This week’s parashah (Behar) is taken from Leviticus 25:1—26:2. Listen in as David unwraps the deeper meaning behind the sanctity of Hashem's Shabbats.
Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashah:
Parashat Behar (Leviticus 25:1—26:2)
Given the state of affairs in this present day, I thought it fitting to title this teaching: “The Final Reset”. Those of you who are familiar with the term “The Great Reset” will appreciate the subtle word play. The fact of the matter is that we live in very challenging times on so many levels, with the “powers that be” attempting (and I emphasize the word “attempting”) to seize control of our lives… to take away our liberties and freedoms. The Great Reset is an effort on their part to reset everything around us in order to restart… to reboot… to “build back better”. This is all man’s futile attempt to control the world around him, to ultimately reject the solemn truth that Hashem is in control. Hashem is the One Who fixed in place the times and the seasons, and it is always man who attempts to change it. As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 104:5: “Hashem established the earth upon its foundations, that it not topple forever and ever.” King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:4: “Generations come, generations go, but the earth remains forever.” And as Hashem said to Noah after the Flood in Genesis 8:22: “So long as the earth exists, sowing time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.”
On that point, let’s open up the Torah portion to Leviticus 25:1:
וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה בְּהַ֥ר סִינַ֖י לֵאמֹֽר׃
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם כִּ֤י תָבֹ֙אוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י נֹתֵ֣ן לָכֶ֑ם וְשָׁבְתָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהוָֽה׃
“Hashem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the Land shall observe a Shabbat rest for Hashem.”
“Behar” (“בְּהַר”) means “on the mountain”, referring to Mount Sinai. And what was it that Hashem spoke to Moses about on the mountain? That when the Children of Israel arrived in the Promised Land, that the Land was to observe a Shabbat rest for Hashem. Interesting. We can recall throughout the Torah the umpteen times that Hashem commanded the Children of Israel to observe the day of Shabbat on the seventh day every week; yet here, Hashem was commanding that the Land shall observe a Shabbat rest too!
Hashem goes on in Leviticus 25:3-4: “For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard; and you may gather in its crop. But on the seventh year a complete rest there shall be for the Land, a Shabbat for Hashem; your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.” So, while the Children of Israel were to observe every seventh day as Shabbat rest every week, the Land was to observe every seventh year as Shabbat rest every seven-year period, also known as “Shemittah” (“release”) or “Sheviit” (“seventh”).
More than that, we go on to read in Leviticus 25:8: “You shall count for yourself seven Shabbats of years, seven years seven times; and the days of the seven Shabbats of years shall be for you forty-nine years.” In Verse 10, we further read: “You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim freedom throughout the Land for all its inhabitants: it is a Yovel year for you, and you shall return, each man to his ancestral heritage, and you shall return, each man to his family.” So at the end of seven seven-year periods, a Yovel year was observed in the 50th year, yet another Shabbat for the Land. The Yovel year was unique. “Yovel” means “sent out” or “freedom of movement”. The shofar was sounded, and freedom was proclaimed throughout the Land for all inhabitants and any man who was serving in indentured servitude for previously unpaid debts was freed and returned to his ancestral heritage and to his family. Everything was reset. As Hashem said in Leviticus 25:23: “The Land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the Land is Mine; for you are sojourners and residents with Me.”
What is with all of these Shabbats? First, for the Children of Israel, and then for the Land? This is the natural order that Hashem implemented into His Creation. Just as the Children of Israel were to observe a day of Shabbat at the end of every week in observance of replicating Hashem’s resting on the seventh day of Creation, the same was required of the Land over a longer timeframe – every seven years, and then, every 50th year. Why? Because this is what brings balance to Hashem’s Creation – both in the lives of His people, and also in the Land that He created for those people to dwell in.
