Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Behar and Bechukotai.

Self Evaluation

Rabbi Hillel of Paritch was one of the many scholars to join the Chabad Chassidic movement. As a young man, Rabbi Hillel had heard of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and sought to meet him. But the opportunity seemed to forever elude him. Finally, he managed to locate Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s lodgings before the rebbe was due to arrive. Rabbi Hillel crept into Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s appointed room and hid under the bed, determined to make the acquaintance of the great rebbe.

In anticipation of the encounter, Rabbi Hillel had prepared a question on tractate Erachin, or “Appraisals,” to ask the rebbe.

From his hiding place, Rabbi Hillel heard the rebbe enter the room. But before he could make a move, he heard Rabbi Schneur Zalman exclaim: “If a young man has a question regarding ‘Appraisals,’ he had must first evaluate himself!”

The tractate of “Appraisals” discusses the laws presented in chapter 27 of Leviticus: if a person pledges to give to the Temple, but instead of citing a sum he says, “I promise to give the value of this individual,” we are to follow a fixed rate table set by the Torah, in which each age and gender group is assigned a certain “value.”

But why employ a flat rate which lumps together so many diverse individuals? Should not an accomplished scholar be considered more valuable than a simple laborer? The Torah states that we all stand equally before G‑d, “from your heads, the leaders of your tribes, your elders . . . to your woodchoppers and water-carriers.” But can a person truly view his fellow as his equal when he is so obviously superior to him in talent and achievement?

This is the meaning of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s remark to Rabbi Hillel: If you have a question regarding “Appraisals,” if you find it difficult to relate to the Torah’s evaluation of human worth, you had best take a long, hard look at yourself. An honest examination of your own character and behavior will show how much you can learn from every man, how much there is for you to emulate in those who are supposedly “inferior” to yourself.
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The Era of Shabbos

Parshat Behar begins by describing the mitzvah of the Sabbatical year. Just as every week, we rest on the seventh day, in the land of Israel, every seventh year, the land is left to lie fallow.

This pattern is also reflected in the pattern of history as a whole. There are to be seven millennia in the history of man. The seventh, like the Shabbos and like the Sabbatical year, will be an era of peace and understanding.

It is a mitzvah to accept the Shabbos early; we are commanded to add from the mundane to the holy and commence our observance of the holy day before sunset. Similarly, we must cease working the land before the Sabbatical year begins. This also applies with regard to the seventh millennium. That era will be inaugurated before its chronological time.

This points to the importance of our present age. In terms of the total scheme of history, it’s late Friday afternoon; we are already in the final quarter of the millennium. It is short moments before Shabbos, as it were. No wonder the world is beginning to look a little Shabbosdik.

Let’s take an honest look at our world: We are in the midst of an information revolution. Resources of knowledge that have been gathered for centuries are now only a few strokes of a keyboard away from any person with a pc. Instant communication from one end of the earth to another has transformed our world into a global village. We are producing enough food to feed all of mankind; it’s only political strife that is preventing hunger from being eliminated. The search for spirituality has become so much a part of our lives that chroniclers of the major trends leading to the millennium place it among the top 5.

Today, when a person speaks about redemption, his words resound with the power possessed by an idea whose time has come. We can precipitate the coming of Mashiach by anticipating the spiritual awareness that he will introduce. By living in the spirit of the Redemption, we make that Redemption a reality not only in our lives, but also within the world at large.
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Engraving vs Writing

Parshat Bechukotai opens: Im bechukosai teileichu, “If you proceed in My statutes.”

The Rabbis interpret this verse to be referring to the study of Torah. This, however, presents a difficulty because of the term Bechukotai. The root of that term, chok, refers to mitzvot whose motivating principle transcends understanding. Torah study, however, involves comprehension and understanding, giving man the opportunity to intellectually grasp and identify with G‑d’s truth.

There is, however, another way of interpreting the term Bechukotai, seeing it as related to the word chakikah, meaning “engraving.” According to this understanding, the implication of referring to Torah study with the word Bechukotai is that we must labor in the study of Torah until the words are engraved within us.

The advantage of engraving over writing is not merely that engraved letters are united with the surface unto which they are carved, for this is also true with regard to written letters. Although letters written on parchment are not part of the parchment itself, they become one with the parchment.

Instead, the advantage of engraving is that the letters are not an independent entity. Their existence cannot be separated from the object onto which they have been engraved; the two form one integral whole.

This is the lesson the term Bechukotai communicates with regard to the study of Torah. The intent is not merely that a Jew who studies the Torah should be united with the subject matter. Instead, the phrase teaches that a person must engrave the Torah he studies within his very being. Studying in a manner resembling writing — in which two separate entities come together — is not sufficient. Instead, one must study in a manner that resembles engraving; the student ceases to see himself as an independent entity, rather, his entire existence is the Torah.
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Era of Redemption

This Torah reading contains the verse: “I will remove beasts of prey from the land.” The commentaries interpret this as a reference to the era of Mashiach, because in the present gestalt, there have been and always will be beasts of prey.

Among the concepts derived from this verse: There is a difference of opinion among our Sages if there will be outright miracles in the era of Mashiach or not. The Rabbis who maintain that there will be such miracles use this verse as a proof text to prove their assertion, for the removal of beasts of prey is certainly a miracle that transcends the limits of nature. Others, however, maintain that the verse is merely an analogy: the beasts of prey represent the gentile nations that prey on the Jewish people. The intent is that in the era of Mashiach, they will dwell peacefully with the Jews.

The conception which understands this as a prophecy of miracles is a subject of expanded discussion. What exactly will that miracle be? One view maintains that the beasts of prey will cease to exist. Another maintains that the beasts of prey will continue to exit, but their predatory nature will cease, as the verse states: “The lion will lie down with the lamb.” This represents the ultimate perfection of the era of Mashiach: that the undesirable entities will be transformed into good, not merely banished from existence.
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Master of the Home Front

Before they entered the Land of Israel, Moses instructed the Jewish People regarding Shemitah, the Sabbatical Year. He did not preface with instructions regarding the six years of work, because the purpose of having Israel was not to work the land, but to reach the blessings of the seventh year, when the Jews could devote themselves to educating their children in Torah: