Behar (Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2)

Happy Lag B’Omer!  This is a minor Jewish holiday whose name simply means “33rd (day) of the (counting of the) omer.” The 7 weeks from the 2nd day of Pesach to Shavuot are traditionally a semi-mourning period (no weddings, haircuts, shaving), with the exception of Lag B’Omer.  Its origin is unclear, though it appears to be connected to the failed Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome in 132 C.E. Perhaps a major plague had struck Rabbi Akiba’s students and it stopped on that day. Or perhaps “plague” refers to the deaths of those students during the rebellion. Or there was a victory or a break in the warfare that day. Or maybe the date was chosen because Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, a surviving disciple of Akiba and a mystic, died then.  Today, it is marked by bonfires, weddings, haircuts, shaves, and students’ picnicking and playing with bows and arrows.

Back to the Torah portion. Parashat Behar is only 57 verses long. It concerns the sabbatical (shmitta) and jubilee (yovel) years. The land itself must rest, one year out of seven, lying fallow.  You can eat what grows of its own accord, but you cannot work the land or prune your vineyard. There is a whole tractate of Mishnah on the laws for the sabbatical year, like how late in the 6th year can you plant, and what debts are and are not cancelled in the sabbatical year.

The jubilee year is the 50th year in the cycle.  That means two sabbatical years in a row, which causes some logistical problems.  More critically, we read in 25:10,

“You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants* It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family.”
*A slightly different translation is engraved on the Liberty Bell.

Thus, every 50 years, the land holdings were supposed to revert to the original Israelite holders.  People are reminded that the land is on loan from God, and the economy gets a reboot.

What we learn from the institution of the jubilee is the Torah’s concept of economic fairness. As discussed by Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz in his d’var Torah this week, “Generosity & Its Limits,” (thanks for pointing it out, Stanley), unequal distribution of resources is expected, but the growth of inequality is limited by “a combination of limited required wealth re-distribution and encouragement to be generous. We must leave the corners of our field for the poor to harvest (Vayikra 19:9), give a fixed percentage each year of our income (Devarim 14:28-29), and give tzedakah when we are asked (Devarim 15:7-10). But despite all of this, resource inequality will force some to eventually sell their most fundamental possessions – their property, their labor, and eventually their freedom (Vayikra 25:39-42).

“The Torah permits us both to become slaves and own them, but it seeks to place limits on the institution and the inevitable exploitation. The initial period of servitude (for an Israelite slave) can last no more than six years. Since all debts are forgiven in the seventh year, servitude to pay off debt becomes unnecessary. A person can choose to remain a slave, but even that choice is overridden by the Yovel when the person gets back the property they sold and can rely on it to maintain themselves.”

Even a few millennia ago, the perils and unfairness of an untrammeled free-market economy were recognized.  The jubilee was one way to apply the brakes and give the people a chance to begin anew.

Shabbat shalom,


tph credit card


Short Archery Joke

I bought my vegan girlfriend a bow

She’s gone into the garden to stalk some celery


The computer user’s reboot poem

Don’t you wish when life is bad
and things just don’t compute,
That all we really had to do
was stop and hit reboot?

Things would all turn out ok,
life could be so sweet
If we had those special keys
Ctrl, Alt, and Delete

Your boss is mad, your bills not paid,
your wife, well she’s just mute
Just stop and hit those wonderful keys
that make it all reboot

You’d like to have another job
but you fear living in the street?
You solve it all and start a new,
Ctrl, Alt, and Delete


tph dagwood sabbatical resized


A professor of literary courses at a college dedicated his entire life to books and longed for the experience of knowing what it was like to work with his hands for a living. He decides to take a sabbatical and find work in the construction business. He calls around looking for work and the foreman of a job tells him to come in to talk about a job. The professor shows up and explains why he is looking for work.
“It’s not that simple, you know,” says the foreman, “You gotta know a lot of stuff about the industry.”
“I’ve read a lot about it and invite you to quiz me to test my knowledge,” replies the professor.
“Okay then,” says the foreman, “Tell me the difference between a girder and a joist.”
The professor stares blankly at the foreman for a minute then says, “A lot! They’re nothing alike. One was the supreme genius of German literature, and the other was a master of the avant-garde style in turn-of-the-century Dublin. But shouldn’t you be asking me about construction?”


Liberty Quotes

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
― Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the life & writings of Benjamin Franklin

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves”
― Abraham Lincoln, Complete Works – Volume XII

“People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want and the courage to take.”
― Emma Goldman


Light Bulb Jokes

How many Communists does it take to change a light bulb? It isn’t your light bulb. The state owns it and you. How dare you think independently. We have ways of making you talk.

How many conservatives does it take to change a light bulb? None, a free market will take care of it shortly.


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