Par’shiot B’Har & B’Chukotai
We close our study of Sefer V’yikra this Shabbat with the last two of its parshiyot. The first is B’Har, which spans V’yikra 25.1 through 26.2. B’Har means on the mountain and emphasizes that the commandments given in these passages were among the commandments given to Mosheh on Mount Sinai. The par’sha opens with the laws governing the Shemitta year and the Yovel. Every seven years we are let the land lay idle, neither planting nor harvesting. Whatever grows voluntarily may be eaten by anyone - not just the landowner - as well as animals, but it cannot be harvested for storage or to sell.
After seven complete cycles of the Shemitta, or after forty-nine years, we have the Yovel, the fiftieth year in which we again are not allowed to plant or harvest. It is interesting to note when the Yovel begins. Between the ninth and tenth plagues, Y’H’V’H commanded that we begin counting the month of Aviv as the beginning of the year. Even so, the year-long observance of the Yovel doesn’t begin until the tenth day of the seventh month25.9, which is Yom ha’Kippurim. Because the Yovel starts at the conclusion of the seven complete Shemitta years, it is reasonable to assume we are to begin counting the cycle of Shemitta years on Yom ha’Kippurim as well. As you can see, both the Shemitta and the Yovel begin in the fall, not with the counting of the new year in the spring.
An additional requirement of the Yovel is that all the land is returned to its original owner and any Hebrew bondservant is allowed to return to his family - מִשְׁפַּתְתּי. During the Shemitta and the Yovel we are commanded not to oppress one another, but we are to fear Elohim. In order to achieve this, we must do His laws and guard His right-rulings, and do them.25.18 Do, guard, obey; these are terms which are used frequently in both B’Har and B’Chukotai. The theme of the Yovel mirrors the events that will take place when Mashiach returns, hinting at the time of the year He will return to return His remnant to the land and truly set us free.
Y’H’V’H promises to provide enough from the harvest in the sixth year to last for three years - until the next harvest is gathered. As you can see, the Shemitta years and the Yovel are designed to increase our faith - to teach us to trust Y’H’V’H our Elohim. In a sense, these observances also teach us to love Y’H’V’H our Elohim with all our hearts, souls and might by trusting Him and honoring His Word.
One last note concerning the commandments of Par’sha B’Har. In verse twenty-three we are commanded not to sell the land beyond reclaim. This means we cannot sell - or give away - land in Isra’el to a person not in covenant with Y’H’V’H - someone who is not Torah-observant. To do so would put the land beyond reclaim. I hope you will join me in praying that the current leaders in Isra’el remember this commandment.
By the same token, the passage in verses twenty-five through fifty-five teach us some of the ways in which we can love our neighbors as ourselves.V’yikra 19.18. We are not permitted to allow a brother to suffer if he becomes poor. There are specific laws governing the selling and reclamation of a person’s house, depending upon whether that house is in a wall or an unwalled city. This includes the houses of the Levites in the Levitical cities.
In verse thirty-five we are commanded to treat a brother who has failed and is unable to sustain himself the same as we would treat a ger or a toshav (sojourner) living among us.
He is a brother and we are not allowed to take interest from him on silver or food nor or are we allowed to profit from him. If a brother becomes so poor that he sells himself as a servant, we are forbidden to treat him as a slave because they aren’t our servants, they are Elohim’s servants.
This first par’sha closes with one of the most repeated commandments in Torah: Guard My Sabbaths, and then adds, and reverence My set-apart place.26.2 I remain amazed that so many people fail to realize the importance of guarding the Sabbath, not just keeping it.
The second par’sha for this Shabbat is entitled B’Chukotia, which means in My statutes. It spans V’yikra 26.3 through 27.34 - which is the last verse of Sefer V’yikra. The forty-six verses of this chapter, however, don’t introduce new laws or statutes. These verses focus on blessings and curses. It opens with the classic formula for a b’rit (a covenant). IF we will do something, THEN He will do something in return. Unfortunately many people are surprised to learn that once they come into relationship with Y’H’V’H through faith and belief in the Messiah, Y’H’V’H actually requires something of them. Even more surprising to many is the fact that we must do something first before He does something in return.
What we must do after coming into covenant with Him is simple and requires only three things:
walk in His laws
guard His commands
and do them - do His laws and commands.26.3
IF we are willing to do these three things, THEN Y’H’V’H promises a list of blessings that will follow. Among these are:
the necessary rains and abundant crops
peace and safety in our land
Y’H’V’H will make us fruitful and increase us
He will also establish His covenant with us.
Not only will His Dwelling Place be among us, He will walk in our midst. He will be our Elohim and we will be His people. Walking in our midst points to a distant future event.
After all, He is the One who has broken the bars of our yoke and made us to walk upright.26.13 As you can see, our obedience allows His blessings to just pour out upon us once we are walking in covenant with Him.
THEN, beginning in verses fourteen and fifteen, Y’H’V’H teaches what awaits those who:
do not obey Him
do not do ALL these commands
those who reject His laws
and whose souls loathe His right-rulings so that they do not do ALL His commands, which means they break His covenant with them.
For generations man has noted that V’yikra chapter twenty-six lists more curses than blessings. One reason is to emphasize the dangers of disobedience and a prideful heart so that a person learns to calculate the cost of a mitzvah against its reward, and the reward of a sin against its cost.1
There is another obvious difference between the blessings and the curses in this chapter. While the blessings flow abundantly upon those in covenant with Y’H’V’H, the curses come in stages and become more severe as sin continues. For instance, in verses sixteen through eighteen of chapter twenty six, Y’H’V’H states that if we choose not to obey Him and not do all of His commands, reject His laws and loathe His right-rulings He will:
appoint sudden alarm over us
appoint wasting disease and inflammation over us which will destroy our eyes and consume our lives
we will sow our seed in vain because our enemies will eat the harvest
He will set His face against us and those who hate us will rule over us
We will flee when no one is pursing us…and the list goes on…
In any generation, people who witness such chastisements from Elohim should recognize them for what they are: a warning that they have left their first love and need to t’shuvah.
Beginning in verse eighteen Y’H’V’H warns Yisrael four times that if after all of this we still fail to obey Him, He will punish us seven times more for our sins.
In verses nineteen and twenty He promises He will:
break the pride of our power (the US is beginning to experience this in today’s world) In Yechezqel 24.21 Y’H’V’H warned, See, I am profaning My set-apart place - the pride of your strength, the desire of your eyes, and the delight of your being. And your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword.
He will make the heavens like iron and the earth like bronze.
our strength will be spent in vain
our land not yield its crops nor the trees yield their fruit.
As Y’H’V’H begins to punish His people seven times more for our sins, more than just His people who are affected - now the physical world suffers as well.
In V’yikra 26.21, Y’H’V’H continues to warn Yisra’el. And if you walk contrary to Me, and refuse to obey Me, I shall bring bring on you seven times more plagues according to your sins. This includes plagues that will include:
wild beasts which will bereave us of our children
our livestock will be cut off
we will be come few in number
and our highways become deserted. Deserted highways are often a sign of lawlessness which makes the highways unsafe to travel.
In verse twenty-three He warns, And if you are not instructed by Me by these, but walk contrary to Me, then I also shall walk contrary to you, and I Myself shall strike you seven times for your sins. This will include:
a sword executing the vengeance of His covenant. His covenant includes all the curses in the long list of curses found in D’varim chapters twenty-seven and twenty-eight.
pestilence in the cities, which will be given over to the enemy
and even though people will eat, they will not be satisfied.
Finally, Y’H’V’H declares, And if in spite of this, you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I shall walk contrary to you in wrath. And I Myself shall punish you seven times for your sins. The punishments this time come from His wrath and are the most severe of all.
you shall eat the flesh of your children
Y’H’V’H will destroy the idols of His people - and His being will loathe them
He will turn the cities into ruins and the land will lay waste
He will scatter His people among the nations and draw a sword after them
The land will enjoy its Sabbaths, which His people had not allowed it to do.
Those who survive will flee when no one pursues them
Some will perish among the nations and those who are left will rot away in their crookedness and their father’s crookedness will rot away with them.
All of this happened just as Y’H’V’H declared. In fact, it has happened more than once. It happened to the northern tribes with the coming of the Assyrians. It happened with the southern tribes with the coming of the Babylonians. It happened to all Yisra’el with the coming of the Romans. It will happen again, but this time it will be world-wide, just as the Mashiach has warned.
The letters Mashiach directed Yochanan to write to the seven assemblies served much the same purpose as Y’H’V’H’s warning to Yisra’el in V’yikra 26.14-15. In these seven letters Mashiach warned the assemblies of their falling away and to called them to t’shuvah before it was too late. After addressing the seven assemblies in chapters two and three Mashiach warns, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.Rev.3.22 After this warning and call to t’shuvah Yochanan records a series of judgments that closely resemble the punishments of V’yikra chapter twenty-six.
