Home > Divrei Torah > B’har-B’hukotai


May 18, 2006

By Yechiel Buchband

As we open our portions, we may expect to find the
common phrase ‘Adonai spoke to Moses, saying . . .’
But we get a new addition to that phrase:
‘VaY’daber Adonai el-Moshe b’Har-Sinai
(Lev. 25:1). We might well wonder,
weren’t all these many mitzvot in Sefer
spoken on/at/near Mt. Sinai? Why add
these words here?

Rashi frames the question a bit differently,
anticipating the first topic dealt with in the portion,
the Sabbatical or sh’mitah year. He asks – in
words so apt that they’ve become a saying in
Hebrew ‘ Mah inyan Sh’mitah eytzel Har-Sinai?!
(What’s the issue of Sh’mitah doing next
to Mt. Sinai; or, what does one thing have to do with
another?) Quoting the midrash in Sifra, Rashi
answers that the words b’Har Sinai come here
to inform us that just as this mitzvah of
Sh’mitah was taught at Sinai along with all its
rules and detailed regulations (here in the Written
Torah, in the next verses), so all the other
mitzvot (which may not appear in the
Written Torah with all their rules and detailed
regulations) were also taught at Sinai along with all
their rules and detailed regulations (even if they
appear in the Oral, not the Written, Law). This is
always good to hear in these days of counting the
Omer, when we are preparing for the Shavuot holiday
of Kabbalat Torah, trying to open ourselves up
anew to both the Written and the Oral Torah.

I’d like to ask a question similar to Rashi’s. Why does
this issue of Sh’mitah and Jubilee years which
opens Parashat B’Har follow right after
Parashat Emor which gives us a calendar of
observances, including the counting of the days Omer
(Lev. 23:15-21)? Certainly the wording uS’fartem
. . . (used in connection with the Omer,
Lev. 23:15), so similar to the words v’Safarta
(in connection with counting the years of
Sabbaticals and Jubilee – Lev. 25:8), must make us
sit up and take notice of the parallels between the
two laws.

For the Omer, we count ‘seven complete weeks’
(Lev. 23:15) and afterwards celebrate the fiftieth
day as a sacred festival. For the Sh’mitah and
(the Jubilee) we count ‘seven weeks of
years’ (Lev. 25:8) and then ‘must sanctify the
fiftieth year’ (Lev. 25:10). The parallel cycles of
seven times seven (or 49), followed by a sacred
fiftieth, could not be more obvious. Both cycles are
related to the agricultural working of the land and
both culminate with a sacred day/year of rest
(having included seven previous days/years of rest in
the counting). Both the counting of the Omer which
takes place at that time of greatest uncertainty and
vulnerability in the annual agricultural cycle, when all
we can do is wait and hope (‘Achilah La-El,
Achakeh Lo’)
for HaShem’s bounty, and the
counting of Sabbatical and Jubillee years (also
fraught with concern over the issue of sustenance)
heighten our awareness that ‘the Land is the Lord’s
and all it contains, the Earth and all who dwell on it’
(Ps. 24:1).

Other parallels may also be seen which can explain
the juxtaposition (‘smichut parshiyot’) of
the two portions. Every seventh day we celebrate
Shabbat and are taught to use the ‘free time’ to
hear the reading of the weekly portion and to enrich
our knowledge of Torah; the Seventh Year (or
Sh’nat haSh’mitah) includes the mitzvah of
(lit. ‘Assemble’ the people, Deut. 31:10-
13), in which we are taught to bring the entire nation
together ‘ ‘men, women and children’ ‘ so that they
may hear the reading of the Torah and dedicate the
year to deepening their knowledge of Torah (almost
like a year-long kallah; freed by the Torah
from working the land, we can all make Torah our
occupation, Torato Omanuto, for the year) ‘
reap a crop of spiritual and intellectual

And these cycles of seven days/years, having come
round seven times, are each crowned by the fiftieth
year (the Jubilee, another year-long Kallah of Torah
study for all of Israel) or the fiftieth day, the
Shavu’ot festival. Is not Shavu’ot,
also called Atzeret (a day of assembly), the
festival which we celebrate by coming together to
study Torah all night long, in preparation for hearing
together the first words of Torah, standing with all
the children of Israel B’Har Sinai!

So we have 49 days to count the Omer and prepare
for renewing our relationship, through Torah, with the
Holy One. I understand that those who observe
S’firat Ha-Omer within the Kabbalistic
tradition, believe that each week is dedicated to one
of the seven lower Sefirot. (No midrashic
mind could resist the connection between ‘Sefirah‘ -counting ‘ and ‘Sefirot‘ ‘ the mystical emanations of Divinity, through which the Holy One connects to
people and the Universe). And each day of each
week is also dedicated to one of the same seven
Sefirot (working within the Sefirah of
the week): Hesed (Lovingkindness),
Gevurah ‘ (justice/discipline), Tiferet
(harmony/compassion), Netzah
(endurance), Hod (majesty/humility), Yesod
(foundation/bonding), and Malkhut

Thus the days run ‘Hesed in
Hesed‘ (day 1), Gevurah in Hesed (day 2), . . .
Malkhut in Hesed (day 7),
then (2nd week): Hesed in
Gevurah (day 8), Gevurah in
Gevurah (day 9) . . .
Malkhut in Gevurah (day 14) . . . and
so on, up to Malkhut in Malkhut (day

As part of the regimen of daily counting, one is called
upon to examine, meditate upon and purify that
aspect of one’s psyche/soul represented by that
day’s particular interface of the Sefirot. I
have to assume, thinking Zoharically, that
such ‘deeds’ of humanity bring about parallel ‘deeds’
of Divinity; that the Holy One draws closer and closer
to the intensification of ‘Malkhut in
Malkhut‘ (i.e. the Shekhinah, the
Divine Presence manifest and experienced in our
physical world), just as Israel has raised itself up,
step by step for 49 days in self-purification and
preparation for the Fiftieth Day (known both as the
day of ‘Receiving’ and of ‘Giving’ Torah). Then, on
that Fiftieth Holy-day, the Holy One and Israel will
meet and encounter one another, hear one another
and experience one another with the same power and
purity of that first encounter b’Har-Sinai.

So this Shabbat, as we join in the last two words of
Sefer VaYikra, which are ‘b’Har-Sinai‘,
and as we shout joyfully ‘Hazak,
Hazak, v-nit’hazek!
perhaps we can take a moment to think about finding
our path, step by step as individuals, and shoulder to
shoulder with our fellow Israelites, up to Mt. Sinai, to
renewing the gift of Torah and the Presence of the
Holy One in our lives.