Parshiyot Behar-Bechukotai 5783: Regulations and Exception Regarding Land Sale, Brachot and the Tochacha

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Behar/Bechukotai is being sponsored by Ron and Rena Rosenberg of Ramat Beit Shemesh and dedicated Lilui Nishmas for the Yahrtzeit of Rena’s Father, Baruch Yecheskal ben Yaakov HaLevi. To the Rosenberg family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshiyot Behar-Bechukotai 5783: Regulations and Exception Regarding Land Sale, Brachot and the Tochacha

by Moshe Burt

The opener of our twin-bill Parshiyot vort begins with an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Parshat Summary of our Parshiyot Behar – Bechukotai in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra (page 221):

Interspersed among the laws of Sh’mitah and Yovel, a series of other edicts are recorded in Parshat Behar, including:

1. The prohibitions of financial and verbal oppression.
2. The regulations concerning the redemption of the land before Yovel by the original owner or a close family member.
3. The prohibition of usury.
4. The laws of eved Ivri (a Hebrew indentured servant) and eved Cana’ani (a Canaanite slave).

For purposes of this Parshat HaShavua, we will deal with number two: regulations concerning the redemption of the land and what Rabbi Goldin refers to as a “glaring exception” to these regulations — sale of a residence house within a walled city. Rabbi Goldin provides context, explanation of this exception and discusses approaches of three among the various commentators cited (ibid, pages 234-240) :

…The Torah regulates the sale of land among Jews:

1. Land should be sold only in the case of dire necessity. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shemita V’yovel 11:3, based on Sefer Vayikra Perek 25, posuk 25)
2. Land that has been sold may be redeemed after two years by the original owner or by his relatives. The price of redemption is computed on the basis of the purchase price minus the value of the years that have passed since the sale. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra Perek 25, posukim 24-28, Talmud Bavli Arachin 29b)
3. Land that has not been redeemed automatically reverts back to the original owner with the onset of the Jubilee [Yovel] year. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posukim 10, 13, 28)

From a Torah perspective, land cannot be sold in perpetuity, only leased for a period of time…. The laws regulating the sale of land ensure, in the words of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, “the prevention of complete permanent poverty of some families by the side of overpowering accumulation of property in the hands of the few.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch on Sefer Vayikra Perek 25, perek 34)

…The message of these… laws, the Torah proclaims: “And the land will not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine; for sojourners and residents are you with Me.” (Rabbi Goldin directly quotes Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 23)

There is, however, one glaring exception to Torah’s rules of land-lease. If an individual sells a residence house within a walled city, the regulations… are almost the opposite of those [regarding the sale of land]:

1. The original owner, or upon his death, his heirs, may redeem his property only during the first year after the sale. Other relatives of the seller are prohibited from redeeming this property.
2. After the first year has passed, the opportunity for redemption has been lost, the property is considered sold in perpetuity, with the sale unaffected even by the arrival of the Jubilee year. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posukim 29-30)

Why is any exception made to the general rules governing land sales in Halacha?

The Ramban maintains that the Torah’s laws of property purchase reflect the needs and mindset of the seller. Recognizing that the sale of a personal dwelling, such as a residence in a walled city, is emotionally wrenching and embarrassing, Torah allows for immediate redemption within the first year of the sale. If, however, no redemption occurs within that period, it is safe to assume that the seller has given up hope of ever returning to his original home and has established himself in a new residence.

In the case of agricultural properties and dwellings attached to them, however, the situation is vastly different. An individual’s potential livelihood continues to be connected to the property that he is forced by circumstance to sell. The longer this property remains outside of his possession, the greater the ongoing damage. The Torah therefore allows for an extended period of redemption and, barring such redemption, for full return of the property at the beginning of the Jubilee year. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 29)

The Chizkuni offer two rationales for the distinction between city dwellings and rural property:
1. Hashem is only concerned for the return of property upon which the owner’s livelihood depends… and, barring redemption, must be returned to the original owner upon commencement of the Yovel year.
2. He suggests that these laws may actually reflect the needs of the purchaser, rather than those of the seller. An individual purchasing a city dwelling generally intends to do so in perpetuity. After all, individuals are rarely comfortable living in the homes of others. Torah therefore grants the purchaser full ownership of the dwelling after the first year has passed.

By their very nature, however, agricultural properties and the dwellings attached to them are more transient in terms of habitation, as evidenced by the fact that sharecroppers and workers often live in others’ fields. The purchaser… acquires no personal connection to the land and consequently develops no need for continued ownership. These properties, therefore, remain open for redemption and are returned to the original owner with the arrival of the Yovel year. (Rabbi Goldin citing Chizkuni on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 29)

…A… creative, practical approach to the laws of dwellings in walled cities is offered by… Lithuanian scholar Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk, in his classic work, the Meshech Chachma. The issue before us translates into a clash between communal and personal need, with communal concerns emerging triumphant.

