Behar-Behukkotai (Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34)

I’m having an unusually busy week.  Besides the usual (synagogue teen program, music lesson, choral rehearsal, adult ed classes, volunteer reading to 3-5-year-olds):  an annual Hadassah event, 2 additional choral rehearsals, two car-repair trips, one medical check-up, one concert (whence the 3 rehearsals), and, unfortunately, one funeral.  By the end of May, “the usual” will be reduced to the volunteer reading, at least for the summer.  But right now, I feel kind of scattered.

But I think I can focus enough to make a couple of points about this week’s double portion.

Parashat Behar (Lev. 25:1 – 26:2) contains instructions for observing the sabbatical (shmitta) and jubilee (yovel) years in the Promised Land.  The jubilee follows 7 complete cycles, so it is the 50th year. Land lies fallow in those years, just as humans and animals observe a sabbath of rest every 7th day.  Thus, one hopes for bumper crops in the 6x years, especially year 48.  This is akin to the double portion of manna on the sixth day of the week in the wilderness.  

The jubilee year, additionally, is a time for a reset, or reboot.   Land holdings go back to their original owners, debts are forgiven, and Israelite slaves are freed. Measures are prescribed to ensure people aren’t ruined by these observances. Here we find that verse on the Liberty Bell (Lev. 25:10), “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.”   Michael Carasik wrote about the jubilee, “They say ‘cash is king,’ but Leviticus 25 denies it.  God is king, and both the land and its people belong to Him.  The underlying idea appears to be that the free market, allowed to run untrammeled, will eventually knock things out of kilter; the function of the jubilee is to apply the brakes and, by redistributing the land every 50 years, start things over again from a position of radical equality.  ‘The jubilee is for you,’ the chapter insists in verse 10, explaining that (emphasis added) true freedom depends on reversing the distortions of a free-market economy.”  Food for thought for, say, a D.C. Bible study session?

Behukkotai (Lev. 26:3-27:34) appears to be a simple carrot-and-stick section: if you’re good, you’ll get rewarded, and if you’re bad, you’ll be punished, but there is more underlying it.  Good things tend to be easy-to-describe (peace, abundance, the presence of God among them) and universally applicable, kind of like Tolstoy’s famous quote from Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That takes up a mere 11 verses. 

Then we have 29 verses of warnings as to what will happen if the Israelites are “bad” (i.e., disobey the Lord), in five very detailed series (Lev. 26:16-17, 18-20, 21-22, 23-26, and 27-43).  This is referred to as the minor Tochachah (admonition), the major one being in Deuteronomy. Consequences grow worse and worse. Each series of promised punishments is supposedly 7 times as bad as the one before; if 1st=x, then 2nd =7x, 3rd=49x, 4th =343x, and 5th =2401x.  However, at every stage, there is a chance to atone and halt the process.  In that sense, this is like a parent carefully instructing a child that there are specific consequences for actions, these get worse with persistent disobedience, and yet forgiveness is available by changing behavior.  

This section is followed by details regarding vows concerning offerings (think donations) for the maintenance of the Tabernacle (later, the Temple).  I wrote here in 2016, “One way was to pledge the monetary equivalent of something of value.  Nowadays, if you donate, say, clothes to Goodwill, there is a guide online for estimating the monetary value of your donation.  Back then, the priest would assign a value to an animal or other item of value, like a house.   You could also pledge the value of a specific person, and those values were standardized based on age and sex, basically what the person could fetch on the open market as a slave.  Not surprisingly, the highest valuation was 50 shekels for a 20-60-year-old man.”

And so, we close out the book of Leviticus.  Next week, Numbers and a lot more narrative.

Shabbat shalom,


Non Sequitur, May 3, 2018

tph rebooted


30 People Share the Most Creative Punishment They Have Ever Received (selected) By hoK leahciM  March 7, 2014

4. Do you want to go into the attic?

My father would tell me that he built me from spare parts in the basement, and that his earlier, failed attempts lived in the attic, and that if I misbehaved he could easily send me to live with them and just build a new me. The imagery was horrifying, and it also kept me from exploring in the parts of the house he didn’t want me in. – Snowleaf

5. My sister wanted it too

When I was six, the child psychologist said that I needed “boundaries” and suggested that my parents punish me by making me stand on a kitchen towel in the middle of the room, kinda like standing in the corner but where I could see all the things I couldn’t participate in.

Well and good, until my two year old sister decided that it looked like fun. She got a towel of her own, carefully laid it out next to mine and stood next to me.

Punishments are less effective when the parents can’t help but laugh. – Sapientiam

9. Stop **** reading books and go out and kiss someone, dammit

I was an absolute book worm when I was a kid. Being sent to my room did nothing as I’d spend most of my day curled up in there reading anyway.

So, my parents used to padlock my bookshelf and force me to go outside for punishment. – honorarykiwi

16. Did you at least get someone?

When I was a kid my sister got detention for shooting rubber bands at kids in the lunch room. When the Principal called my mom she instinctively asked “Well did she hit anybody?”, to which the principal quickly replied that it was not relevant. Later on that night, however, my dad set up a target in the kitchen, on the fridge, and my sister’s punishment was that she had to spend an hour a night shooting rubber bands at that target. He explained to her that if she was going to get in trouble for something, she better at least be good at it. – wish_you_were_here


Warning Labels

Manufacturers of consumer products have to be liberal with the warning labels these days, lest they get sued. But for these, it’s hard to know whether the company is being outright stupid or if they’re simply targeting the most brain dead dumb among us.

Product Warnings:

  • “Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish.” — On a bottle of shampoo for dogs.
  • “Do not use while sleeping or unconscious.” — On a hand-held massaging device.
  • “Do not eat toner.” — On a toner cartridge for a laser printer.
  • “Warning: Do not climb inside this bag and zip it up. Doing so will cause injury and death.” — A label inside a protective bag (for fragile objects), which measures 15cm by 15cm by 12cm (6” by 6” by 4.8”).
  • “Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.” — On a sign at a railroad station.
  • “Warning: do not use if you have prostate problems.” — On a box of Midol PMS relief tablets.
  • “Do not dangle the mouse by its cable or throw the mouse at co-workers.” — From a manual for an SGI computer.
  • “Warning: May cause drowsiness.” — On a bottle of Nytol, a brand of sleeping pills.


  • “Safe for use around pets.” — On a box of Arm & Hammer Cat Litter.

Small Print From Commercials:

  • “Do not use house paint on face.” — In a Visa commercial that depicts an expecting couple looking for paint at a hardware store.


Book: That Reminds Me of A Joke: Outrageous News Stories that Echo our Favorite Jokes. By Editors at Reader’s Digest


My mom drove cross-country to visit me in college.  Heading south from Tucson, we were on our way to spend the day in Mexico when a state trooper pulled us over. “What seems to be the problem?” Mom asked.

“Drug smugglers use this road a lot,” he explained, “and a suspicious-acting Buick with Pennsylvania plates has been spotted going up and down it.”

“I just got in yesterday,” Mom said. “And I’m hardly a smuggler.  Just a teacher on sabbatical.”

“The patrolman eyed her suspiciously. “Do you have a prescription for that?”

– Joseph Blumberg


Starting Over

The mother of three notoriously unruly youngsters was asked whether or not she’d have children if she had to do over again.

“Sure,” she replied, “but not the same ones.”

Happy Mother’s Day!  IGP

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