The fact that Behar and Bechukotai are read separately on a 7 year rotation is more than apt.
The number 7 in Judaism is a special one; it is a number of wholeness, of completion. G-d completed the creation of the universe in 7 days, with the last one being Shabbat. In Behar, the concept of 6 days of work followed by one day of rest is magnified. We learned of the Shmita, sabbatical year, where every seventh year we allow the fields to lie fallow and rejuvenate. Then, after a cycle of 7 times 7 years, we reach the Yovel, jubilee year, where fields are left barren for the 49th and 50th years, and our entire socio-economic structure hits the reset button. On the most basic level, our cycle of concentric “sevens” encourages us, symbolically if not literally, to emulate the Divine in our life cycle.
This week, however, Parshat Bechukotai takes us by surprise. The Tochacha, one of the most harrowing parts of the Torah for its stark and frightening descriptions of the penalties for forsaking the mitzvot, is similarly arranged in a 7x7 literary matrix. Seven categories of abrogation of the commandments are each followed by seven punishments. One can take the predicted horrors as being literal or suggestive, but the message is clear: if emulating the “sevens” of completion can bring us closer to G-d, it is only logical that disregarding them would have precisely the opposite result. One of the parting shots of the third book of the Bible is a not-too-subtle reminder that our choices and our actions have a cumulative effect. Following the mitzvot and striving to emulate the Divine will be rewarded sevenfold; being careless or dismissive of the commandments will punish us “sheva al chatotecha,” (seven times for your sins).
In the commentaries, Chazal (our blessed sages) take it one step further, teaching us the concept of “Mida k’neged mida,” (measure for measure). We learn that after Israel reached the promised land, that the laws of Shmita and Yovel ultimately fell by the wayside, and were not observed for a period of 70 years. As a result, the exile following the fall of the first Temple lasted for the same number of years.
May the closing chapters of Vayikra teach us to number our days such that we get ever closer to G-d, losing neither our footing nor our resolve to continue moving upward toward the Divine. We pray that we will be rewarded for our merit and never punished for our laziness or disregard of our partnership with all that is holy.
Chazak, Chazak, v’nitchazek!
Be strong, be strong, and may we strengthen each other!
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen