The first verse of Parashat B’har (meaning, "In Mount…") serves to remind us that YHVH’s words to the Children of Yisrael, via Moshe, were spoken in Mount Sinai.
The opening of the Parasha focuses on the seventh year suspension of all soil cultivation (known as “Shmita,” whose root sh.m.t is mentioned in Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 23:11. See Heb. Insights into Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 21-24). In spite of this edict regarding work cessation, it is stated, "the Sabbath of the land shall be to you for food" (25:6). This declaration contains the familiar and principal thought, similar to the one that accompanies the weekly Shabbat, that YHVH is the Provider and thus the members of the community are afforded an opportunity to exercise faith throughout that year. In fact, contrary to human logic, this very rest will result in abundance
Secondly, every member of the community, as well as the livestock, is equally promised provision for that time period (25: 6, 7). Again, not unlike the weekly Shabbat, the benefits of YHVH's year of land-rest apply to one and all without regard to status and origin. However, this “Shabbat of Shabbats” (v. 4) year, together with the 50th year Jubilee, the "yovel" to which the rest of this Parasha is dedicated - apply only in the
In 25:3 we read: "You shall sow your field six years, and you shall prune your vineyard six years, and shall gather its produce." "Produce" or "provender" is “t'vua,” of the root b.o. (vet/bet, vav, alef), meaning “to come, come in or go in"; but also, in another conjugation, to “bring.” Thus, the term "produce" conveys the idea of that which does not result merely from man's productivity or effort, but rather of that which "comes" or is "brought" to him from an outside source.
As already mentioned, following YHVH's instructions guarantees that “…you shall live on the land securely. And the land shall give its fruit, and you shall eat to satisfaction; and you shall dwell securely on it" (25:18, 19). To this promise there will be an extra and supernatural blessing added: "I have commanded My blessing on you in the sixth year. And it shall produce the increase for three years; and you shall sow the eighth year, and shall eat of the old crop until the ninth year, until the coming [bo] in of its produce [t'vua]; you shall eat of the old" (21-22, italics added). Here again we see the connection between “produce” and the verb "to come" (remember, both originate in the same root).
The un-gathered harvest (or “after growth”) is called “that which grows of itself” – “safee’ach,” of the root s.f.ch (samech, pey/fey, chet), literally “adding, attaching, joining” (25:5, 11). In light of verse 25:23, where the addressees (the Yisraelites) are called “strangers [gerim] and sojourners,” it is interesting to note how the verb s.p/f.ch is used in Yishayahu (Isaiah) 14:1: “For YHVH will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose
, and settle them in their
own land. The strangers (gerim) will be joined with them
[nisfe’chu], and they will cling to the house of Jacob” (Italics added). Israel
"Your unkempt grapes" (25: 5, 11) are termed here “ee'nvey (“grapes of”) nezir'cha.” This expression is rooted in the word “nazir” (Nazarite), whose restrictive vows include abstention from wine drinking or grape eating. Why are these grapes qualified by the term “nazir”? The connection is thought to be the Nazarite's hair, which was to be left uncut and unkempt, much like these grape vines. This is reinforced by the first part of verse 5 ("that which grows of itself," alluding to unkemptness).
As mentioned, the second part of the Parasha deals with the Year of the “Yovel” ("jubilee," which is a direct derivative of “yovel”). The primary meaning of yovel is thought to be the word for “horned animal” or for the "horn" itself, which was used for multiple purposes in the ancient Israelite community. Quite possibly the role of the “horned animal” (such as the bull or ox), in leading solemn processions has branched off into nouns and verbs that share the root y.v/b.l (yod, bet/vet, lamed) and are therefore connected to “leading.” The verb “hovel” is to "lead," thus forming the noun for "stream" which is “yuval,” and for the "produce of the soil" – “y'vul” (‘issuing or proceeding out of the ground’). Another interesting derivative of this root is “tevel,” meaning "world." This renders the world and its elements (e.g. streams and produce) as mere ‘issues,’ or results that proceed (or ‘are led’) from that which has originally formed or produced them, but which exists outside of them. Notice the conceptual (and etymological) similarity to our former observation of the term "provender" - t'vua. “The earth is YHVH’s, and the fullness of it; the world (“tevel”), and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1), affirms this point.
