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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Leviticus/Vayikra - Behar 101

Posted May, 2000
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Parashat Behar can be found in Vayikra (Leviticus) Chapter Chav-Hay through Chav-Vav:gimel (25:1 through 26:3).  Bahar focuses on the Shmitah years - the seventh year of the seven-year cycle when the ground is to lay fallow.  The Parashah then goes on to discuss the Yovel, commonly but mistakenly considered seven cycles of seven years each.  In reality, the Yovel year - the end of the seven shmitah years - is the fiftieth year, not the forty-ninth.  It was in this year that all debts are considered null, land that had been pledged for the purpose of a loan was returned to its original owner, and so forth.  One might ask how it is that such a law could be fair.  Quite simply, this only applied to certain obligations - not all.  The obligations that were related to things given by Hashem and owned by Hashem could be forgiven or return to original owners, as an example the lands outlined in the Torah and their relationship to particular tribes.  Other things, personal loans and obligations, were not included.

Within all of this, there is a unique commandment that can be found at Khav-Hay:yud-zayin (Chapter 25, verse 17).  The transliterated Hebrew is as follows:

V'lo tonu ish et-ahmito v'ahrit me-ehlohechah ki ani Hashem ehlohekem.

The Stone Edition Chumash translates this as

Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your God; for I am Hashem, your God:

Rav Raphael Samson Hirsch, in his Chumash, translates this phrase a little differently as:

And ye shall not hurt the feelings of one another but thou shall fear your Lord, for I, God, am your Lord.

Using either translation, it is easy to perceive this as the most difficult of all commandments to keep.  However, with a little explanation, the intention behind the commandment becomes just a little more clear.  Rav Hirsch lists specific examples but begins by saying, "This prohibition embraces any and every kind of hurting the feeling of others by words . . ." The examples he lists are:

         making reference to the shady past of somebody, or to that of his parents

         making aggravating reproaches in times of trouble

         putting to shame in public

         calling somebody by jeering names

         especially hurting somebody by words in such a way that only God can see the evil intent

Rav Hirsch goes on to say:  

The admonition addresses all members of the nation together and says:  they are not to hurt one another in any way, each one is to fear his God, is to know that God has His Eye and His Ear directed to each one of them, and also that He is equally the God of each of his brethren.  Thereby is described what is to be the direct result of the institution of shmitah and youvel for the whole social life of the people in the Land.  Inasmuch as these institutions interweave the thought "God" into all business transactions, and inasmuch as they bring the thought continually to mind that all are living together on the same soil of God, in the same Land of God, where He is the Master and Owner of all possessions, and that in the exercise of this ownership He demands the tribute of acknowledging Him in the whole of business [and personal] life.

To demonstrate the importance of these things, Rav Hirsch brings down that a debt can be repaid but a transgression of hurt can never be undone.  He points out the following: 

. . every sinner has a chance to come back up out of Gehenna (a place of spiritual cleansing and catharsis) except three, one who has committed adultery with another man's wife, one who has put his neighbor to shame in public, and one who has attached a jeering name to his neighbor.

In other words, it is clear just how important it is not to cause hurt to others and that permanent injury, by shaming a neighbor in public or attaching a jeering name to a neighbor, is considered to be some of the worst possible transgressions a person can commit.  Most important, it should be noted that each of the three examples given above are transgressions between man and man and not between man and God.

A final note since I have brought up Gehenna.  The Talmud's description of Gehenna is not at all similar to Hades of Greek mythology, the hell of other religions, nor was it the name of the trash dump in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  Gehenna is a spiritual place that prepares and purifies the neshamah (the soul) for entrance into the World to Come.

Obviously, after committing one of the transgressions listed above, the neshamah is so badly damaged that it can never be properly purified.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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