Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #32 B’har (On Mount) Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:1-26:2
Haftarah: (Yirmeyahu) Jeremiah 32:6-27
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Corinthians 7:21-24
This week’s parashah primarily addresses Shemittah (loosen or detach) which is the seventh or Sabbatical year and Yovel which is the Jubilee year. These are the cycles of 7 and 50 years that YHVH Elohim has commanded that the Land of Israel must rest. The land’s rest in the seventh year teaches that the primary force in the universe is G-d, not natural law. HaShem guarantees a three-fold harvest in the preceding year if Israel obeys Him. By leaving his fields unattended and unguarded for a year, the Israelite demonstrates that this world is but a corridor leading to the ultimate world; that true life comes when man stops striving for material gain in favor of dedication to spiritual growth. But man cannot abstain from the world in which he lives. Shemittah only occurs every seven years, allowing man to work for six years, just as we are to work six days, resting on the seventh (Shabbat). This recognition infuses holiness and purpose into our work years and work days. It is a complete rest for the land just as Shabbat is to be a complete rest for man. We are not to harvest what grows by itself from the seeds left from the previous harvest, or grapes that grow from the untended vine. However what the land produces during the year of Shabbat can be eaten. The logical question would be, “what’s the difference between the produce and the grapes and what grows from the seeds left from the previous harvest?
First let’s talk about the place where the orders for Shemittah were given. Most of the laws in Leviticus were given in the Tent of Meeting. The reference to untended grapevines teaches us that the owner may not harvest, store or sell the yield, but it may be consumed by his family and others within the community. The land’s rest in the seventh year reminds us that the determining factor in human material human success is G-d, not the law of nature or man’s sense of self-worth. This command provides further support that G-d is the Author of the Torah because G-d guarantees the year before Shemittah he will order His blessing over the land that there will be enough harvest on the sixth year for three years. However, this blessing is conditional on keeping G-d’s regulations, rulings, and acting accordingly (Lev. 25:14). No human can make such a prediction with validity or reliability. During the Shemittah year, it is forbidden for owners of the land to treat it as their own and forbid others to benefit from the available food. Owners, gentiles, and animals must have equal access. After all, the land truly belongs to HaShem. We are merely stewards of all He allows us to use during our lives. The food cannot be harvested for commercial use. Lev. 25:23 reminds us that G-d owns the land. Therefore it is never to be sold. This is the basis for the general prohibition against owning land in Israel. Unfortunately, there are many who chose to override G-d’s law, buy and sell land today. There are others who farm the land in direct violation of G-d’s Torah, minimizing, rationalizing, and justifying their actions. There is no valid excuse. This practice is directly driven by greed and not trusting the G-d of Israel, period. We are allowed to eat the fruit of what was already planted intentionally in the Shemittah year, but we cannot eat from seedlings that unintentionally fell and produced from the previous year’s harvest (Lev. 25:5).
Ramban comments that the comparison between Shemittah and the Sabbath is to bear testimony to YHVH’s creation of the universe in six days and His rest on the Sabbath. This is why Shemittah unlike the other festivals is likened to the Sabbath. The seven years of the Shemittah cycle allude to the six thousand years of history allotted to mankind with the seventh year or Sabbath year being the millennial reign of Yahshua HaMashiach in which there will be peace though His ruling with an iron hand (Rev. 2:27; 19:15)
G-d set up an economic framework that necessarily contains a moral, ethical code and universal blueprint. This concept stands in striking contrast to the post-modern, values clarification system promoted and taught in our schools and practiced in our society today. What is right for our president changes daily based on his rules and standards that are not based on G-d’s standards. Some examples include his stance on GLTs (Gays. Lesbians, and Transvestites), immigration, taxes, what is just on all counts, and so on. G-d demands respect for human dignity; not license to do whatever we may feel is acceptable in our own eyes at the moment. Man’s wisdom leads to death and G-d makes this truth very clear in the following passages just to list a few:
Isaiah 55:9 For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Proverbs 14:12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof [are] the ways of death.
Proverbs 16:25 There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof [are] the ways of death.
Another example in the context of buying and selling property, Corinthians 1:19 reads “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” In contrast to the American system of loans that allowed people to purchase houses above and beyond what they can afford-d does not promote an ideal that says it is ok to buy now, pay later. No one should be a slave to his or her employer or anyone else. We see this enslavement everywhere today. Some people owe so much money to various creditors they can never hope to retire. They work in a job they hate while their employers add more and more work with no change in pay or hiring others to lighten the load. After all, they know there are many unemployed persons who are waiting in line. The snowball effect ends with an avalanche of increased individual and social stress, fear, illness, anger, and death because they do not follow G-d’s Torah. This is a direct cause and effect scenario.