Aside from letting the land lie fallow during the year of the “yovel,” that year was also to be “sanctified” (“vekidashtem”) for the purpose of "proclaiming liberty in the land to all its inhabitants…" (25:10). "
" is “dror,”
which is the same word for the bird known as "swallow" (e.g.
Pr. 26:2), thus lending a graphic rendition to this term. The yovel year signifies and stipulates that
all property, or its calculated value in another form, is to be returned to its
original owner. “Dror” for “liberty” is also mentioned in Yishayahu 61:1-2a,
where we read: “The Spirit of Adonai
YHVH is upon Me, because YHVH has anointed Me to preach good tidings to
the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty [d’ror]
to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of YHVH…”
This “acceptable” year, when “liberty” is proclaimed to the captives seems to also
be alluding to a Jubilee, although on a grander and more comprehensive scale. Liberty
But above all the human benefits attached to the yovel, there is a greater significance to its proclamation; a significance that at the same time also forms a ‘Divine paradox’ so typical of Hebraic logic. In 25:23 we read: “And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are aliens and tenants with Me." "Perpetuity" here is “tzmi'toot,” stemming from the root tz.m.t (tzadi, mem, tav) which is “to end, put an end to something" or “to freeze assets.” Thus, reverting property to its original owner demonstrates the fact that it actually belongs to… YHVH, as we just learned from the above Psalm. And as much as the Torah stresses ownership rights, it also reminds us, almost in the same breath, who the real owner is and that “we have no permanent city here, but we seek the one to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
Another aspect of the yovel is redemption, “geula,” whose primary meaning is "kin" (denoted by “go’el”). It is the next-of-kin's duty to buy back that which a member of the family has lost - or perhaps even the family member himself, if he had been conscripted to slavery. In the case of a Hebrew slave, he is to be released on the yovel, “because they are My servants, whom I have brought out from the
(25:42 italics added). This verse is set in a context of the release of (other)
slaves (25:44ff). Biblical Hebrew for "slave" and "servant"
is one and the same - e'ved - from the root e.v.d (ayin, vet/bet,
dalet), meaning "work" or "labor" (and also
rendering service to, or worship of YHVH). land of Egypt
Proper treatment of one's fellow citizen, defined as "brother," prohibits charging usury or interest (ref. vs. 36, 37). The two words used are “neshech” and “marbit.” The root of neshech (n.a.ch, noon, alef, chaf) is also the root for the verb “to bite." "Those who bite" (e.g. Habbakuk 2:7) are therefore the oppressors and debtors. “Marbit” is from the root r.v/b.a (resh, vet/bet, hey) which literally means "much, many, to add, to make greater, to increase." Hence “marbit” is a "monetary increment."
As part of taking care of one’s “brother,” if one’s relative has lost his assets and was sold to “a stranger who sojourns with you, or to a member of the stranger’s family who has become sufficient” ( 25:47 literal translation), the first party is obliged to redeem him. As to the “member of the stranger’s family,” here he is called “eker,” which is a most unusual term. The root a.k.r (ayin, kof, resh) basically means “to uproot,” and thus a “barren woman” is “akara” (ponder the connection…). However, since some shoots are plucked out from the parent plant and replanted, it also means “a shoot.” Its usage here, in relationship to the stranger’s family member could also point out to the fact that the stranger is “plucked out” from his natural environment and has been transplanted into a different soil. Further, should the misfortune of being sold as a slave becomes the lot of a native Israelite, he too would feel “plucked out” and “uprooted,” and hence the term could also be applied to the latter.
Aside from instructions on to how to calculate the redemption payment (25:50-53), specifics are also given as to the possible next of kin who is to eligible to redeem (vs. 48, 49) the one who has “become poor” (“mooch”, root of m.oo.ch – mem, vav, kaf – impoverish, become low). Having once been others’ servants/slaves, the sons of Yisrael are now the servants/slaves of the One who redeemed them from their lowly state (ref. 25:55), hence YHVH requires that redemption be continually operative in accordance with the measures that He is providing for His people.
Some of the word meanings were gleaned from:
The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers,
1979 Peabody, Mass.
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.