Before we move on, let’s expand further on why the Torah went out of its way to tell us that Hashem spoke to Moses “on the mountain” (“behar”). What happened on Mount Sinai? Hashem revealed His Presence to the Children of Israel, and He gave Moses (and the Children of the Israel) the Torah. How many days elapsed between the Children of Israel leaving Egypt and arriving at Mount Sinai? Fifty days. Fifty days between salvation from their bondage in Egypt to revelation of Hashem’s Presence on the mountain. In commemoration of these fifty days, we read Hashem’s command in last week’s parashah (Leviticus 23:15-16): “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the omer of the waving – seven weeks they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to Hashem.” This is known as Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer), and is done every year between Pesach and Shavuot. During this time, the first of the barley harvest of the Land was brought up to the Tabernacle / Temple to show that Hashem was faithful in blessing the Land with an early harvest, and then the days were counted over the next 49 days leading up to the Festival of Shavuot, an act of anticipation that Hashem would indeed be faithful to bless the rest of the year’s harvest. Today, these 50 days are also treated as a time for deep, daily contemplation and self-reflection over the 50 days to Shavuot, marking the revelation of Hashem’s Presence to the Children of Israel and the Giving of the Torah. Ultimately, these fifty days serve as a microcosm for the observance of the Yovel year every 50th year.
So what am I getting at here? What we are observing here is what is known as the fractal nature of Hashem’s Creation. What do I mean by this? Seconds fit into minutes into hours into days into weeks into months into years.
What is measured on a smaller scale can be amped up and measured on a larger scale, just using larger measures of time. We also see this fractal nature all around us in Creation, where patterns in small objects can be observed in large objects (like the structural similarity between blood vessels, tree branches and river deltas; or the similarity between spiral shells, flower tulips, the fingerprint, and spiral galaxies).
With this in mind, the weekly Shabbat is a fractal of the Shemittah year (7th year), which is then a fractal of the Yovel year (50th year). And what happened in the Yovel year? Everything was reset and restarted.
This brings us to the cyclical nature of Hashem’s Creation. We are accustomed to cycles all around us, particularly in the form of energy: electromagnetism (which includes light), sound, thermal, chemical, gravitational, and so on.
As we read earlier in Genesis 8:22: “So long as the earth exists, sowing time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.” What is the change factor in all of this? Us. Mankind. We are the ones that are capable of unsettling the cyclical nature of Hashem’s Creation – whether for good or for bad. We have the ability of harnessing energy with intention, and utilizing it to accomplish things in this world. Ultimately, it impacts every facet of our existence – any way in which mankind is capable of interacting with the world around him. On this note, we again observe the fractal nature of mankind, from a singular human being to a family, to a community, to a city, to a nation, to the world. With each higher aggregate, the energy harnessed becomes exponential. A good deed done at the singular human level certainly has an impact on the world around him, but think about the effect when a good deed is done by the larger populace of an entire nation… the effect is exponential. And, the opposite effect is the case for doing evil in this world – severe damage can be done. Ultimately, doing evil in this world unsettles the balance set by Hashem in His Creation. In other words, rebellion against Hashem unsettles the balance. This is the age old dilemma of mankind going all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the original sin that was grounded in rebellion.
And this is the critical importance being brought down here in this parashah – about the concept of Shabbat. Whether at the weekly level with man’s observance, or every 7 years at Shemittah with the Land’s observance, or in the 50th year with Yovel where everything was reset. Shabbat is embedded in it all. Shabbat is an essential part of Creation, made very clear at the beginning when Hashem rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth. It is our opportunity to take a rest from our labour in this world, and to reflect on our Creator and all that He provides for us. It is a time to sit still, to rest, and to return to a state of balance in oneness with His Creation around us.
With respect to the Children of Israel in the context of the Torah portion, Hashem was teaching them how to live in balance and harmony with His Creation. In Leviticus 25:18, after Hashem instituted the observance of Shemittah in the seventh year, and yovel in the 50th year, He went on to say this: “You shall perform My decrees, and observe My ordinances and perform them; and you shall dwell securely on the Land.” So long as the Children of Israel “performed” Hashem’s decrees and “observed” His ordinances and “performed” them, they would be allowed to “dwell securely” on the Land.
