Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #32-33 B’har (On Mount) and B’chukkotai (By my regulations)
Haftarah: (Yirmeyahu) Jeremiah 32:6-27
B’rit Chadashah: 1 Corinthians 7:21-24
Sh’mittah (loosen or detach) is the subject of this week’s parashah which is every seventh year; the next one beginning the Fall of 2021. Man is given six years to work the land and plant our crops; 6 representing the number of man in Gematria. However, on the seventh year we are to let the land rest and recover. 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 is difference between the produce and the grapes and what grows from the seeds left from the previous harvest?
We need to understand where this command for Sh’mittah was 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 success is G-d, not the law of nature or man’s sense of self-worth. The Sages tell us that true life comes when man stops striving for material gain in favor of dedication to observing G-d’s Torah out of love and obedience. We discussed this concept last week in the context of believers being free to serve others without an underlying desire for praise or gain from another. By our observance of Shabbat and Sh’mittah, we infuse holiness and purpose into our work, no matter the occupation. This command provides further support that G-d is the Author of the Torah because G-d guarantees the year before Sh’mittah 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 Sh’mittah 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 Sh’mittah year, but we cannot eat from seedlings that unintentionally fell and produced from the previous year’s harvest (Lev. 25:5).
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 gay marriage, immigration, taxes, justice 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 opposition to the American way that often encourages people to purchase houses above and beyond what they can afford, G-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. Today we see this enslavement everywhere. 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 people 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 Sh’mittah 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 others, including animals and the land. We are implicated in the fate of others to a degree. Those who are blessed by G-d should share any excess with those who are less fortunate. 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.
The subsequent parashah describes G-d’s blessings for living and observing his Torah and curses for choosing to not listen or obey them. One would think that when these were given, there would be no question about listening, internalizing, and acting upon the commands of G-d. May we not let any opportunity for growth in G-d’s Torah slip away to our ultimate destruction because we procrastinated or did not take G-d seriously. 2000-2001 and 2007-2008 were the last two Sh’mittah years. Note the events that took place in America during those two years. In 2001, the Twin Towers were destroyed; the symbol of American materialism. In 2007-8 the widely-watched the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a pre-recession, all-time high on October 9, 2007, closing at 14,164.43. Less than 18 months later, it had fallen more than 50% to 6,594.44 on March 5, 2009. This wasn’t the largest decline in history — during the Great Depression, the stock market took a 90% hit. However, it was more vicious — it took only 18 months, while the fall during the Depression took over three years. While 18 may be interpreted as meaning a new beginning, it also signifies bondage from which new beginnings often occurred. This particular type of bondage is mentioned 18 times in Scripture. Its mention in Exodus 20, the chapter that first delineates G-d’s Ten Commandments, is in the context of the first commandment. After the word “bondage/ slavery” G-d commands the children of Israel (true believers) NOT to worship other gods (Exodus 20:2 – 3). Serving other gods places people into spiritual bondage under Satan and his demons, which G-d punishes with physical bondage (see Judges 2:7, 10 – 12, 14) in order for people to reconsider their ways and repent. Could America and other societies that are increasingly rebellious against G-d be headed for the same fate? Time will tell, but if history serves us correctly, and I believe all historical accounts in G-d’s Torah are reliable and valid, the worst is yet to come.
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 32:6-27
Once again, we see the consistency of G-d’s Torah running like an unbroken, ribbon throughout the Book. This haftarah is no exception. The punishments that await those who choose to disregard G-d’s Torah (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit discussed last week), 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 and 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. Consider the following passage and consider where you 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 well 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, or anything else that distracts so many from what we should be doing; studying and internalizing G-d’s Torah. 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 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. This includes every 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 to 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. Freedom is not free! It never has been nor will it ever be. 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!)? May it be so.
Rabbi Tamah Davis