This Torah portion is the final one in the Book of Leviticus. It is often read in conjunction with the previous portion, Behar.
The portion contains a brief passage outlining the blessings God offers the Children of Israel on condition that they keep His statutes, then continues with a lengthy and detailed accounting of the curses He will visit upon them if they do not follow His commandments. The Torah then explains how to set the values of different gifts one might dedicate to the Temple, and likewise the values of mandatory Temple contributions. It also includes an exceptional circumstance, where redemption is not an option.
God begins his blessings with the caveat, “If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them” (Leviticus 26:3). He then promises to show great favor to the Children of Israel if they do, vowing rain in its season, bountiful produce, peace and prosperity, safety and fertility. The Israelites shall fear neither beast nor enemy, for God will be with them and dwell in his sanctuary among them.
As the Israel Bible points out, the land of Israel is highly dependent on rain, as it has no body of water large enough to serve as an independent water source for irrigation. Water is a great blessing, but too much or too little, too early or too late, can be a curse, too. Therefore, God blesses the people with rain in its time. This is called gishmay b’rakha in Hebrew in the book of Ezekiel (34:26), or ‘rains of blessing’.
Points to Ponder
Why does God need to promise His people success against their enemies (26:7-8) if the previous verse says “neither shall the sword go through your land”?
If blessings are promised for keeping God’s commands, curses are threatened for abandoning them. The curses are laid out in a series, each progressively harsher. Repeatedly, God says if the Children of Israel do not mend their ways after one set of curses, a harsher punishment will follow.
The curses include: illness and plague, famine, subjugation at the hands of enemies, unfounded fear, bereavement, wild animals, war, rejection of sacrificial offerings and exile. God notes that exile will allow the land to regain all its lost Sabbatical years, those the people ignored leading up to the exile. Not all is lost, however, as God reassures His people that he will not abandon them completely in the lands of their enemies, nor will He ever replace them. Eventually, when the land has had its rest, He will return His people to their land. As the Israel Bible points out, we are witnessing such a return in our times.
One of the curses states, “And I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies that dwell therein shall be astonished at it.” (26:32) Although this is a devastating punishment, it is also a blessing in disguise. As the Israel Bible indicates, the land will not support Israel’s enemies, no matter who tries to conquer it. In the 1860’s, upon visiting the land of Israel, Mark Twain wrote, “A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…Palestine is desolate and unlovely.” It was only when the Jews returned to the land that they began to make the desert bloom again.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think the section of curses is so much more detailed and elaborate than the blessings?
Gifts to the Temple and their Redemption Values
The Torah goes on to discuss different gifts a person might dedicate to the Tabernacle or Temple, and what it would cost to redeem them in the event that is necessary. It begins by discussing how much he must contribute if he vows to offer the value of a human life (his own or someone else’s). A man of military age is worth 50 silver shekels, a woman is worth 30. A minor male over the age of five is worth 20 shekels, and under that he is worth five. A minor female is worth 10 over the age of five, and three if she is younger. A senior male is redeemed at 15 shekels, while a female is redeemed at 10. If the person making the vow cannot afford the set price, the priest may evaluate a price he can afford instead.
An animal which is promised to God may not be redeemed, and anyone who substitutes a different animal causes both animals to become holy for God. If the animal is not suitable for the Temple, the priest will set its redemption value, to which a fifth must be added. Likewise, if someone consecrates his house to God, the priest will determine its monetary value so the owner can redeem it, at the cost of an added fifth, for his own use.
If the donor consecrates his field, the redemption value should be set according to the number of years it can be worked before the Jubilee, along with an added fifth. If he does not redeem his field, it becomes the priest’s for all eternity and is not returned during Jubilee. If the field he consecrated was not his own heritage, but one he bought from someone else, he must pay its redemption fee, and the field reverts to its original owner in the Jubilee.
Points to Ponder
Why might someone vow to donate their own worth or someone else’s to the Temple?
Mandatory Contributions and their Redemption Values
The Book of Leviticus concludes with the redemption of firstborn animals and tithes. Unlike the previous section, that dealt with voluntary contributions, the redemptions here apply to obligatory contributions.
The firstborn of any animal is automatically dedicated to God, but if it is unclean, such as a donkey, it must be redeemed for its value plus a fifth. If the owner does not redeem it, it must be sold.
The people are commanded to dedicate tithes from both their crops and their flocks. Crops can be redeemed in part for their value plus one fifth, but animals cannot. If someone tries to substitute one animal for another, both animals become consecrated.
The Israel Bible explains the nature of the tithe of produce mentioned in this chapter. It is called the second tithe, because the first tithe is dedicated to the Levites. After that has been separated, the farmer must take another tenth and bring it to Jerusalem, where he eats it in holiness. Since this might be too cumbersome, he can redeem the produce for money and use it to buy food when he arrives in Jerusalem. The holiness of the tithe transfers to the money and finally to the food bought in Jerusalem. The entire system of tithing serves as a reminder that everything we have is a gift from God, and not the result of our own work.
The above notwithstanding, anything — or anyone — that has been segregated or excommunicated cannot be redeemed by paying the Temple treasury. In fact, a person who has been segregated for death must be executed, and no amount of money can save him.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think crops can be redeemed but animals cannot?