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Bechukotai

Bechukotai (alternately Bechukosai, B'hukkothai, etc.; Hebrew: בחוקותי, "by my decrees” — the second word, and the first distinctive word, in the parshah) is the 33rd weekly Torah portion ("parshah") in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the 10th and last in the book of Leviticus. It constitutes Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in May.

The lunisolar Hebrew calendar contains up to 54 weeks, the exact number varying between leap years and regular years. In years with 54 weeks (for example, 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2016), parshah Bechukotai is read separately on the 33rd Sabbath after Simchat Torah. In years with fewer than 54 weeks (for example, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015), parshah Bechukotai is combined with the previous parshah, Behar, to help achieve the needed number of weekly readings.

Summary

Blessings and curses

God promised that if the Israelites followed God’s laws, God would bless Israel with rains in their season, abundant harvests, peace, victory over enemies, fertility, and God’s presence. But if the Israelites did not observe God’s commandments, God would wreak upon Israel misery, consumption, fever, stolen harvests, defeat by enemies, poor harvests, attacks of wild beasts, pestilence, famine, desolation, and timidity.

Those who survived would be removed to the land of their enemies, where they would become heartsick over their iniquity, confess their sin, and atone. God promised then to remember God’s covenants with Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, and the ancients whom God freed from Egypt.

Payment of vows

God told Moses to instruct the Israelites that when anyone vowed to offer God the value of a human being, the following scale would apply:

  • for a man from 20 to 60 years of age, 50 shekels of silver (),
  • for a woman from 20 to 60 years, 30 shekels (),
  • for a boy from 5 to 20 years, 20 shekels (),
  • for a girl from 5 to 20 years, 10 shekels (),
  • for a boy from 1 month to 5 years, 5 shekels (),
  • for a girl from 1 month to 5 years, 3 shekels (),
  • for a man 60 years or over, 15 shekels and
  • for a woman 60 years or over, 10 shekels ().

But if a vower could not afford the payment, the vower was to appear before the priest, and the priest was to assess the vower according to what the vower could afford. ()

If the vow concerned an animal that could be brought as an offering, the animal was to be holy, and one could not exchange another for it, and if one did substitute one animal for another, the thing vowed and its substitute were both to be holy. If the vow concerned an unclean animal that could not be brought as an offering, the vower was to present the animal to the priest, the priest was to assess it, and if the vower wished to redeem it, the vower was to add one-fifth to its assessment. No firstling of a clean animal could be consecrated, for it already belonged to God. But a firstling of an unclean animal could be redeemed at its assessment plus one-fifth, and if not redeemed, was to be sold at its assessment.

If one consecrated a house to God, the priest was to assess it, and if the vower wished to redeem it, the vower was to add one-fifth to the assessment. If one consecrated to God land of one’s ancestral holding, the priest was to assess it in accordance with its seed requirement. If the vower consecrated the land after the jubilee year, the priest was to compute the price according to the years left until the next jubilee year, and reduce the assessment accordingly. If the vower wished to redeem the land, the vower was to add one-fifth to the assessment and retain title, but if the vower did not redeem the land and the land was sold, it was no longer to be redeemable, and at the jubilee the land was to become the priest’s holding. If one consecrated land that one purchased (not land of ancestral holding), the priest was to compute the assessment up to the jubilee year, the vower was to pay the assessment as of that day, and in the jubilee the land was to revert to the person whose ancestral holding the land was. But nothing that one had proscribed for God (subjected to cherem) could be sold or redeemed, and no human being proscribed could be ransomed, but he was to be put to death. ()

All tithes from crops were to be God’s, and if one wished to redeem any of the tithes, the tither was to add one-fifth to them. Every tenth head of livestock was to be holy to God, and the owner was not to choose among good or bad when counting off the tithe.

