This week, we come to the end of Sefer Vayikra with the reading of a double parsha, Behar-Bechukosai. Parshas Behar deals mainly with property law and the mitzvah of Shemittah, the obligation to let the land lay fallow every seventh year. The majority of Parshas Bechukosai is a list of curses known as the Tochachah, a warning for the Bnei Yisrael if they don’t keep the Torah. On the surface, there does not seem to be a strong connection between these two parshiyos other than the fact that they are written one after the other.
At the end of the Tochachah, a connection emerges. After listing all the terrible things that will happen to the nation concluding with that they will be driven out of a destroyed Eretz Yisrael, the Torah tells us why this exile is necessary. “אָז֩ תִּרְצֶ֨ה הָאָ֜רֶץ אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתֶ֗יהָ כֹּ֚ל יְמֵ֣י הָשַּׁמָּ֔ה וְאַתֶּ֖ם בְּאֶ֣רֶץ אֹֽיְבֵיכֶ֑ם” “Then the land will appease its Shemittah years during all the years of its desolation, while you are in the land of your foes” (Vayikra 26:34). Rashi explains that the exile will be a direct result of the nation not keeping Shemittah (and Yovel, the 50th year of a Shemittah cycle where the same laws apply). The land will receive its rest one way or another, if the people wouldn’t do it themselves, the land would demand it by throwing them out. He explains further that from the time the Bnei Yisrael entered the land until the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, there were 70 shemittahs which they failed to observe; therefore, they were forced into exile for 70 years, comeuppance for the missed years of rest.
However, this goes against a different Rashi we see at the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai. The parsha begins, “אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַֽעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם” “If you will go in My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them” (ibid:3). The pesukim then go on to list a series of blessings Bnei Yisrael would receive for doing so. Since the performance of mitzvos is already listed in the pasuk, Rashi proves that “If you will go in My statutes” must refer to diligence in the study of Torah. In Pasuk 15, the curses begin with the same wording of “statutes” and “commandments”, and say that the failure in these ideas will lead to the curses. This Rashi clearly states that the reason for the curses and eventual exile is for failing to study Torah properly, not for the failure to observe shemittah! So which is the real reason for the exile, failing to observe shemittah or failing to study Torah?
This, explains Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, is the connection between Behar and Bechukosai. Parshas Behar opens with the mitzvah of shemittah, and the laws that connect to it continue until the end of Bechukosai. Following the basic laws of shemittah, the pesukim continue with the laws of selling land in Eretz Yisrael. Certain restrictions were placed on the sale of land in Eretz Yisrael, one of which was that every sale was essentially a lease until the next Yovel. Then, the end of the Parsha discusses the purchase of Jews as servants. The longest they could be purchased for was until Yovel, with some being released by the next shemittah. So, in essence the entire Parshas Behar deals with shemittah.
At the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, the Torah encourages us to study Torah, this is connected to shemittah as well. In those days, the Jewish People were almost all farmers; keeping shemittah taught them to have faith in Hashem that really the success of their crops was dependent on Him. However, if you gave them an entire year off for shemittah, what were they supposed to do? Chazal tell us that during shemittah, they were all supposed to be totally engrossed in learning Torah. Farming is a busy job that keeps you busy from dawn until dusk, leaving very little time for Torah study; a full year free of farming responsibilities provided the nation with an opportunity to commit themselves to studying Torah, giving them a connection to Hashem through His precious gift said from His own mouth. Failure to do so is a failure to keep shemittah. One of reasons we were given shemittah was in order to make time to learn, and if we don’t, then we are not keeping the mitzvah as it should be kept.
So shemittah was the reason for the first exile from Eretz Yisrael, or more specifically, the fact that they didn’t take advantage of the time like they were supposed to. However, it wasn’t because they didn’t keep the applicable farming laws, it was because they didn’t keep another of the primary purposes of shemittah, engrossing themselves in the study of Torah. Let us strive to make this connection to Hashem on a constant basis, and commit a little more time to study Torah whenever we can.
Chazak Chazak V’Nischazek!
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