In chapters five through eight, He describes the seven seal judgments that result from man’s (Yisrael’s) failure to heed His call to t’shuvah. Like the punishments Y’H’V’H declared for seven times more for our sins in V’yikra, these seven seals will also directly affect our physical world. They will bring wars, famines, and earthquakes.
When the seventh seal is opened in Revelation chapter eight there is a silence in heaven for about half an hour.vs.1 No reason is given for this silence, though it may Elohim giving the people of the world an opportunity to consider the devastation they have just experienced in hopes some will t’shuvah. The seventh seal is the harbinger of the sounding of the seven trumpets which bring even more severe judgments upon the earth and the people still living.
hail and fire, mixed with blood, will destroy a third of the trees and green grass
a great burning mountain will be thrown into the sea, which will become blood. This will kill a third of the sea animals and destroy a third of the ships.
a great star, called Wormwood, will fall on a third of the rivers and fountains of water. Many men will die because the waters will be made bitter.
A third of the sun, moon and stars will be struck and not shine for a third of the day.
The last three trumpets are so severe that an eagle flying in the heavens will cry out, Woe to those dwelling on the earth because of the remaining blasts of the trumpetsvs.13.
A star from heaven will open the pit of the deep, bringing locusts which have the authority of scorpions upon the earth. They will only harm those who do not have the seal of Elohim on their foreheads. They will torture the others for five months. Men will seek death as an escape but fill not find it.
In the sixth trumpet, the four messengers that have been bound in the Euphrates river will be released to kill a third of mankind still living through the fire, smoke and and sulphur that will come out of their mouths.
The seventh trumpet warns of an even greater judgment - the seven bowls of Y’H’V’H’s wrath. When these bowls are poured out upon the earth:
evil and wicked sores will come upon those who have taken the mark of the beast
every living creature in the sea will die
all the rivers and fountains of water will turn to blood
men will be burned with fire from the sun
people in the reign of the beast will gnaw their tongues with pain and blaspheme Elohim
the Euphrates River will be dried up in preparation for the battle in the Valley of Yehoshaphat. This is when the armies of the world will gather at Har Meggido.
A great earthquake will divide the great city into three parts, the islands will flee away, the mountains will not be found and great hail about the size of the weight of a talent will fall on men.
All of this lies in the future and will come to pass just as surely as the judgments and punishments Y’H’V’H declared in this week’s parshiyot. They are inevitable, but not unescapable. At the close of V’yikra chapter twenty-six Y’H’V’H declares: But IF they confess their crookedness and the crookedness of their fathers, with their trespass in which they transgressed against Me, and that they have also walked contrary to Me, and that I have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies - if their uncircumcised heart is then humbled, and they accept the punishment of their crookedness, THEN I shall remember My covenant with Ya’akov, and also My covenant with Yits’chaq, and also remember My covenant with Avraham, and remember the land…And yet for this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I shall not reject them, nor shall I loathe them so as to destroy them and break My covenant with them. For I am Y’H’V’H their Elohim. Then I shall remember for their sake the covenant of the ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Mitsrayim before the eyes of the nations to be their Elohim. I am Y’H’V’H.26.40-42,44-45
If/Then - the formula of a covenant with Y’H’V’H. I believe we should accept the terms of this covenant this Shabbat which means we must:
confess our crookedness and the crookedness of our fathers - from עון iniquities -immoral behavior
our trespasses and the trespasses of our fathers - trespasses, from מעל - deceptions, breaking His laws
confess we have walked contrary to Him and recognize that He has walked contrary to us
we must humble our uncircumcised hearts and
accept the punishment of our crookedness.
I believe if we honestly, humbly and fervently do what He asks in these verses, we can once again walk in covenant with Him as He desires. In our closing prayer I will lead us in this confession. If it is your desire to enter into the covenant you can stand and declare it as such or simply proclaim Omein! at its conclusion.
People who have rejected His laws - even part of them - do not want to hear the message we have heard. The don’t want to hear words such as walk, guard and do. They only want to hear grace, love and forgiveness - all of which take little or no effort on their part. For us, we know it requires all of these to be a part of His people.
To love someone is to do more than just care about them - it requires telling them the truth about His Messiah and His laws. It requires being a watchman and correcting not only sin, but sinful behavior. That’s the challenge of truly loving someone.
What is coming at the end of this age is written. It will not be changed or averted, but, for the remnant, He makes a way of escape. You are invited to be a part of His remnant.
27 Iyar 5775 - 16 May 2015
1 Pirkei Avot 2.1