And what would happen if they did not “perform” and “observe”? They would not be allowed to dwell securely on the Land. They would be sent into exile. Hashem further said in Leviticus 26:2: “My Shabbats shall you observe and My Sanctuary shall you revere – I am Hashem.” Notice that “Shabbats” is pluralized, meaning that Hashem was referring not only to the weekly Shabbats, but also the Shemittah and the Yovel years. For as we said earlier, they are all Shabbats. In Ezekiel 20:10, in the midst of the Babylonian exile, we read the prophet’s words from Hashem to the elders of Israel: “So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them to the Wilderness. I gave them My decrees, and My laws I made known to them, through which, if a man fulfills them, he will live through them. I also gave them My Shabbats, to be a sign between Me and them, to know that I am Hashem Who sanctifies them.” Hashem goes on in Verse 13: “But the House of Israel rebelled against Me in the Wilderness… they desecrated My Shabbats exceedingly.” Again in Verse 16: “They spurned My laws and did not follow My decrees and they desecrated My Shabbats, because their heart kept going after their idols.” Yet again in Verse 21: “But the children rebelled against Me: They did not follow My decrees and did not observe My laws… they desecrated My Shabbats.” And once again in Verse 24: “Because they did not fulfill My laws, they spurned My decrees, desecrated My Shabbats, and their eyes went after the idols of their fathers.”
Get the point? The Children of Israel desecrated Hashem’s Shabbats. Why? Because their hearts kept going after their idols. They turned their eyes away from Hashem, and this was thoroughly reflected in their desecration of His Shabbats. As a result, they brought imbalance to Hashem’s Creation and were exiled from the Promised Land. Yet, Hashem always promised to bring them back to the Land should they repent and turn back to Him. And we see this in the Haftarah portion of Jeremiah 32:6-27. The prophet Jeremiah was commanded by Hashem to purchase a plot of land as a prophetic act, right in the midst of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. This was to assure the Children of Israel that they would one day return. And they most certainly did, 70 years later.
Interestingly enough, the Children of Israel are the quintessential example of the cyclical nature of mankind. Throughout history, kingdoms and empires have emerged, risen and subsequently fallen never to rise again: Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman… and in recent centuries, we’ve seen the rise and decline of various continental European powers, of the British Empire, and now the dominance of the United States. History is very clear: Every nation and empire that has risen to dominance has always fallen, never to rise again, with many becoming virtually extinct in the process. At home, I have a set of 5 paintings by Thomas Cole called “The Course of Empire”, showing the course of an empire from humble establishment to abject decadence, and ultimately sinking into destruction and desolation.
This is the age old story of every empire that has risen and fallen throughout history. Except for Israel. What sets Israel apart is the age old covenant that Hashem made with Abraham, and that has been concreted and solidified throughout history to date. Yes, Israel turned away from Hashem and desecrated His Shabbats, the Temples were destroyed, the Land was left desolate, and they were exiled as a result. But Hashem brought Israel back to the Land, just as He promised to them. And He will continue to do so until the earth ceases to exist. That is His promise!
And this brings us to another concept from this week’s Torah portion. If we believe that there is an end story to our lives here on earth (and we should!), then we can evaluate the weekly Shabbat, the seven-year Shemittah, and the 50-year Yovel – all the Shabbats – as one, large cycle, with the Yovel year marking the deadline for the return of the Messiah (Messiah Yeshua) and the final Redemption for Israel and all of mankind. Why do I say deadline? Because until then, Israel and the rest of the world have the ability and opportunity to hasten the return of Messiah Yeshua and the final Redemption should we all repent and turn back to Hashem, thereby returning balance back to His Creation. Otherwise, there is a fixed date for it all to happen – a day and time that no man knows that has been fixed by Hashem.
