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 addresses Sh’mittah, the next one being next Fall. 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. Sh’mittah applies the concept of the Nazarite vow to the Land; the “after-growth” of harvest is left growing like the unkempt hair of a Nazarite (Num. 6:5).The grapes of nazir (consecrated) vines are not gathered; and Sabbath-ceasing means no m’lachah (assigned tasks). 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”? What is difference between the produce and the grapes and what grows from the seeds left from the previous harvest?
To understand this parashah as all scripture, we must always put it in the correct context. 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, others within the community, including the wild beasts. 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. 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. By our observance of Shabbat and Sh’mittah, we infuse holiness and purpose into our work, no matter the occupation or our state of health. 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. 25:14, 17, 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. Since fields revert to the ancestral owners every 50 years, the selling price of Land diminishes each year. The year before Jubilee, the price of Land is not even one year’s harvest (Lev. 25:16). Yovel (Jubilee, Home-bringing) creates a constructive tension between capitalism (which rewards owners of capital and land) and communism (which accords equal status to all). Yovel eliminates oppression across generations. Every 50 years, clans receive back their original territories, including all improvements to their holdings. It will be a Jubilee year when Israel inherits the Land promised in the covenant between G-d and Abraham!
Unfortunately, there are many who chose to override G-d’s law, who 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.
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 in the eyes of our leaders and the society from which they are elected changes daily based on what seems right according to man’s wisdom that only leads to death ( Proverbs 16:25). Failure to observe the covenant sets Israel on a spiritual path that leads back to slavery. Israel was chosen to set the example for those who would follow G-d including Gentiles. Israel includes anyone who follows G-d’s Torah whether a biological Jew or fellow traveler. After all, a true Jew is defined in Romans chapters 2-3.
Examples of man overriding G-d’s Torah include sanctioning gay marriage, preference for some groups and not others on a plethora of issues, inequality in taxation, abortion, and promoting the teaching of secular humanism in our schools, to name a few. 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; Prov. 14:12; Prov. 16:25.
Another example in the context of buying and selling property is found in Corinthians 1:19 which 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 allowed people to purchase houses above and beyond what they could 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. 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 spiritual and physical descent of disobedience to G-d’s Torah spirals from loss of movable property (Lev. 25:14) to the forced sale of ancestral lands (Lev. 25:25), loss of one’s house (vv.29-31), debt (v. 36), servanthood (v. 39), and selling oneself to a non-Jew whose family serves idols [v. 47, Rashi]. This process translates the same in today’s world. According to Yahshua, non-Jews are described in John chapter 14 as those who rebel against G-d’s Torah; antinomians. An Israelite must be impoverished before G-d permits him to sell ancestral lands. The principle that G-d owns all Land immediately obligates relatives of the impoverished to redeem the old property. Kinsman redeemers can purchase back property even against the will of the buyer, after a two-year waiting period [Rashi; Kidd.21]. But if no one pays the price of redemption, then at Yovel, the shofar proclaims, “Every man to his clan, and every clan to its Land!” This describes YHVH/Yahshua’s plan from beginning to end. Yahshua is our kinsman redeemer and Israel (all true believers according to the Seven-Fold witness in Revelation) will be rejoined with their tribes and returned to the Land. How beautiful is this continuity of scripture and consistency of our G-d! (Amos 9:14-15; Ezek.36:1-31).
The crux of the command of Sh’mittah and Shabbat for man, animal, and land is that G-d is in control and that all His creation needs rest from the mundane. We get a taste of this every Shabbat. 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 purport 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.
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 32:6-27
This is a perfect follow-up of this week’s parashah. The punishments that await those who choose to disregard G-d’s Torah are compared to 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 globally. 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 thought when G-d told him to tell the Israelites 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. Our best weapon is a consistent lifestyle based on and guided by G-d’s Torah.
Let us not waste our time engaging in and listening to all the media hype about the end of the world, ancient aliens, comets, contrails, or anything else that distracts so many from 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 for it. This isn’t beyond us. 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 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, no matter our condition. 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. Here’s a news flash; 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. 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. Thanks to G-d, His will for our lives is found in his Torah. All we need do is “Sh’ma Israel;” Hear (physically and spiritually) the words of G-d’s Torah, internalize that which we learn, and act upon it. We must render ourselves “user friendly” to our Creator and Redeemer. Are you ready and willing?
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart