There’s something I like to do when I read the weekly Torah parshah: 9 aliyot. (Except this week, whereas the Book of Numbers starts next week; but it still provides an interesting perspective on the tonal shift of the Torah from book to book.)
“But Gedalyah,” you’re probably saying to yourself, “there are only 7 aliyot in a parshah, why or how do you do 9?”
Oh, I will tell you my curious friend.
I like to read the last aliyah of the previous week’s parshah along with the first of next week’s. What I’ve found in my short time as a practicing member of the Jewish community is that we tend to lose context of many statements in the Torah, other books of the Bible and throughout Judaism.
Take for instance, this week’s parshah בחוקתיי”/”b’Hukotai.” The very first sentence says it like this: “If you go by my laws and keep my commandments and do them (redundancy from the text), I will give your rains in their season, the land will give its yield and the tree will give its fruit . . . and you will settle securely in your land.” (VaYikra [Leviticus], 26:3 . . . 5)
WHAT LAWS? WHAT COMMANDMENTS?
I feel like it is a common assumption among my peers (only because I feel I’m guilty of this error often times as well), to think that those laws and commandments are referring to the entirety of the Torah’s legal codex. Statements along the lines of ‘If you keep this’ or ‘If you follow that’ dot the Torah.
But it more often is contextually referential to a recent passage. In this case, the entirety of the previous parshah, B’har.
In fact, the above-quoted passage is a perfectly spun version of an earlier one in the previous parshah, VaYikra 25:18-19: “Perform my laws and keep my ordinances…and you will dwell securely on the land.”
Look back further, to 25:17 (no, not Ezekiel 25:17 you Sam Jackson fanatics, VaYikra). B’har covers the laws of Shmittah and Yovel, times of debt forgiveness and expiration of long-term land leases. The parshah clearly states that as the Yovel year approaches, you have to reduce your asking prices for leases, because their respective duration are less than in previous years. But if on anyone who would think not to take that depreciation into account, the Torah is unequivocal: “Do NOT oppress your fellow; fear your God, for I am the Lord, your God.”
From there, the Torah states plainly to keep God’s laws in order to dwell securely in the Land of Israel. Do not overcharge nor, for lack of a more assertive term, screw over your fellow. From there, if you hold to that, the Land will be fruitful. Either because your respect for your renter will allow that person to, worry-free, be able to focus on tending to the land he’s rented; or because a focus on better treatment of your neighbors enables you to focus on how to better treat the land. Or, quite simply, God will straight-out bless you for your actions.
That is what God reiterates at the end of B’har and the beginning of this week’s portion.
I hope my attempt at context is worth your read and forgive me for any oversimplifications.