Shabbat Commentary

15/16  May: Behar-Bechukotai :Shabbat comes in 8:32 pm, ends 9:46 pm

This week’s portion contains laws that limit someone’s right to the land.  For six years we can harvest our crops.  But on the seventh year we must allow the land to lie fallow.  Obviously this leaving the land alone has certain agricultural value.  It is an opportunity to replenish the soil.  But there is another powerful symbolism in not working the land every seven years.   By not working the land, we are reminded that “the earth is the Lord’s.”  We only have temporary use of the land.

There is another law in this week’s portion which drives the point home even more strongly.  Every fifty years a shofar is sounded on Yom Kippur, and all land reverts to its original owners.   Of course this hearkens back to the Biblical days when the land was divided between the various families in the various tribes.

If a family is forced by poverty to sell their land, the new owner does not take possession forever.  They have use of the land until the Jubilee year, when it reverts back to its originally owner.  This law, perhaps a bit idealistic, prevents property from accumulating in the hands of the wealthy few.

In our modern society we are strong believers in property rights.  I am a homeowner and I appreciate the fact that I own a little piece of real estate in Israel.  But every now and then it is important to remember that God is not interested in the few accumulating great wealth and control over a lot of real estate.  God is interested in ensuring that everyone has a plot of land to call home.

Written by ,
Rabbi Paul Arberman






















































































































































































































































































































































































So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme.  One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.


Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.


Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself.  This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:

” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,

hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,

as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”

Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society.  His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.

I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman









May 13, 2020