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Redeeming the Land


Torah Portion: Parashat Behar-Bechukotai..

Shabbat: May 13, 2023 / Iyyar 22, 5783

Torah: Behar - Lev. 25:1-26:2 Bechukotai - Lev. 26:3-27:34


Priestly Blessing

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26


Our Torah portion this week (i.e., Behar) includes the requirement that someone should redeem (buy) the land of their close relative if the relative is in such financial difficulty that he is forced to sell it: 'If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his property, then his near redeemer (גאֲלוֹ הַקָּרב) shall and redeem (גָאַל) what his brother has sold" (Lev. 25:25). In other words, if a man was forced to sell some of his inheritance due to poverty, then one of his close relatives had the duty to acquire it so that it would not pass into the hands of strangers. This law of redemption, as supplemented with the laws of inheritance (Num. 27:8-11), becomes a focal point in the Haftarah for Behar.

To contextualize the Haftarah reading (Jer. 32:6-27), the prophet Jeremiah was imprisoned in the guardhouse of the king's palace as the city of Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonian armies (Jer. 32:2). King Zedekiah had decided to arrest the prophet and put him under armed guard to prevent him from spreading his terrifying message that Jerusalem would soon fall (Jer. 32:3).

While he was in prison, however, the LORD told Jeremiah that his cousin Hanamel would soon visit him and ask that he "redeem" his besieged land (Jer. 32:6-15). Even though Jeremiah understood that the exile of the people was imminent and that the Babylonians would soon take full possession of the land of Israel, he went ahead paid the price and signed the deed of sale in fulfillment of the law's requirement (Jer. 32:10). Before assembled witnesses Jeremiah instructed his secretary Baruch ben Neriah: "The LORD who rules over all (יהוה צְבָאוֹת), the God of Israel (אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) says, 'Take these documents, both the sealed copy of the deed of purchase and the unsealed copy. Put them in a clay jar so that they may be preserved for a long time to come. For the LORD God who rules over all, the God of Israel, says, "Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land" (Jer. 32:14-16). Jeremiah looked ahead by faith and bought his cousin's land, even though the Babylonian invaders were on the verge of destroying the country and taking the people away in exile... His purchase of a seemingly worthless piece of land was therefore symbolic of his complete assurance that one day God would regather the Jewish back in the land promised to the patriarchs.

After the property deal was completed in front of the assembled witnesses, Jeremiah offered a prayer to God, perhaps as a way to impart the significance of the seemingly preposterous transaction (Jer. 32:17-25). Some have suggested that Jeremiah's prayer was intended to function as a type of "sermon." At any rate, God responded to the prayer in two parts. On the one hand, the judgment upon the people of Judah was entirely just and inevitable (Jer. 32:18-36), but on the other hand, God promised to regather the people from "all the countries" (מכָּל־הָאֲרָצוֹת) of their exile and bring them back to the Promised Land (Jer. 32:37-44). Notice that this promise clearly extends beyond the 70 year Babylonian captivity, since it refers to exile to various different countries (Deut. 30:3; Jer. 32:37). Moreover, at the end of this great (i.e., worldwide) exile, the LORD would give them a new heart and a new will that would revere the LORD forever: "I will make with them an everlasting covenant (בְּרִית עוֹלָם), that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness bekhol libbi uvkhol nafshi (בְּכָל־לִבִּי וּבְכָל־נַפְשִׁי) - "with all my heart and all my soul" (Jer. 32:40-41). Just as God was sure to bring his judgment on the Jewish people, so he promised to bring them good at the end of days... "For I will restore them to their land. I, the LORD, declare it!"

As this prophecy shows, nothing is too wonderful for God (Jer. 32:27). God's wonder is that He alone is LORD of all people, and his power is unlimited.... As the prophet Isaiah said, the LORD is Pele Yo'etz (פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ), the Counselor of Wonders (Isa. 9:5): "O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure" (Isa. 25:1). The history of the world reflects God's overarching will, and therefore we need not fear the rise and fall of transient civilizations. God is on the throne, and ein od milvado (אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו): "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9; 1 Kings 8:60). God "works all things together for good" (πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν) for those who are trusting in Him (Rom. 8:28).

"For I know the thoughts I have for you, declares the LORD,

thoughts for healing and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

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