Parshiyot Behar-Bechukotai 5780: The Omer Count to Shavuot, the Count to Yovel Year and the Tochochah

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua for Behar/Bechukotai is being co-sponsored by Shlomo and Shoshana Weis of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for hotslocha and good health for entire Weis family and for a refuah shleima for Rachel bat Chaya Perel, Tuvia Yehuda ben Rivka and Avrohom Ya’akov ben Hinda, and by Rabbi Benjy and Miri Kwalwasser, also of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated Lilui Nishmas for HoRav Chaim Zev ben Avraham Aharon HaLevi (HoRav Chaim Zev Malinowitz, z”l). To the Weis and Kwalwasser families, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshiyot Behar-Bechukotai 5780: The Omer Count to Shavuot, the Count to Yovel Year and the Tochochah

by Moshe Burt

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes context regarding our Parshat Behar in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, page 223:

Two specific commandments to count seven cycles of seven units each, leading to a fiftieth culminating unit, appear in the Torah within the span of two contiguous parshiyot.

In Parshat Emor, the Torah commanded the counting of the forty-nine days of the Omer (seven weeks, each of seven days) leading to… Shavuot on the fiftieth day. (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 23, posukim 15-16)

Now, in Parshat Behar, the Torah commands the counting of forty-nine years (seven Sabbatical [Shemittah] cycles, each of seven years) leading to Yovel, the Jubilee, or fiftieth year.

…Review of the respective texts does, however, reveal a subtle distinction between these two precepts.

Concerning the Omer count towards… Shavuot, the Torah states: … “And you shall count for yourselves” (in the plural, citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 23, posuk 15); while concerning the count towards Yovel, the Torah states: … “And you shall count for yourself” (in the singular, citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 8)

Rabbi Goldin asks on these two cycles (ibid, pages 223-224):

Is there a connection between these two disparate yet similar mitzvot of Sfirat Ha’Omer and the counting towards Yovel, found in such close proximity within the text?

Does the seemingly minor move from plural… (associated with Sfirat Ha’Omer) to singular… (associated with counting towards Yovel) shed any light on the connection and/or contrast between these two mitzvot?

To try to ascertain the connection or contrast regarding the Omer Count and the Yovel Year, we return to Rabbi Goldin’s Divrei Torah on Parshat Emor where he provides various authoritative approaches regarding the Omer count towards Shavuot (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, pages 199-202):

As codified by the Rabbis, …the mitzvah of Sfirat Ha’Omer, the Counting of the Omer, obligates each Jew to verbally count the days and weeks from the second day of Pesach [in Israel, the first of the five Chol HaMo’ed — intermediate days of Pesach] until the first day [outside of Israel, Jews celebrate two days of Shavuot]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Shulchan Aruch, Ohr Hachaim 489:1)

By counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot, … we are meant to re-experience the sense of excitement and anticipation that marked this period for the Jews, newly redeemed from Mitzrayim [Egypt]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzva 273) Just as we would “count the remaining days” towards an extraordinary event in our personal lives, so too we should feel a real sense of anticipation each year as we… approach… [Shavuot] mark[ing] the Revelation at Sinai.

Other authorities choose to view these days primarily as a period of “purification from” rather than “anticipation towards.”

By the time of Yetziyot Mitzrayim, the Jews have been defiled from centuries of immersion in Mitzri society and culture. Numerous sources… maintain that they descended to the forty-ninth of fifty possible stages of defilement and are on the verge of being irredeemable. (Rabbi Goldin citing Shla Hakadosh, commentary on the Haggadah: “Matza Zu.”) …At the last moment, Hashem pulls the nation back from the brink. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemot, Perek 12, posuk 12) The[y]… must now undergo a process of purification — forty-nine days to counter each level of defilement experienced — before they can encounter Hashem and receive Torah at Sinai.

Returning to our Parshat Behar, this vort will excerpt from Rabbi Goldin’s summary of our Parsha as it relates to the Yovel year and approaches regarding parallel or contrast between Sfirat Ha’Omer and Yovel Year. (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, pages 221, 224, 226):

During Yovel…. all Hebrew indentured servants, including those who have chosen to remain in servitude beyond the usual six-year term, must be set free…

At the beginning of Parshat Behar, as Torah outlines the Yovel laws concerning the freeing of Jews [who are] indentured servants and return of land to its original owners, the operant principle is dror (liberty: removal of external constraints, physical or otherwise, which impede an individual’s personal choice and independent action). The principle of Dror: “and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 10)

Two Mitzvot [the Omer Count and the Yovel year] thus emerge within the span of two parshiyot, each the mirror image of the other.