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Leviticus chapter 26

A Baraita taught that several of the curses in result from particular transgressions. Rabbi Eleazar the son of Rabbi Judah read the word “behalah” (“terror”) in as “be-challah” (“on account of challah”) to interpret to teach that as punishment for the neglect of the challah tithe, God fails to bless what is stored, a curse is sent on prices, and people sow seed but others eat the harvest. The Baraita interpreted to teach that as punishment for vain oaths, false oaths, desecration of God’s Name, and desecration of the Sabbath, wild beasts multiply, domestic animals cease, population decreases, and roads become desolate. Using to equate the word “covenant” with the Torah, the Baraita interpreted to teach that as punishment for delaying judgment, perverting judgment, corrupting judgment, and neglecting Torah, sword and spoil increase, pestilence and famine come, people eat and are not satisfied, and people eat their scarce bread by weight. And the Baraita interpreted to teach that as punishment for idolatry and failure to observe the Sabbatical (Shmita) and Jubilee (Yovel) years, the Jews are exiled and others come to dwell in their land. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 32b–33a.)

The Gemara reconciled apparently discordant verses touching on vicarious responsibility. The Gemara noted that states: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin,” but (20:5 in NJPS) says: “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” The Gemara cited a Baraita that interpreted the words “the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them” in to teach that God punishes children only when they follow their parents’ sins. The Gemara then questioned whether the words “they shall stumble one upon another” in do not teach that one will stumble through the sin of the other, that all are held responsible for one another. The Gemara answered that the vicarious responsibility of which speaks is limited to those who have the power to restrain their fellow from evil but do not do so. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 27b.)

A midrash noted that everywhere else, Scripture mentions Abraham before Isaac, and Isaac before Jacob. (E.g., 3:6, 15–16; 4:5; 6:3, 8; 33:1; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:12 (English 29:13); 30:20; 34:4.) But mentions Jacob before Isaac, and Isaac before Abraham, to teach that the three were on a par. (Genesis Rabbah 1:15.)

A midrash interpreted the words, “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them,” in to teach that the Shekhinah accompanied Israel into exile. (Exodus Rabbah 23:5.) Samuel of Nehardea interpreted the words, “I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God,” in to teach that God did “not reject” the Jews in the days of the Greeks, nor “abhor them” in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, nor “destroy them utterly” in the days of Haman, nor “break [God’s] covenant with them” in the days of the Persians; “for [God will be] the Lord their God” in the days of Gog and Magog. Similarly, a Baraitha taught that God did “not reject” them in the days of the Chaldeans, for God sent them Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; God did not “abhor them” in the days of the Greeks, for God sent them Simeon the Righteous, the Hasmonean and his sons, and Mattathias the High Priest; and God did not “destroy them utterly” in the days of Haman, for God sent them Mordecai and Esther; and God did not “break [God’s] covenant with them” in the days of the Persians, for God sent them the house of Rabbi and the generations of Sages; “for [God will be] the Lord their God” in the time to come, when no nation or people will be able to subject them. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 11a.)

Leviticus chapter 27

Tractate Arakhin in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of dedicatory vows in (Mishnah Arakhin 1:1–9:8; Tosefta Arakhin 1:1–5:19; Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 2a–34a.)

Tractate Temurah in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of substituting one sacrifice for another in (Mishnah Temurah 1:1–7:6; Tosefta Temurah 1:1–4:17; Babylonian Talmud Temurah 2a–34a.)

Commandments

According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 7 positive and 5 negative commandments in the parshah:

  • When one vows a person’s value, to estimate the value as determined by the Torah
  • Not to substitute another beast for one set apart for sacrifice
  • The new animal, in addition to the substituted one, retains consecration.
  • To estimate the value of consecrated animals
  • To estimate the value of consecrated houses
  • To estimate the value of consecrated fields
  • Not to change consecrated animals from one type of offering to another
  • To carry out the laws of interdicting possessions
  • Not to sell interdicted possessions
  • Not to redeem interdicted possessions
  • To separate the tithe from animals every year
  • Not to redeem the tithe

(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 3:461–517. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1984. ISBN 0-87306-297-3.)

