Parshat Behar-Bechukotai


What does this:

have in common with this:

The answer is an inscription cast into the Liberty Bell that comes from  this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra /Leviticus 25:10: 

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants there

This quote comes from the agriculturally based laws of the ‘Shmittah’ (Sabbatical year) in the Torah that teach about slavery. Vayikra/Leviticus 25:3-4 explains that in the seventh year the land must have a complete rest – a “Sabbath to the Lord” – in which the land can not be sown, tilled, or harvested.  After 7 Shmittah cycles we come to the Big One – Year 50. That year is called HaYovel – the Jubilee Year. The Torah calls Yovel  קֹדֶשׁ – holy and commands us to sanctify the 50th year.

In 25:25 the Torah teaches laws relating to slavery, prohibiting subjugation with hard labour and teaching owners to treat  them as employees. The  slave and his family are ultimately freed during the Shnat HaYovel. (Jubilee Year)  

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, otherwise known as Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, has an incredibly beautiful insight into the Torah’s attitude toward slavery.

The terms of the passage are clear. Slavery is wrong. It is an assault on the human condition. To be “in the image of G‑d” is to be summoned to a life of freedom. The very idea of the sovereignty of G‑d means that He alone has claim to the service of mankind. Those who are G‑d’s servants may not be slaves to anyone else. At this distance of time it is hard to recapture the radicalism of this idea, overturning as it did the very foundations of religion in ancient times.

So even if the terms of treatment are relatively humane, (not working on Shabbat, freedom in the Shmittah Year) why didn’t the Torah just ban slavery altogether?

Rabbi Sacks answers this question by citing the Rambam (Moses Maimonides) in The Guide for the Perplexed in which he explains that in all major transformation, time is a necessity. When we think of a fetus in the womb, or the maturation of the child, growth is a slow process and that all  processes in nature are gradual. The Rambam states that “it is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is therefore, according to the nature of man, impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.”

That is the reason that God didn’t expect the Israelites to suddenly abandon everything that they were familiar with in Egypt.  “G‑d refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying.” God did not choose to transform the nature of the Israelites, although he could have if he had so wished. But as the Rambam says, “If it were part of His will to change the nature of any person, the mission of the prophets and the giving of the Torah would have been superfluous.”

Rabbi Sacks goes on to explain:

In miracles, G‑d changes nature, but never human nature. Were He to do so, the entire project of the Torah—the free worship of free human beings—would have been rendered null and void. There is no greatness in programming a million computers to obey instructions. G‑d’s greatness lay in taking the risk of creating a being, homo sapiens, capable of choice and responsibility—of obeying G‑d freely. G‑d wanted mankind to abolish slavery, but by their own choice, and that takes time. Ancient economies were dependent on slavery. The particular form dealt with in Behar (slavery through poverty) was the functional equivalent of what is today called “workfare,” i.e., welfare benefits in return for work. Slavery as such was not abolished in Britain and America until the nineteenth century, and in America not without a civil war. The challenge to which Torah legislation was an answer is: how can one create a social structure in which, of their own accord, people will eventually come to see slavery as wrong, and freely choose to abandon it?

Because this week’s discussion centred on the Torah’s attitude to slavery, I’ve got a recipe from the rich ‘soul food’ tradition of African American slaves in the south. (My kids went crazy over this recipe – it was quite delicious.)

Fake Fried Chicken – ‘Soul Food’

And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you

Vayikra 25: 10 And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you


  • 1 chicken, cut into 1/8’s
  • Oil to cover bottom of a large roasting pan
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed corn flake crumbs (depending on the size of your chicken)
  • 1/2 cup pareve soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder


  • Preheat over to 430 degrees and place large pan (with oil covering the bottom surface of the pan) on bottom rack.
  • Place flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
  • Rinse chicken, pat dry, and dip in flour mixture.
  • Dip the floured chicken in the soymilk, mustard, and spice mixture.
  • Crush cornflakes in food processor or plastic bag rolled over with a rolling pin. Place in a dry bowl. Dip chicken in crushed cornflakes.
  • Place the chicken in the heated dish in the over. Cook for 20 minutes and then lower temperature to 375 degrees for another half hour. 
  • Enjoy! B’tayavon and Shabbat Shalom. 


Filed under Behar-Bechukotai

2 responses to “Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

  1. marrilyn

    Happy you are back. I missed your blog! Enjoyed the Torah Portion and the chicken recipe sounds yummy.

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