Shabbat Behar 5774

It’s always a pleasure to have a guest giving the dvar Torah, as we do for Lay-leader Shabbat this week. But since we always use this spot as a kick-start to the Shabbat morning dvar Torah, our darshan, Robert Fogel, welcomed my invitation to give you something to think about in advance of his teaching.

Parshat Behar, which is quite brief in length, addresses three major categories of law. The first is about shemittah, the sabbatical laws–that is to say, the laws about planting crops, and when we aren’t permitted to plant: “But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath of the LORD: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard” (Leviticus 25:4)

The second set of laws deal with land ownership and the conditions for selling and redeeming that land.  But clearly, there are limitations on landowners: “But the land may not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me” (25:23)

Finally, there’s the matter of servitude–the rules associated with owning people. Here, too, the Torah places limitations on us: “You shall not rule over him ruthlessly; you shall fear your God” (25:43).

These passages address the realities of the Biblical era. The question is, though they are generally inapplicable today, as even shemittah means little to us in the Diaspora, what can we learn from the ideas behind them and apply that learning to contemporary life? We look forward to hearing Bob’s thoughts on Shabbat morning.   

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise