Open Doors: BeHar-Behukotai 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How literally do you understand the phrase “All Are Welcome” on an event invitation? Do you trust it, or wonder whether the event planners will truly accommodate all people according to their needs?

As the Torah text begins to explain the laws of the sabbatical year, the list of those allowed to consume that which grows during that year is extensive:

The Pitch: “Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of יהוה: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. But you may eat whatever the land during its sabbath will produce—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield.” – Leviticus 25:3-7

Swing #1: “There are … several features of Solomon’s [Temple-building] program that recall its protological archetype. For example, it takes him seven years to complete the work, just as it takes the divine king seven days to complete creation. That the correspondence is more than coincidence can be seen from the fact that Israelite agricultural law included a cycle of seven years, six of work, and one of rest, which is called ‘Sabbath’.” – Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible

Swing #2: “The only woman directly mentioned in Parashat Behar is the amah (the slave woman), and this is significant because it indicates Behar’s concern for the most vulnerable members of society. The amah is listed as one of the people who will eat the wild produce of the land during the shemita year rather than harvested food. In that respect, she is equal to all other Israelites, although she may have sold herself, or been sold by her father, into slavery.” – Sharon Brous & Jill Hammer in The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights From Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed.

Swing #3: “A subdued but present association in the Commandments [is] the Sabbath Commandment and the coveting Commandment lift[ing] up cattle, the ox, and the ass as being provided rest and protection.” – Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord: Essays in Old Testament Theology

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem surprised by the extent of inclusion in these verses? Does it seem to differ in spirit from other passages in the Torah? Should we be impressed by the Torah’s progressive stance? Is some inclusion better than none at all?

On-Deck at TBT: We’re getting close to our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, a time to hear from leaders and teachers throughout Jewish Buffalo as we celebrate the anniversary of the encounter at Mount Sinai. Join us through the night of Thursday, May 25th-Friday, May 26th, concluding with a sunrise service and breakfast.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of inclusion, it’s heartening to know that 28 out of the 30 Major League teams will be hosting a Pride Night at one of their games this season. Now if we can only get the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to sign on …

Shabbat Shalom!