The Meshech Chachma notes that walled cities played a crucial military role in the defense of Eretz Yisrael, as a major line of resistance against invading armies. The laws of land redemption and return could not be applied to these population centers without severely weakening the residential stability essential to their role.

If every fifty years dwellings within walled cities returned to their original owners, the resultant population upheaval would sorely undermine each city’s infrastructure…. Neighbors would be strangers to each other; personal relationships, [perhaps] years in the making, would suddenly be destroyed; the community’s ability to act together in any concerted fashion would be severely compromised. Such a phenomenon would place the entire country in grave danger.

Therefore, although the laws of redemption and return should really apply to all [such] property, including residences in walled cities, the Torah creates an exception. The personal rights of the owners are overruled by communal need; and the overarching social laws of land redemption and return are set aside in favor of national security. (Rabbi Goldin citing Meshech Chachma on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 29)

At face value, the Meshech Chachma’s observations concerning the military role of walled cities hardly seem relevant to our lives, as modes of warfare have changed since biblical times. Yet, …[Rabbi Goldin] believes that the Meshech Chachma [is] speaking directly to us. In Israel, issues of physical survival are… played out on a daily basis across the country. In the diaspora it is the battle for spiritual survival that is more keenly felt.
Everywhere in the world, … [a] strong communal structure protects [Jews] against serious threats to Judaism’s way of life.

In the battle to maintain identity as Jews, particularly in the diaspora, shul communities are today’s “walled cities,” our first line of defense in the struggle for spiritual survival. Like those walled cities of yore, … our own communities must be carefully protected against challenges that threaten to undermine their stability and effectiveness.

This author would offer an additional comment regarding property laws in a walled city. It is assumed that in Biblical times, once a place achieved a status of sophistication, a substantial population, communities, Batei Dinim, i.e. a “municipality,” inevitably a wall was built around the city. Therefore, the designation of a “walled city,” as distinguished from the “walled city,” i.e. Shushan, Yerushalayim where a second day of Purim is celebrated. It should be noted that Yerushalayim was considered a “walled city” regarding the status of residential property.

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.

We excerpt from both Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Parsha summary and the introduction his vort entitiled “A Casual Curse” (ibid, pages 222, 241) :

Parshat Bechukotai opens with a description of the blessings to be granted to the nation upon observance of Hashem’s statutes and commandments. The promise of these blessings is immediately followed in the text by the first of two Tochachot, sections of rebuke (the second and larger of these sections is found in Sefer Devarim). Each of these Tochachot features stern, prophetic warnings of terrible disasters to befall the people should they fail to follow Hashem’s will.

…Hashem delivers a stinging rebuke and warning to Am Yisrael. Known as the Tochacha Haketana, the small rebuke…, this section contains a series of frighteningly prophetic descriptions of the tragedies that will befall the nation should they not follow 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, this term apparently connotes “casualness” or “happenstance” and is derived from the root kara, to happen. defines rebuke:

verb (used with object), re·buked, re·buk·ing.
1. to express sharp, stern disapproval of; reprove; reprimand.
2. sharp, stern disapproval; reproof; reprimand.

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?? 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.

So, as with other twin Parshiyot, Behar and Bechukotai are extensions of each other where Behar addresses the necessity of maintaining a strong communal structure so as to protect Am Yisrael against serious threats to Judaism’s way of life. Bechukotai and the Tochacha expresses the dire dangers to national security and our spirituality and way of life of divisiveness and disunity.

Indeed, divisiveness, fractionalization, coercion and polarization have set in among the sectors of Am Yisrael. And the enemy among us, within; the weak-willed, egotistical, self-centered, self-affectionated, self-hating Jews who have no clue as to how or why they are here in Israel. They have compromised either their ideological and spiritual principles before a dictatorial judiciary. They have been indoctrinated by an agendized mainstream media, liberal intelligencia, the leftist, socialist, self-hating, self-deprecating, self-proclaimed intellectuals who are funded from foreign sources, including, allegedly the US State Department — all sources 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.

We can only hope and pray B’Ezrat Hashem that our current government in Israel, professed to be dedicated to such issues of reforming the justice system, Eretz Yisrael, sovereignty and national security, seriously teaching Judaism’s history and more, can kick the will of the nations habit and actually succeed in achieving these goals and 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. May we, collectively, not be satisfied with stagnation, but keep reaching for the Ge’ula Shleima.

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, and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Yishuv Chomesh and Yishuv Evyatar be rebuilt at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory and spirit continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May 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 nine 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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.