Parshat Behar - Bechukotai
The Torah prohibits normal farming of the Land of Israel every seven years. This "Shabbat" for the Land is called "shemita". After every seventh shemita, the fiftieth year, yovel (jubilee), is announced with the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur. This was also a year for the Land to lie fallow. G-d promises to provide a bumper crop prior to the shemita and yovel years. During yovel, all land is returned to its original division from the time of Joshua, and all Jewish indentured servants are freed, even if they have not completed their six years of work. A Jewish indentured servant may not be given any demeaning, unnecessary or excessively difficult work, and may not be sold in the public market. The price of his labor must be calculated according to the amount of time remaining until he will automatically become free. The price of land is similarly calculated. Should anyone sell his ancestral land, he has the right to redeem it after two years. If a house in a walled city is sold, the right of redemption is limited to the first year after the sale. The Levites' cities belong to them forever. The Jewish People are forbidden to take advantage of one another by lending or borrowing with interest. Family members should redeem any relative who was sold as an indentured servant as a result of impoverishment.
The Torah promises prosperity for the Jewish People if they follow G-d's commandments. However, if they fail to live up to the responsibility of being the Chosen People, then chilling punishments will result. The Torah details the harsh historical process that will fall upon them when Divine protection is removed. These punishments, whose purpose is to bring the Jewish People to repent, will be in seven stages, each more severe than the last. Sefer Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, concludes with the details of erachin – the process by which someone vows to give the Beit Hamikdash the equivalent monetary value of a person, an animal or property.
"If you walk in My laws…" (26:3)
The purpose of this world is to be a factory to produce a product called Olam Haba — the World-to-Come.
That is our only target, and the mitzvot our only passport.
However, you can read the Torah from cover to cover and you won’t find one specific promise about the reward for keeping the mitzvot in the next world. Promises of reward in this world abound. We are promised the rains in their time. The land will give its produce and the trees will bear fruit. There will be an abundance of food that we will eat to satiety. We will dwell securely in our land. No one will walk down a dark street and be frightened. No one will worry about sending his children off on the bus in the morning. There will be abundance and peace.
Why is it that the Torah makes no open promises about the reward for keeping the mitzvot in the next world, but is replete with details of their reward in this existence?
All reward and punishment in this world is through hidden miracles. When a person eats bacon or a cheeseburger and dies prematurely, nobody knows that he died because he ate bacon or a cheeseburger. People die at his age even when they don’t eat bacon or cheeseburgers. They die younger.
A person gives tzedaka and becomes rich. You don’t see that he became rich because he gave tzedaka. There are plenty of rich people who don’t give tzedaka — they inherited it or they won the sweepstake. The hidden miracle is that this person wasn’t destined to become rich or wasn’t supposed to die young, but because he gave tzedaka or because he ate the bacon or cheeseburger, G-d changed this person’s destiny. It’s miraculous, but it’s hidden. It looks like nature, but if it were actually the work of nature, then nothing that a person did in this world could have any effect on him. For a person is born under a certain mazal, a certain “destiny”, and without the intervention of an outside force — the hidden miracle — nothing that a person did, whether for good or bad, would have any repercussions in this world.
That’s why the Torah speaks at great length about the outcome of the performance or non-performance of the mitzvot in this world. For it is truly miraculous that our actions should affect anything in this world, a world that, aside from these hidden miracles, is run by a system of mazal and nature.
However, as far as the next world is concerned, it’s obvious that our actions will have repercussions there. The Torah doesn’t need to stress the reward and punishment in that existence because it’s obvious that people who engage in spiritual pursuits and serve G-d faithfully should receive spiritual rewards. But it is certainly not natural that people who are immersed in the work of the spirit, the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot should receive their reward in this world as well. Thus the Torah stresses the reward for keeping the mitzvot in this world because that is something that no one could surmise without being told of its existence.