The crux of the command of Shmittah and Shabbat for man, animal, and land is that no man is an army of one and all G-d’s creation needs rest. G-d makes a point to inform us that He rested on the seventh day. Who are we to think we do not need to observe the same practice, especially when He commands it?
We are responsible for promoting the welfare of another, including animals and the land. We are implicated in the fate of others to a degree. Those who are blessed by G-d; and anyone who has anything has it at G-d’s unmerited kindness, with more than they need should share with others who have less. In Judaism this is a matter of justice and not charity. This is what the concept of tzedakah entails. G-d is our provider YHVH Yiryeh as first called by Avraham. If we tout ourselves as being his descendants, the hospitality for which Avraham is known should be manifest in us. However, we are NOT responsible for the free-will choices others make.
There are a number of other laws within this parashah that Israelites must observe; laws pertaining to slavery, idol worship, and Shabbat. Why do these laws follow the laws of Shemittah and Yovel?
Just as YHVH created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, so we are commanded to do. Shabbat was set aside for us to medicate upon YHVH and His creation. We need to take time fully dedicating the day to fully appreciate the wonders G-d has created for us. Not only His creation, but every blessing that sometimes comes in the way of trials and adversities. Included is our ability to earn a living and to be productive. Although work was one of the initial curses on mankind for eating the forbidden fruit, G-d often allows us to find a job we enjoy. Of course we should find joy in serving the L-rd in everything we do, but some jobs are more satisfying than others. Shabbat is the perfect opportunity to remember and acknowledge YHVH/Yahshua, His creation, and his continued sustenance.
So, we can answer the question, “why do these laws follow the laws of Shemittah and Yovel” by understanding that all the commandments in this Parashah revolve around the same concept: YHVH Elohim’s insistence that believers recognize that fact that the world and its inhabitants belong to Him. Whatever we have in the way of possessions are but a loan from YHVH’s storehouse of riches.
We should also look at verses 14-55 and examine the sequence of the passages. They seem to be arranged randomly, but Rashi explains their logical sequence. By the progression of these commandments, the Torah implies that if one allows greed to keep him from obeying the Shemittah and Jubilee prohibitions, he will eventually wind up losing his money and will be forced to sell his moveable property (v.14). If he still does not repent, he will be forced to sell his ancestral portion (v. 25-28) and his house, finally having to borrow with interest. If this level of punishment is not effective, he will eventually have to sell himself as a bondsman to a fellow Israelite (v.37-43), and ultimately as a slave to a non-Israelite. Finally, and worst of all, he will sell himself and become a servant of idols (vv.47-55). Note that G-d commanded that and Israelite be redeemed as soon as possible from a non-Israelite because of the real fear that the Israelite would become assimilated and begin to worship idols with his non-Israelite owner.
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 32:6-27
Once again, we see the consistency of G-d’s Torah running like a winding river throughout the Book. This haftarah is no exception. The punishments that await those who choose to disregard G-d’s Torah are contrasted with the blessings for those who are obedient. Jeremiah rebukes the Israelites for their idolatrous ways and for their lack of faith in G-d. This is not unlike what we see in American society and in many other societies. Jeremiah conveys G-d’s words of wrath for those who do not trust G-d, foretelling exile as their punishment. Think for a moment on what Jeremiah must have though when G-d told him to tell the Israelites of what was to come and of his own imprisonment. He must have had some mental conflicts and lots of questions unless he was so attuned to G-d that his trust was unwavering. We need to think about the following passage and consider where we are in the spiritual scheme of things:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man and relies on mortal flesh for his strength, and whose heart turns away from G-d. He shall be like a lone tree in the desert, and will not see when good comes, and will dwell on parched land in the desert, on salt-sodden soil that is not habitable. Blessed is the man who trusts in the L-rd, to whom G-d will be his trust. For he shall be like a tree planted by the water, and which spreads its roots out into a stream, so it will not be affected when heat comes, and its leaves shall be green, and in the year of drought will not be anxious, neither shall it cease from bearing fruit.”
