May 16, 2024
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Parshat Behar

This week’s haftarah contains a prophecy of hope to the nation of Israel, a prophecy delivered to them by the prophet Yirmiyahu. Although he is regarded as the prophet of the Churban, he shares many words of comfort with the sinful nation, holding out hope for the future, a necessary ingredient if he desired that the people would return to Hashem. Nonetheless, the opening of this 32nd perek, an opening that is not included in the haftarah reading, is certainly not an auspicious one.

As the chapter begins, we find the navi in “Chatzar HaMatara,” the courtyard of imprisonment within the gates of the royal palace, having been arrested by King Tzidkiyahu for having shared Hashem’s prophecy of the downfall of Judea and the exile and imprisonment of the king. The timing of these events is also not particularly auspicious. The story takes place in the 10th year of Tzidkiyahu’s reign (that would last only three more years), the year when the Babylonian/Chaldean army had begun to lay siege to the Judean capital, Yerushalayim.

While in confinement, Yirmiyahu receives the word from God that the prophet’s cousin, Chanamel ben Shalum, will be coming to him with the request for him to purchase his field in Anatot, actually to “redeem” it, thereby keeping the land part of the family’s estate. As the latter part of the parsha dealt with precisely these laws, the laws of redemption of property in Israel, Chazal’s choice of this reading is quite understandable.

And yet, we might rightfully ask why all of the details of the redemption had to be included in the description of the legal transfer of ownership. Certainly, a simple comment telling us that Yirmiyahu did as God had said would have sufficed. Clearly, the prophet’s actions were meant to be symbolic, impressing upon the people that they would yet return to the land, which is why Yirmiyahu told his guards what Hashem had predicted, so that when they saw his cousin arrive and make the request from the navi, all the people would realize that Hashem’s word is true—and what he says will happen will indeed happen.

Interestingly, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch sees a different, and perhaps more telling, connection between the parsha and the haftarah, which might have convinced Chazal that this haftarah reading is especially fitting for this parsha. The parsha begins with the words “Ki tavo’u el ha’aretz, when you arrive in the land,” and continues to delineate the laws of shemitah and yovel, the observance of which would guarantee their remaining in the land. The haftarah, in sharp contrast, describes a Jerusalem under siege, a prophet under arrest and a nation on the eve of its expulsion from the land.

Rav Hirsch points to a pasuk in the parsha that takes on a new meaning in light of the events depicted in the haftarah. The Torah tells us that we must observe the laws of the yovel year and make sure that the estates return to their original owners. It states that the land may not be sold in perpetuity for the land belongs to Hashem and “ki geirim v’toshavim atem imadi,” “for you are sojourners and residents with Me.” We have the opportunity of being permanent residents in Hashem’s land—if we observe His laws. However, we might be simply sojourners—people who will remain in the land only temporarily—if we fail to keep the land holy, as the Torah prescribes. And the haftarah underscores exactly what happens when we become mere sojourners.

This year, as we are observing the shemittah year, we are awakened to Hashem’s kindness of returning us to the land. And, in doing so, He expects us to realize our obligation to guarantee that the land retains its sanctity by remaining faithful to His eternal laws.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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