Both of these Mitzvot speak of counting seven cycles of seven towards the goal of a fiftieth, culminating unit. Both represent a journey towards a specific dimension of freedom.

There, however, the parallel ends.

The counting of years towards Yovel… serves as a reminder to societies across the ages of their obligation to grant liberty to those under their sway; to break the chains of tyranny and prejudice that limit personal opportunity for any individual within their boundaries.

The counting of days towards Shavuot, found in Parshat Emor, on the other hand, speaks directly to the individuals themselves: No one can grant you personal freedom. Cheirut (freedom) is a G’d-given right which you must discover for yourself. Cheirut cannot be granted by another but must be attained by an individual himself.

And so, as this author views parallel or contrast between the Omer count and the count towards the Yovel year in Parshiyot Emor and Behar; the state of being plural regarding “And you shall count for yourselves” the Omer count towards Shavuot and the singularity of “And you shall count for yourself” concerning the count towards the Yovel year, both seem counter-intuitive. The Omer count, therefore seems directed toward each individual, while the count towards the Yovel year seems directed toward society as a whole.

Our Parshat Bechukotai, the last parsha in Sefer Vayikra, deals with the Hashem’s enunciation of the blessings and curses of the Tochochah: Hashem’s Admonition of B’nai Yisrael. defines “admonition” thus:

1. an act of admonishing.
2. counsel, advice, or caution.
3. a gentle reproof.
4. a warning or reproof given by an ecclesiastical authority.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes context regarding our Parshat Bechukotai in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, page 241:

As Parshat Bechukotai and sefer Vayikra draw to a close, Hashem delivers a stinging rebuke and warning to Am Yisrael. Known as the Tochocha Haketana, the small rebuke (in contrast to a second, larger rebuke found in Sefer Devarim), this section contains a series of frightening prophetic descriptions of the tragedies that will befall the nation should they fail to follow in Hashem’s ways.

At the core of this tochocha, a word is found that, in this conjugation, appears nowhere else in the Torah text. Here, however, this term, keri, is repeated no less than seven times within the span of twenty sentences [within Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26]. According to most authorities, tis term apparently connotes “casualness” or “happenstance” and is derived from the root kara, to happen.

Rabbi Goldin provides interpretations of various commentators: (ibid, pages 242-243):

Both Rashi and his grandson, the Rashbam… introduce a basic translation upon which most commentaries build. These scholars translate keri to mean “casual” or “inconsistent” as stated above from the root kara, to happen. If the nation sins by worshiping Hashem in an erratic, inconsistent manner, Rashi and the Rashbam explain, Hashem will respond in kind and will relate to the nation haphazardly and unpredictably as well. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 21)

To interject, this author would surmise that a breakneck, speed-of-light, Arnoldis Chapman-style 100 mph davening of Shemonah Essrei, Aleinu, etc. could fit a description of “casual” or “inconsistent.”

Rabbi Goldin continues (ibid, pages 243-244):

Other commentaries, including Rabbeinu Bachya and the Ohr Hachaim, choose a related but different path. The term, keri, … describes a flawed world outlook that can lead to immeasurable sin. [Such] an individual… perceives no pattern to the events unfolding around him. In place of Divine Providence, this individual observes only random coincidence; and in place of punishment for sin, accidental misfortune. For such an individual, teshuvah becomes increasingly unattainable. In a haphazard world governed by arbitrary forces, after all, there exists little incentive for change. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbeinu Bachya and the Ohr Hachaim on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 21)
[random, haphazard world governed by arbitrary forces = climate change and twelve years to the end of the world unless green reform?? Or, playing a misplaced blame-game regarding the origin of the current coronavirus pandemic — This author quiping facetiously!]

…The Ohr Hachaim perceives in Hashem’s reaction — “And I [Hashem], too, will walk with you with keri; casualness… (Rabbi Goldin citing the Ohr Hachaim on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 24) — a carefully calibrated “measure for measure” for the nation’s failing. If the people refuse to see a Divinely pattern in the world around them, Hashem will withdraw making it even more difficult for them to perceive His presence. The punishments to follow will seem even more random, bearing no obvious connection to the nation’s sins. The peoples’ failure to recognize Hashem’s imminence will thus prove frighteningly prophetic, for Hashem will respond with “distance.” (Rabbi Goldin citing the Ohr Hachaim on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 24)