The haftarah ends with a passage we would do will to memorize or place somewhere where we can see and ponder it daily: G-d who is the source of the hopes of Israel, all that forsake You shall be shamed, and they who turn away from me shall be marked out on the earth that they have forsaken G-d, the source of living waters. Heal me, O G-d, then I shall be healed; help me, then I shall be helped, for You are my praise.” Again we see the purpose for our lives; that G-d may be glorified and praised; that all the nations will know that He is Adonai.
Let us not waste our time engaging in and listening to all the media hype about the end of the world, ancient aliens and why we should seek to communicate with them; conspiracy theories or anything else that distracts so many from what we should be doing; studying and internalizing G-d’s regulations, statutes, and laws. If we are sincerely concerned about the future, we need look no further than G-d’s Torah for the answers and how to prepare. This isn’t beyond our reach. We should learn and repent while it is still day and not when it seems convenient. We must place our trust and obedience with the Creator of the universe. There is no higher authority.
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Corinthians 7:21-24.
“Were you a slave when you were called? Well, don’t let it bother you; although if you can gain your freedom, take advantage of the opportunity. For a person who was a slave when he was called is the L-rd’s freedman; likewise, someone who was a free man when he was called is a slave to the Messiah. You were bought at a price, so do not become slaves of other human beings. Brothers, let each one remain with G-d in the condition in which he was called.”
“For a person who was slave when he was called is the L-rd’s freedman.”
This statement has application in the physical and spiritual realms. We are not to place ourselves in any position in which we become slaves to human masters as we learned from the parashah. This includes monetary or any other type of indebtedness. Recall the scenario in an earlier parashah whereby a slave takes an awl in his ear as a sign that he chooses to remain a slave to his human master (Deut. 17:17). This is not a situation to which we should voluntarily submit. However, if we find ourselves physically imprisoned, we can gain spiritual freedom by choosing to follow G-d’s Torah. We may still remain behind bars, but we are then spiritually free. Once we choose follow G-d’s Torah, we also become free to serve Him, if even only spiritually. Yahshua’s sacrifice freed us from the automatic death indictment that would have been imposed had we continued to follow the ways of the world. At this point we become a slave of the Messiah for we are bought at a price. Our freedom in Yahshua was not free. The evidence is Yahshua’s sacrifice so often taken for granted and misunderstood. The passage continues “You were bought with a price, so do not become slaves of other human beings. Brothers, let each one remain with G-d in the condition in which he was called.” People are called by G-d in many different situations. Sha’ul was called to a different direction on a dirt road on a donkey. G-d had to blind him in order that he might see the truth. Mary was summoned by an angel. Moshe was called from a burning bush that was not consumed. Joseph had a dream. We must be ready to take every opportunity given us to serve G-d when and where He chooses to call on us. Do we make ourselves available to Him? Do we boldly and humbly say “Hine ni Adonai!” (Here am I L-rd/G-d/Yahshua!)
The following is a teaching in which the concepts in this week’s lesson are applied. This teaching format is called and we would do well to take it to heart.
“Trace to its roots the cause that is thus producing want in the midst of plenty, ignorance in the midst of intelligence, aristocracy in democracy, weakness in strength- that is giving to our civilization a one-sided and unstable development, and you will find it something which this Hebrew statesman three thousand years ago perceived and guarded against. Moshe saw that the real cause of enslavement of the masses of Egypt was what has everywhere produced enslavement, possessing by a class of the land upon which and from which the whole people must live. He saw that to permit in land the same unqualified private ownership that by natural right attaches to things produced by labor would be inevitably to separate people into the very rich and the very poor, inevitably to enslave labor… everywhere in the Mosaic institutions is the land treated as a gift of the Creator to His common creatures, which no one has the right to monopolize. Everywhere it is not your estate, or your property, not the land which you bought, or the land which you conquered, but ‘the land which the L-rd thy G-d giveth thee to possess’ (future tense not yet realized). Although there are some who acknowledge the Divine source of these regulations, many now denounce them as ‘old fashioned’, ‘irreligious’, and ‘communistic’ Henry George). Some hold these regulations as socialistic in their support for the current president and his possible successor. One big difference is ignored by these supporters; a Theocracy run by G-d cannot be compared to a dictatorship run by any man. It will not be successful simply because of human greed in all its flavors and colors that will display itself until Messiah establishes His Kingdom once and for all. Compare this teaching to the philosophy of American political leadership currently in place and consider how nothing has changed. In fact, it has gotten worse, just as Messiah Yahshua said it would and will continue to wax worse. The establishment of the Third Temple and Moshiach’s subsequent rule will be the only remedy for this situation. May it be in our lifetimes.
Rabbi Tamah Davis