Parashat Bahar (On the Mountain)
Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:1–26:2
In this week’s Scripture portion, we find a description of what is known as the Sabbatical Year (“Year of Shmita”), which is the seventh year of the agricultural cycle, and that culminates in the Jubilee. The Jubilee occurs every 50 years, after 7 cycles of the Shmita (49 years) and it deals with releasing ownership of the land and slaves.
In the past two years, I wrote two blogs about this important portion of Scripture Parashat Bahar (On the Mountain) and Parashat Bahar (On the Mountain). In both blogs, I emphasized the year of Shmita and Jubilee. Yet, as I was reading this section again and again in preparation to write this week’s blog entry, I started to have a deeper understanding of the reasoning behind these commands.
Three times in this section we find the term “and you shall fear your God…” (Leviticus 25:17, 36, & 43). The fear is based on respect and, conversely, respect that is driven out of fear. The entire concept of treating one another in an honorable way and without taking advantage of one another ought to have direct connection to the concept of fearing and honoring God! Simply put, how we treat one another is a reflection of our relationship with God.
The other important point that I found extremely interesting in this section is that three times it mentions the deliverance of the children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale.
For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
I believe that mentioning the deliverance of the children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians is key to understanding this entire section. This entire section revolves around the concept of the Sabbatical year (Shmita), the year of Jubilee, and the treatment of the stranger and slave. The Shmita and Jubilee demonstrate that the earth belongs to God and that He is in control over everything in it. Mentioning the deliverance of the children of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians also shows that this was in His hands. God alone delivered Israel from not just under rulership of Pharaoh and the Egyptians; we are His people and we belong to Him.
In English translations of both Leviticus 25:42 and 55, the words “עֲבָדַ֣י” (avadi) and “עֲבָדִ֔ים” (avadim) are translated as “servants”. However, the root word here is “עָֽבֶד” (aved), which literally means “slave”. Over the years, the term “slave” has taken on a very negative connotation and become synonymous with the tragic and sad condition of people being abused and severely mistreated by their masters. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt; they were under the rulership and ownership of Pharaoh who was considered a god of that time.
The One and only true God delivered them from slavery to Pharaoh so that they would belong to Him! This is similar to what Rav Sha’ul (Paul) writes in his letter to the Romans:
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching under which you were placed; and after you were set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.
Being “enslaved to righteousness” connects to another meaning of the word “עָֽבֶד” (aved), which is “to worship”. As a result of God’s amazing, powerful deliverance, the children of Israel were delivered from slavery to Pharaoh, and were then free to worship Him as slaves to righteousness.
Just like the children of Israel, we followers of Messiah were slaves to this world and to sin at one point. God freed us from slavery, not so that we can practice lawlessness and do whatever we please, but so that we can be free to serve Him, to worship Him, and be slaves to righteousness! Part and parcel to obedience is also caring for His creation, as He commanded to do in Leviticus 25.
Is there an area of sin in your life from which you feel you cannot be set free? Remember, you are a new creation in Messiah! You are no longer a slave to sin, but are now a slave to righteousness. Only in Messiah can you be truly set free!