Light from the Sidra

Behar/Bechukotai ('On the mountain'/By My decrees')

Torah: Haftarah: Leviticus 25:1-27:34.Jeremiah 16:19-17:14

To good to be true?

As I look at the economic mess in which the European Union and the rest of the world finds itself, I sometimes wonder whether the solution might be to simply to cancel all debts – national, local and personal – and start all over again. The chances are that we would make the same mistakes all over again, but why not just agree to repeat the process every fifty years?

Call me naïve if you will, but is such an arrangement really beyond the bounds of possibility? The law of God specified that every fifty years, land that had been mortgaged or rented out in hard times reverted to the original owners! In the fiftieth year all slaves were set free and all debts were cancelled! Imagine a society like that! A fresh start for the nation every seventy years!

Observance of the laws of the Yuval, the Jubilee, would prevent the accumulation of land on the part of the rich to the detriment of the larger community; no one would be born in absolute poverty, since everyone would have hereditary land; the rich would not be able to lord it over the poor; slavery would be non-existent; those living in reduced circumstances would have the opportunity for a fresh start; the disorders that had crept into the state over the previous half-century would be rectified and society would level out.

There is also something a little scary about that kind of order. To work, it would require great faith in God, which is why Communism failed as an experiment because Marxism is essentially materialistic. The world in which we live is a fallen world, and the Jubilee could work only in a society over which God was once again supreme; a society in which the people loved him with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their might (Dt 6:5), and in which they loved their neighbour as they loved themselves (Lev 19:18).

Why, I wonder, did the compilers of the Parashot and Haftarot, choose a passage from Jeremiah as the Haftarah when there is a more apt and relevant passage in the book of Daniel? I suppose one of the reasons is that Daniel is not included among the Nevi’im, which is a pity.

Daniel 9:24-26 says: ‘Seventy weeks [i.e. 490 weeks] are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sin, and to forgive iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the most holy place. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto one anointed, a prince, shall be seven weeks; and for threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again, with broad place and moat, but in troublous times. And after the threescore and two weeks shall an anointed one be cut off, and be no more; and the people of a prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; but his end shall be with a flood; and unto the end of the war desolations are determined’ (JPS translation).

The similarities to the Yuval are clear. The Jewish people are in captivity but a great Jubilee is promised in which transgression will be finished, sin will be ended, iniquity will be forgiven and everlasting righteousness will be introduced.

The countdown to the Yuval was to begin with Cyrus’ edict to ‘restore and to build Jerusalem,’ and the weeks should be interpreted symbolically as years. The 490-year timescale came to an end in the first century of the present era, when ‘an anointed one,’ or Messiah, would be ‘cut off,’ and be no more. The Hebrew word karat ‘cut’ is linked to the making of covenants; covenants are ‘cut’ by the killing and cutting up of sacrifices. In the great Jubilee foretold by Daniel, ‘Messiah the Prince’ establishes a covenant ‘to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sin, and to forgive iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness.’

This is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant.

‘Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: “Know the LORD”; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more’ (Jer 31:31-34, JPS Translation).

Israel’s New Covenant was to be ‘cut’ before Jerusalem and the temple were once again destroyed.

In one sense, Israel has not enjoyed a Yuval for at least 2,500 years. In another sense, according to Daniel, the greatest Yuval was initiated 2,ooo years ago when Jesus the Messiah was cut off to establish a covenant that would finish Israel’s transgression, make an end of sin, forgive iniquity and to bring in everlasting righteousness.’

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