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch interprets the sin associated with the word keri as indifference to Hashem’s will. Those [so] guilty… find considerations other than Hashem’s Will central to their lives and their sporadic obedience to Torah law is thus purely coincidental. Hashem responds to this sin in kind… by removing His Divine protection from the nation and allowing the natural course of world history to determine their fate. The welfare of the Jews will be advanced only, coincidentally, when that welfare happens to correspond to the interests and needs of the powerful nations around them. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posukim 21, 23- 24)

Finally, a group of other scholars, including Onkelos, …explain the term keri to mean “stubbornness” or “harshness.” If the nation stubbornly refuses to obey based on Hashem’s law, Hashem’s response will be harsh and unforgiving. (Rabbi Goldin citing Targum Onkelos on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posukim 21, 23)

Near the conclusion of the Tochochah, Torah states the following (Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posukim 40-41, 44-45) :

“They will confess their sin and the sin of their forefathers, for the treachery with which they betrayed Me, and also for having behaved toward Me with casualness. I, too, will behave toward them with casualness and I will bring them into the land of their enemies — perhaps then their unfeeling heart will be humbled and then they will gain appeasement for their sin. …While they are in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them, to annul my covenant with them — for I am Hashem, their God. I will remember for them the covenant of the ancients, those whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be God unto them — I am Hashem.”

This conclusion of the Tochochah, as enunciated in Torah, seems stated in another way in Tehillim Psalm 81 which has been cited here in previous Parshat HaShevua over recent years:

“I am Hashem, your G’d, who elevated you from the land of Egypt, open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But My people did not heed My voice and Israel did not desire me. So I let them follow their heart’s fantasies, they follow their own counsels. If only My people would heed Me, if Israel would walk in My ways. In an instant I would subdue their foes, and against their tormentors turn My hand. Those who hate Hashem lie to Him — so their destiny is eternal. But, He would feed him with the cream of the wheat, and with honey from a rock sate you.”

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 244):

Our associations with each other… can endure many blows and setbacks. One wound, however, invariably proves fatal: total loss of trust. When mutual trust is gone and cannot be regained…; when each… no longer believes that the other has his partner’s best interests at heart, the relationship is doomed.

Hashem thus turns to the B’nei Yisrael and proclaims: “And if you will walk with me with keri…” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posukim 21, 23-24, 27-28, 40)

If I find that you are deliberately inconsistent in your commitment to Me; if I find that you are only at My door when you choose to be; if I find that I cannot trust you to seek My presence and relate to Me continuously; the I will respond in kind…

“And then I [Hashem], too, will walk with you with keri” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 41)

Hashem will forgive many failings and sins, but when we lose His trust, the punishments of the Tochochah are the result.

Citing Torah text, a commentary in Sefer L’lmode Ul’lamed (page 126) on the Tochochah, the admonishment, the reproof, is explicit as to the punishments that will befall B’nai Yisrael if they violate Hashem’s Torah:

“I (Hashem), will set my face against you and you will be smitten before your enemies. They that hate you will rule over you.” (Parshat Bechukotai, Sefer Vayikra, Perek 26, posuk 17)

The commentary is as follows;

The text implies that included among the enemies will be those from Yisrael, enemies from within. These enemies, say our Rabbanim, are the most vicious of adversaries. Jews who do not accept their Judaism, and who seek to destroy their fellow Jews, are the most dangerous of all. They are traitors against their own kind who know where their fellow men are most vulnerable. (Sefer L’lmode Ul’lamed, Parshat Bechukotai, page 126)

There are Jews who seem to deny their roots and do not accept their Judaism. They put their “emunah” in mortals — in the prowess of man, in themselves and their self-interests and self-enrichment, in the super-power of the time while seeking to destroy their fellow Jews, Jewish roots, laws, history and heritage.

It is tragic that often the worst enemy of the Jewish people, and those most dangerous to the Jews, are the Jews themselves.

Indeed, divisiveness, fractionalization, coercion and polarization have set in among the sectors of Am Yisrael. And the enemy among us, within; the weak-willed pseudo-right wing leaders who compromise either their ideological and spiritual principles, or the liberal intelligencia, the leftist, socialist, self-hating self-deprecating self-affectionated self-proclaimed intellectuals — they’re hot to seize on this divisiveness and polarization amongst the various sectors of Am Yisrael as the means to their sinful ends — divide and conquer. But let’s hope, in the midst, or B’Ezrat Hashem soon the aftermath, of the current coronavirus pandemic, that Am Yisrael finds her way back to a new normal of Torah-true National unity, of V’ahavtah L’rei’echa Kamocha among all Jews rather than the previous “norm” of divisiveness, discrimination and hate-filled polarization on both societal and political levels.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.