It's a Droll Scroll

This section lays out one of the key bases of our discussion: a structural linkage between Leviticus 25 and 26.

The first five books of the Bible are known among the Jews as, “Torah,”[6] meaning, “teaching.” For at least its first 2,000 years, Torah scrolls were continuous text; there were no book breaks, chapter breaks, paragraph breaks, or verses. As such, it was a pain to find anything in this sea of words (our congregation uses sticky notes to locate the readings).

The Jewish people have always been fastidious about making copies of the scroll as changing the word of G_d was rightly forbidden. Specially trained rabbis have made sure that every letter is exactly the same as all other copies. So, in order to facilitate study, they came up with a way to find their way around without adding or changing a single letter. About a thousand years ago, a group of rabbis in Egypt known as the Masoretes, inserted three types of breaks in the text: gaps across full columns (indicating what we now know as “books”), end-of-line gaps similar to paragraph breaks we use today (often corresponding to what we now know as “chapters”), and gaps within lines usually indicating especially significant elements. From here on, we’ll just call them “paragraph breaks,” “book breaks,” and “line breaks.”[7] (Please see Torah Scroll Image #1 400KB)).

One of the Masoretes (known “the Rambam”) designated weekly readings of the Torah in order to assure that the whole scroll is read every year. Each is called a “parashah.” But there was a complication arising from the Jewish lunar calendar. To adjust for the drift of the lunar year against the solar orbit, three rabbis occasionally declared an added “leap month,” making a “leap year” with thirteen months having a total of 56 weeks instead of the usual 52.[8]

To accommodate the leap years the Rambam settled on 54 “parashot” (the plural) combined with two special festival readings required annually: one for the week of Passover and one for the week-long Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). This makes for a total of 56 readings for a thirteen month year. Those four “extra” parashot are then combined with four others to comprise the usual total of 52 readings. The two parashot containing Leviticus 25 and 26 form just such a combined reading in all but leap years.

The name for a parashah is taken from the first distinct words in the reading; in the case of the one containing Leviticus 25 it is “Behar Sinai,” meaning “On Mount Sinai.” It is usually read with Parashah “B’chukotai,” meaning “By My Regulations,” containing almost all of Leviticus 26.

“Paragraphs” on the Torah scroll are not single topics, as in English; they are collections of ideas to be considered together, similar to section breaks in text books, algebraic parentheses, or sub-files within a computer program. Most parashot contain several paragraphs, and thus cover more than one subject. Behar Sinai (Leviticus 25) is unusual in that it is contained entirely within a single paragraph. However, upon examination, it reads like a grab-bag of miscellaneous demands and restrictions tossed in at the end of the book forming no apparently coherent logic:

This “paragraph” of Behar Sinai is combined with the two succeeding blocks (all of B’chukotai except the last paragraph[11]) between a pair of features distinguishing these two readings from the rest of Leviticus. Nowhere else in Leviticus are these three terms (in red) in this order as a symmetrical pair of verses (please see Torah Scroll Image #2 to see the combined passage with its sections highlighted (900KB)).

The passage begins the first paragraph:

25:1-2 And HaShem spoke unto Moses(1) in mount Sinai(2), saying, speak unto the children of Israel(3),

...and ends the paragraph containing the curses symmetrically:

26:46 These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which HaShem made between Him and the children of Israel(3) in mount Sinai(2) by the hand of Moses(1).

These two “bookend” verses emphasize that they were given on Mount Sinai. Their symmetry and dissimilarity with the rest of Leviticus indicate that the two parashot between them were originally a single passage of specially related topics.[12] This suggests that the blessings and punishments in B’chukotai correspond to those “unrelated” statutes in Behar Sinai more than other laws in Leviticus or the rest of the Torah (such as procedures for purifying ashes). Accordingly, if these paragraphs are indeed a single pronouncement, then in order to be valid their interpretation must incorporate ALL the statutes of Behar Sinai into an obvious cause and effect relationship with ALL the ordinances of B’chukotai. This book is alone among commentaries on Leviticus to meet that requirement in full.[13][14]

