Summary: Behar-Behukotai are the 9th & 10th parashot (and last) in the Book of Leviticus comprising Chapters 25:1 – 27:34. When it isn’t a leap year, they are read together.
Behar focuses on the laws of Shemitah (Sabbatical Year), Yovel (Juilee) and limits on debt servitude. Behukotai includes a section on blessings for obeying G-d’s laws, curses for disobedience, and personal vows and their values.
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Comment: The Book of Leviticus comes to its penultimate end with a list of horrific curses awaiting those who failed to observe the Shemitah year. Often when looking at punishments in the Torah or Talmud we’re tempted to ask if they’re justified.
An example comes from Lag LaOmer where we’re told that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died in a plague for not properly showing honour to each other. The astute mind will question, where does the Torah specify that one who fails to show honour deserves the death penalty?
Likewise, in Behukotai we understand that letting the land lay fallow and leaving its produce for the poor is an act of extreme faithfulness and loving kindness. For in the days of an agricultural society, what would one eat if the land wasn’t ploughed? But why should violating Shemitah laws result in such cruelty?
A possible explanation is that G-d created our world and is willing to bless us to the extent we seek to be in relationship with the Almighty. But, choosing to ignore G-d’s directive is tantamount to breaking off the relationship. In a world without G-dliness, the result usually leads to narcissism, rule of the most powerful, abandonment of ethical norms, disenfranchising the weak and vulnerable and finally to self-extinction.
The curses of Behukotai are couched in the language of anger and indifference. The anger perhaps to frighten us and get our attention, as a parent tries to scare a child away from doing something harmful to itself. The indifference perhaps is a warning that as we conduct our lives, so will the world around us respond.
Anyone with a garden knows how easy it is for indolence to set-in, weeds to grow and chaos to prevail. Shemitah laws remind us that we’re all creatures of the Divine and each of us is part of a much larger whole. Ignoring the suffering of others is against the Jewish view and lends support to a world of chaos.
In an age of enlightened thinking and global connection, we have within our ability to avoid and overcome the curses of Behukotai. We simply need the Will to do so.