D’var Torah

Parshat Behar

Adam M. Feldman


Good shabbos everyone.  I would like to start off by saying thank you to all the people who came from out of town, all of my friends, my family, and Yaakov Tuchman.  I would also like to thank my parents for setting this all up, and Rabbi Feldman for helping me with this speech.  Without further ado, here it is.

We all know the saying, that you should never judge a book, or in this case, a parasha, by its cover.  If you do not know, today’s parsha is called “behar.”  For those of you who speak hebrew, you  know that this means “on the mountain”.  The first line of the parsha says, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai. . . .  This sounds slightly odd, because Moshe has not spoken with Hashem on Har Sinai for many parshiot.  All of the sudden, there they are at Har Sinai again.  Keep this in mind for later. 

Parashat Behar is basically full of laws.  Now, before you think, “uuuggghhh, this is gonna be sooooo boring”, just trust me.

The first thing we talk about is the law of Shmita.  You will have six normal years of farming, and on the seventh year, you let your land rest.  You can’t harvest fruits, plant crops, mow the fields, work your animals, or cut down trees. This is basically as if Shabbat lasted a year, but for nature. 

After these laws comes the law of Yovel, or Jubilee.  After 7 cycles of Shmita -- 7x7=49 -- you have the 50th year. This year is called a Yovel and is basically a Shabbat of nature Shabbat years.  All the slaves go free, which is to remind us the we are all only workers for Hashem, not for other people. Also, all of the land goes back to its original family-line owners.  This is to show everyone that Hashem controls everything.

The most amazing thing is that even though it’s been 2,500 years since the last Yovel, we can still see these ideas today.

Professor Nikolai Kondratiev studied data from economic cycles over many centuries.  He poured over so much data, and he found things he called “economic waves”.  This meant full economic cycles.  A nation’s economy starts a growth period, and that growth continues until it saturates the markets, and then there is deflation, followed by recession and depression.  After that, the economy recovers and figures out how to grow again.  And the cycle starts anew.  Professor Kondratiev found that a full economic cycle took an average of 50 years. Also, studies show that fads and trends, like bell-bottom pants, last for an average of 50 years. Even most intellectual ideas come and go for -- you guessed it -- 50 years.

This even applies to guinea pigs!  //guinea whistle\\ The average lifespan of a guinea pig is not 50 years. It is 12 years. But the average number of babies that a guinea pig has in one litter is 4.1 with 8 sixes following, which, times twelve, equals 50!  While this is not 50 years, the number is the same. Honestly, I just wanted to do the fun whistle.

Back to Yovel now.  I think that these cycles tell us another reason why the Torah emphasizes that these laws were singled out as coming from Mount Sinai.  The Torah wanted to tell us that these cycles were communicated straight from Heaven.

Where are we today in the Jubilee cycle?  The counting of the first Shmita cycle did not begin until after the Jewish people conquered and then settled in the land of Israel. The Jubilee only applied during the First Temple, but the Sanhedrin continued to count.  In all, they got through 17 Jubilee cycles before the destruction of the Second Temple.  The Rambam reports that the year in which he is recording the relevant law in the Mishna Torah is 4936, or 843 years ago.  He says that that year is a Shmita year and that it is year 21 of that Jubilee cycle.  By the way, that means he was 41 years old when he wrote that. 

You may be wondering, this is cool and all, but why am I talking about the exact year?  Because it means that if you continue that counting, the year 5765 was the last Jubilee year. I was born the next year, which is the first year of the present Yovel. As I grow, so does the 49-year cycle. I’m a Yovel Boy.

You can see the Yovel cycle even in my family. My grandfather, for whom I was named, was a poor immigrant to this country. My father has done better but now it seems that all my siblings want to do is study mice. Boom and bust indeed. This also took roughly 50 years. 

Seriously, the Shmita and Yovel cycles remind us over the course of our lives that we do not own, much less control, our economic fate.  Ki Li Kol HaAretz, Hashem says, for the land belongs to Me.  With that knowledge, we can worry less about manipulating the economy and spend more time doing the commandments.

Good Shabbos.