The Lord is not given to wordiness (although He does repeat Himself for emphasis). So, if He gave us three terms in Lev 26:46 above, they likely correspond to three distinct elements of the narrative. “Statutes” refers to the paragraph containing Behar Sinai. “Ordinances” (also translated as “judgments”) are those physical outcomes ordained to happen by virtue of compliance (or lack thereof) to the statutes in the next two paragraphs. As to “laws,” the root is actually “torah” which literally means “teaching.” It is derived from an archery term meaning to train one to hit the mark (as does “sin,” with the arrow falling short). We know that one such judgment did teach Israel a lesson in the 70 year exile to Babylon, as determined by the number of years that Israel did not observe the Sabbath for the Land.[15]

Given the emphasis of being given on Mount Sinai and the list of horrible consequences for not abiding by the commands, it is puzzling that these laws have received so little emphasis compared to the Ten Commandments. Still, that these statutes were emphasized in B’chukotai as a matter of life and death for the nation of Israel is unmistakable, yet somehow the relationship between Statutes and Ordinances does not seem to connect. It is not until late in the litany of punishments in B’chukotai when Israel was threatened to be carted off into slavery for disobedience, that the critical point becomes evident:

26:34 Then shall the land be paid her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye are in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and repay her sabbaths. 35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall have rest; even the rest which it had not in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

And again:

26:43 For the land shall lie forsaken without them, and shall be paid her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them; and they shall be paid the punishment of their iniquity; because, even because they rejected Mine ordinances, and their soul abhorred My statutes.

Well, well, well… there’s the rub, and again it links the end of B’chukotai with the beginning of Behar Sinai, starting with the key: the Sabbath for the Land. While during parts of the Second Temple Period, a Sabbath for the Land was enforced, this book will argue that this Law has never been observed as originally intended since Israel crossed the Jordan, over 3,000 years ago. It would have been fatal to even attempt it while under foreign rule.

Now, any rational person should be very skeptical of this claim, as so many priestly geniuses have pored over the Bible their entire lives. Yet, as you will see, everybody missed it, both Jew and Gentile. The hypothesis of this book is not only coherent throughout the Scriptures, there is strong indication its principles are universal, holding without temporal or spatial constraint, as true today here in the United States, as they were in Israel when Samuel anointed David. The evidence is simply so overwhelming that the conclusion is logically inescapable. So, if you are theologically inclined, do go ahead and read Appendix I to scrutinize a few of the bases behind that claim, because this isn’t about my ego; this is a serious matter with potentially historic import.

I do not make this claim because I want it to be so. I fully expect to take a lot of heat from people who know a great deal more about theology than I do. I can’t tell you how often I have wished I could just have ignored the whole thing and gone back to designing portable greenhouse technology for native plant restoration projects. I did not want to write another book. Unfortunately for that vain hope, this thing just kept growing because this undiscovered theme extends throughout the entire Bible, from the Beginning to the End.

As troubling as this claim is, even more disconcerting are the implications of this hypothesis for how we live our lives in an urbanized “post-industrial” society. This story of brotherly love, strong community, disaster preparedness, and maintaining a deep connection with the land on a whole new level, is also a story of G_d’s demand for discipline, stewardship, and obedience of a kind seldom seen in these latter days except among missionaries. As was promised in Leviticus, this was and is a matter of freedom or slavery. But before we go into the details of the Lord’s amazing, seemingly wacky land-management system, we will ground that story in its foundations, starting at the top.

[6] This book will use bold text to show emphasis in pronunciation of Hebrew words.
[7] More on Torah divisions and their consequences in Appendix I.
[8] Sanhedrin 10b-12a.
[9] Discussed in Appendix V in the section, Double Booking.
[10] Interestingly the term of the contracts is not covered in Behar Sinai but in Ex. 20:2 & Deut 15:12-18. This book will treat knowledge of the 7-year term as a presumption.
[11] The last paragraph of B’chukotai (Lev. 27) describes temple offerings, mirroring a similar discussion in Leviticus Chapter 1. Together, these two chapters form yet another pair of “bookends,” or outside parentheses. That last paragraph will be treated in this book as an unrelated topic. See Appendix I.
[12] Chiastic symmetry is covered in detail in Appendix I.
[13] Debt relief and release of servants were also key elements specified in Deut 15:1-11.
[14] See Appendix I and the Table of Cited Verses.
[15] Jeremiah 25:11-13 & 29:10-14, & 2nd Chronicles 36:21.

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