day

Portion Summary

Behar

The thirty-second reading from the Torah and second-to-last reading from the book of Leviticus is called Behar (בהר), which means "On the Mountain." The name comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which could be literally translated to read, "The LORD then spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai" (Leviticus 25:1). This portion from the Torah introduces the laws of the sabbatical years, the jubilee and laws concerning redemption. In most years, synagogues read Behar together with the following portion, Bechukotai.

Bechukotai

The last reading from the book of Leviticus is called Bechukotai (בחקותי), which means "In My Statutes." The name comes from the first verse of the reading, which begins with the words "If you walk in My statutes ..." (Leviticus 26:3). This last reading from Leviticus promises blessings and rewards for Israel if they will keep the Torah, but punishment and curses if they break the commandments of the Torah. The last chapter discusses laws pertaining to vows, valuations and tithes. In most years, synagogues read Bechukotai together with the preceding portion, Behar.


Before you start to wonder how you will get time off from work to keep a Sabbath for a whole year, note that the sabbatical year is not a Sabbath for people, it is a Sabbath for the land of Israel. The Torah instructs the children of Israel to let the land of Israel rest by desisting from agriculture for one out of every seven years. Farmers in the land of Israel were instructed to let the land go fallow. They were not to plow, sow, prune, reap or trim during the seventh year. They could pick and eat the crops that grew of their own accord, but that was to be the limit of their agricultural production.

This does not mean that people in North America or Africa need to let their gardens and fields go unplanted or untended during the sabbatical year. The sabbatical-year laws apply only to agriculture in the land of Israel. That is why the Torah says, "When you come into the land ..." before introducing the sabbatical-year law.

Why does the land of Israel need to rest? Does it get tired? The word shabbat (שבת) does not mean "to rest" in the sense of taking a nap or getting some relaxing time by lounging around for a while. The main idea behind the word shabbat is "to cease" or "to desist." The Sabbath a day of ceasing from production and creation. So too the land of Israel was to have a year of ceasing from production.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that if we did stop working, the world will stop spinning. The Torah seeks to teach us to place our trust in God rather than our own efforts. Imagine having a year off, once every seven years, to devote yourself to studying the Scriptures, learning Torah and serving the kingdom.

The anticipation of the coming sabbatical year transforms the other six years. Rather than simply mundane agriculture and production, the six years work toward a goal: the sabbatical year. The sabbatical year teaches that even our normal occupations and vocations should be working toward the goal of the kingdom.

A person may not think of his job as particularly spiritual or godly. For example, suppose a person works as a clerk at a grocery store. His entire day is spent scanning purchases, punching a cash register and making change. Nothing very holy about that, and grocers do not get a sabbatical year. However, when he remembers that he is not simply working for a paycheck but that he is working with the goal of serving the kingdom, his mundane job becomes meaningful. With the money he makes from the job, he supports his family, gives to charity and affords a Sabbath day that he can give to the LORD. He is not just working for a paycheck, he is working for the kingdom of heaven.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Unrolling the Scroll. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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