Of that day, Messiah Yeshua said to his disciples in Matthew 24:32-33, 36: “Now let the fig tree teach you its lesson: when its branches begin to sprout and leaves appear, you know that summer is approaching. In the same way, when you see all these things, you are to know that the time is near, right at the door… But when that day and hour will come, no one knows – not the angels in Heaven, not the Son, only the Father.” Also notice that Yeshua made reference to the fig tree, and observing when its branches begin to sprout and leaves appear, that we should know that summer is approaching… that the time is near. He is speaking here of the cyclical nature embedded within Creation. The signs are all around us, all we need to do is open our eyes.
On that note, I’d like to return back to the concept of the Sefirat HaOmer (Counting of the Omer). Remember, this counting took place between Pesach and Shavuot, a memorial build-up in anticipation of the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The very first day of Sefirat HaOmer is called “Yom HaBikkurim” (or “the Day of Firstfruits”), and over the 50 days of Sefirat HaOmer, “firstfruits” were offered up with the anticipation of a great harvest for the entire year. Yeshua said to his disciples in John 12:23-24, 32: “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Yes, indeed! I tell you that unless a grain of wheat that falls to the ground dies, it stays just a grain; but if it dies, it produces a big harvest… As for me, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
And as Paul exposited in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: “But the fact is that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died. For since death came through a man, also the resurrection of the dead has come through a man. For just as in connection with Adam all die, so in connection with the Messiah all will be made alive. But each in his own order: the Messiah is the firstfruits; then those who belong to the Messiah, at the time of his coming.” When we layer Messiah Yeshua as the “firstfruits” atop the 50-year count towards the Yovel year, we see Yeshua as the beginning and end of the entire cycle. We who follow in his footsteps and look to him as our Savior and Master must follow him faithfully and fervently, so long as we have life in our mortal bodies. Ultimately, the Yovel year speaks of Messiah Yeshua’s return and the greatly anticipated Resurrection of the Dead! Should the Yovel year – marking the return of our Master and Messiah Yeshua and the final redemption happen in our lifetimes, may we be prepared and ready for his return.
Quite suitably, we can return to the last verse of the parashah in Leviticus 26:2: “My Shabbats shall you observe and My Sanctuary shall you revere – I am Hashem.” Remember, the pluralization of “Shabbats” is referring to the weekly Shabbat, the seven-year Shemittah, and the 50-year Yovel. As for Hashem’s Sanctuary, this was a command to all Children of Israel and particularly to the Kohanim who served within Hashem’s Sanctuary… His Holy Place. All of these Shabbats were fixed into the calendar like stone… they were set. All that was required was obedience and observance of this fixed schedule that Hashem put in place, to bring balance to His Creation.
To this day, the sanctity of Hashem’s command to observe His Shabbats has been desecrated, not only by Israel but also by the rest of the world that have come into the knowledge of Him through Yeshua. No wonder we are all so very out of sync with Hashem’s Creation. If we desire to bring balance to Hashem’s Creation, we must obey His commands - whether we are Jew or non-Jew. Yeshua said in Matthew 5:17-20: “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete. Yes, indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a “yod” or a stroke will pass from the Torah – not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
How do we remain vigilant and steadfast amid the cyclical abnormalities we face in this world, grounded through Yeshua in Hashem? By obeying Yeshua’s teachings, and his teachings absolutely do not contradict the Torah. If this is the case, then we are to take the words of this week’s Torah portion to heart. If Hashem told the Children of Israel that their remaining in the Promised Land depended in large part on their observance of His Shabbats, who are we to upend this command today in favour of our own preferences or lethargy? Shame on us for picking and choosing what we want to obey and not to obey! It is high time we start “performing” Hashem’s decrees, and “observing” His ordinances and “performing” them, so that we may “dwell securely” on the Land. Again, this is not just a command for the Children of Israel, but also for the non-Jews around the world that are connected to Israel through Yeshua. This is about obedience… obedience to our Heavenly Father. So that we can all return balance to Hashem’s Creation.
May we remain vigilant and steadfast in obeying Hashem’s commands, grounding ourselves in Yeshua as our perfect model and teacher. May we recognize the sanctity of Hashem’s Shabbats and observe them diligently. May we return balance and order to this world through our intentions and actions, hastening the return of Messiah Yeshua and the final redemption.