Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’chu’kotai – Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:3 – 27

Hebrew Insights into Parashat B’chu’kotai – Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:3 – 27

The topic of the important place accorded to the Land, which we examined in Parashat B’har with its varied ramifications, continues in Parashat B’chu’kotai ("In My Statutes"), as seen in 26:3-13. Keeping YHVH's statutes is destined to be reflected in the natural conditions of the Land of Israel. The correlation will be seen in the abundance of rain (and therefore of crops), the removal of dangerous carnivores, demographic expansion, abundance and prosperity. The other benefits resulting from faithfulness to YHVH and His Word will be peaceful conditions prevailing in the Land and its surroundings, the ability to defeat the enemy and primarily the fulfillment of His promise to instate His tabernacle in their midst… and to always walk among them (ref. 26:11, 12). In verse 5 we read…”and your threshing shall reach [or overtake] the vintage, and the vintage shall reach [or overtake] the sowing time; and you shall eat your bread to satisfaction, and live in your land securely.” This is especially pertinent in light Parashat B’har’s sh’mita-year promise: “Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years” (Lev. 25:21 italics added). In a prophecy pertaining to a latter day, the Prophet Amos also echoes the “overtaking”: "The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who draws along seed" (9:13).

Having examined in Parashat B’har one of the words for "interest" - “marbit” (whose root is r.v/b.a), we will now take a look at another word that shares the same root - “r’vava” (which we also encountered in Parashat Cha’yey Sarah Gen. 24:6). In 26:8 we read, "…and hundred of you shall pursue ten thousand (“r’vava”)…" (emphasis added).

Echoing 25:22 (“and [you] shall eat of the old crop… until the coming in of its crop; you shall eat of the old") from the previous Parasha, verse 10 says, "And you shall eat very old provision, and clear away the old because of the new." In other words, not only will there be a long and lasting overabundance which will remain fresh and usable for the entire time period, but even before it is fully consumed there will be a fresh crop!

These promises are sealed with the familiar: "I am YHVH your Elohim, who has brought you out of the land of the Egyptians, from being their slaves.” It then continues to say: “And I will break the bars of your yoke, and I will make you walk upright" (26:13). "Walking upright" is “ko'memi'yoot,” of the root k.o.m (kof, vav, mem), meaning to “rise or get up." In Parashot Va'ye'tze (Gen. 28:10-32:2) and Vayishlach (Gen. 32:3- 36) we noticed the significance of Ya'acov's "rising up," as well as that of the special "place" - ma'kom (of the same root) - where he experienced some of his ‘rising.’ Here the sons of this Patriarch are promised "an upright walk," providing they do so in Elohim's chosen paths. Additionally, in 26:37 we encounter the word “t’kuma,” translated "power to stand" (“you shall have no power to stand before your enemies”), with its more modern usage being "resurrection" and "recovery".

If the People of Yisrael choose "to walk contrary to Him" (ref. 26:21), YHVH will also "walk contrary" to them (ref. v. 24) and will inflict upon them a series of blows (such as the example we just looked at in verse 37). The expression "walking contrary" - “keri” - is used nowhere else except in this chapter, where it appears seven times. Its root is thought to be k.r.h (kof, resh, hey), meaning to “happen". Rashi comments on this: “Our rabbis said: ‘this word signifies irregularly, by chance, something that happens only occasionally. Thus, [meaning] 'if you will follow the commandments irregularly.’” Menahem explains it as an expression for refraining, cf…”Refrain (“hoh-ker”) your foot from your neighbor's house” (Prov. 25:17), or, of a refraining (“va'yikar”) spirit…."[1]. “Keri”, therefore may refer to an avoidance of performing YHVH’s Word along with a casual and nonchalant attitude toward Him, which was also condemned by Yeshua in Revelation 3:15, 16 where we read: "I wish you were cold or hot… So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth," leading us to the curse of eventually being spewed out of the Land (26:32 – 39, and also Lev. 20:22).

The list of curses (26:14-46) is somewhat parallel to the list of the blessings, albeit much longer. It is divided up into several progressive categories: diseases, defeat, drought, carnivorous animals, and a combination of wars, plagues and famines, which will cause parents to consume their own children's flesh. Finally, after the destruction of the idols and pagan images, there will be a dispersion of the People of Yisrael among the Gentile nations. Under these conditions, and once the Land has been emptied of its inhabitants, its Shabbats will be repaid (as the Israelites did not keep the Sabbatical years that we read about in the last Parasha). These Shabbats will "appease" the land, with the word used here being “tirzeh” (of the root “ratzon” - “will or acceptance”). Thus, the land "will be appeased" (v. 34, 35) and “accept” its inhabitants. Accordingly, the "year of acceptance" (Is. 61:2) is “sh'nat ratzon.” The same word for “acceptance” appeared in Parashat Emor, where we read in 23:11 about the Omer: "And he [the priest] shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, to be accepted [lirtzon'chem] for you…" (italics added). Negligence to observe the Shmita on the seventh year, is what makes the figure ”seven” stand out, relative to sin and the penalties subsequently incurred; thus we read, “I will chastise you seven times more for your sin… “(26:18, 21, 24, 28 italics added). The usage of seven here reminds us of some of the commands, which the Israelites will be transgressing, that are related to the figure seven, such as the seventh day of the week, the seventh year of rest, and the seven years multiplied by seven leading to the Jubilee, the 50th year of release of all debts and property.

The last part of Parashat B’chu’kotai deals with laws concerning vows made to YHVH (chapter 27), among which are those that pertain to the tithes. In verses 32-33 we read: “And all the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, all that passes under the rod, a tenth shall be holy to YHVH. He shall not search whether it is good or bad; neither shall he change it…” (italics added). Y’chezkel (Ezekiel) 20:37-38 echoes the terms we encounter here, applying them to YHVH’s sheep and to the land of their inheritance: “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels and those who sin against Me. I will bring them out from the land where they reside, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel” (italics added). In the above Vayikra (Leviticus) text, we encountered “He shall not search” – “lo ye’vaker” (v. 33). Y’chezkel 34:11-12 reiterates this phrase, and so we read: “For so says Adoni YHVH: Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them outuvikarteem, as the seeking out – kevakarat – of the shepherd of his flock in the day that he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek outa’vaker - My sheep and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered …” (literal translation, italics added)

The final verse, which is similar to the opening verse of Parashat B’har (referring to Mount Sinai), seals off the Parasha, and indeed the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) with the words: "These are the statutes which YHVH made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses" (v. 34 italics added).

[1] New Studies in Vayikra, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner
Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed
Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Some of the word meanings were gleaned from:
The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.
Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980.