Parshat Behar - Bechukotai
Zero Tolerance for Abuse
Parshat Behar deals mostly with the laws of Shemitta and Yovel, but then segues into prohibitions against commercial fraud and verbal abuse. At first glance, these may appear disparate, but upon consideration of the fundamental aims of these commandments, the internal connection is apparent.
The Shemitta year, the “Sabbath of the land,” was an expression of homage to
The Jubilee (Yovel) year, which occurred at the conclusion of seven Shemitta cycles, effected the return of all landed property to its original owner. This restoration of property had a profound effect on the nation’s internal and external affairs, not least of which was stemming the propagation of social class differences and unequal distribution of property.
After presenting the laws of, the Torah warns of commercial fraud that may Shemitta result from the Shemitta and Yovel cycles, particularly regarding the sale of land. Both buyer and seller must understand the value of the property, which progressively diminishes during the fifty years of the Yovel. Both buyer and seller must understand that sale of land is essentially sale of the right to years of produce from the land, as the land will return to its original owner with the commencement of Yovel.
The Torah’s term for fraud — ona’ah — can be defined, based on its phonetic roots, as exploitation of the weakness of one’s fellow man, in order to cheat him. After the Torah sets forth prohibitions on ona’ah in financial dealings, the Torah then extends the prohibition of ona’ah to verbal abuses — exploitation of the other party’s weakness, namely, his personal sensitivity. Examples of verbal abuses include reminding someone of his or his fathers’ misdeeds, embarrassing another in public, calling another by a derisive name, giving misleading advice, and raising false hopes, such as by asking the price of an article that one has no intention of buying.
Both forms of ona’ah — commercial abuse and verbal abuse — exploit the other’s weakness. But verbal abuse is even more serious than commercial fraud, because it damages his friend’s heart and soul, whereas commercial fraud affects only his money. The latter can be restored, whereas the former cannot.
This section of the Torah concludes with a warning: You shall fear your
This is the fundamental teaching of Shemitta and Yovel: All men live and work together on
- Source: Commentary, Vayikra 25:4, 14-17