Haftarah

The haftarah for the parshah is Jeremiah 16:19–17:14. The blessings and curses in are matched by a curse on “the man that trusts in man” in and a blessing on “the man that trusts in the Lord” in Goswell argues that this supports the thesis that "the Pentateuch is a unified composition focusing on faith as its central theme." (Gregory Goswell, "The Hermeneutics of the Haftarot," Tyndale Bulletin 58 (2007), 94.)

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Ancient

Biblical

Early nonrabbinic

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Challah 4:9; Taanit 3:5; Megillah 3:3, 3:6; Chagigah 1:4; Menachot 9:7, 12:1; Bekhorot 1:7, 9:1–8; Arakhin 1:1–9:8; Temurah 1:1–7:6. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 157, 312, 320–21, 329, 752, 759, 790, 807–36. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Sifra 260:1–277:1. Land of Israel, 4th Century C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifra: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 3:345–409. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-207-0.
  • Leviticus Rabbah 6:5; 10:7; 11:3; 15:1; 34:9; 35:1–37:4. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 4:84, 131, 137, 189, 435, 446–71. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 47b; Shabbat 32b–33a, 77b, 104a, 136b, 148b; Eruvin 2a, 31b, 50a; Pesachim 37b, 63a, 66b; Yoma 50b, 66a, 80a; Beitzah 36b; Rosh Hashanah 2a, 4a; Taanit 7b, 22b; Megillah 2b, 11a, 23b, 25b, 28a, 31a–b; Chagigah 10a; Yevamot 20a, 84a; Ketubot 37b, 46a, 54a; Nedarim 18b, 20a, 36b, 69b; Nazir 25a, 31a–b, 61a, 62a; Gittin 12a, 37a, 38b, 48a; Kiddushin 5a, 7a, 17a, 24a, 29a, 32a, 53a, 54b, 61a–b; Bava Kamma 10a, 13a, 40a, 68b, 69b, 73b, 78a, 102b, 109b, 110b, 115b; Bava Metzia 6a, 7a, 46a, 47a, 53b–55a, 57a, 67b, 91a, 106a, 113b; Bava Batra 71a, 72a–b, 75a, 88b, 91b, 103a, 108b, 112a, 121b; Sanhedrin 14b–15a, 27b, 52b, 63b, 70a, 87a, 88a, 100a; Makkot 13a–b, 16a, 19a, 21b, 22b, 24a; Shevuot 11b, 16b, 21a, 22a, 39a; Avodah Zarah 5a, 13a, 63a; Zevachim 5b–6a, 9a, 12a, 30a, 56b, 81b; Menachot 6a, 79b, 81a, 82a, 87b, 92a, 93a, 101a; Chullin 2a, 25b, 30a, 41b, 69a–b, 84a, 114a, 130a, 133b, 135a, 136b, 139a; Bekhorot 4b, 10b–11a, 12a, 13a, 14a–b, 15b, 31b–32b, 36b, 37b, 41b–42a, 49a, 50a–b, 51b, 53a–b, 54b, 57a, 58b, 59b–60b; Arakhin 2a–34a; Temurah 2a–34a; Keritot 27a; Meilah 10b, 13a; Niddah 4b, 28b, 48a. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
  • Tanhuma Bechukotai. 6th–7th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Metsudah Midrash Tanchuma: Vayikra. Translated and annotated by Avraham Davis; edited by Yaakov Y.H. Pupko, 5:531–58. Monsey, N.Y.: Eastern Book Press, 2006.

Medieval

  • Tanna Devei Eliyahu. Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 16, 56, 95–96, 130–31. Eliyyahu Zuta 171. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah. Translated by William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, 34, 129, 212, 283, 365. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981. ISBN 0-8276-0634-6.
  • Rashi. Commentary. Leviticus 26–27. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 3:347–86. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89906-028-5.
  • Zohar 3:112a–115b. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g, The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.

Modern

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