This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash. When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I use the words “some people think” or similar.
In Hebrew, “b’” before a word means “in” or “at.” “Har” is a mountain. Which mountain? (Har Sinai!)
The parsha starts by saying Hashem spoke to Moshe בְּהַר/Behar, at Har Sinai.
But wait a minute! Moshe and bnei Yisrael have been at Har Sinai through all of Sefer Vayikra!
Why does it suddenly remind us that they were at Har Sinai when they were there all along?
One answer is that it makes us notice that Hashem is about to say something very important.
Hashem is about to give bnei Yisrael a wonderful gift! What was it? (Eretz Yisrael!)
But sometimes, gifts come with responsibilities; jobs you have to do to take care of them:
· A new puppy has to be fed and cleaned up after.
· A bicycle might need oil on the chain and air in the tires.
· A remote-control helicopter might need to rest and recharge after you use it for a while.
Hashem wants us to know that Eretz Yisrael is like a remote-control helicopter.
Farming is a hard job, and farmers need to earn money by selling the things they grow.
A farmer only earns money when he is growing tomatoes, corn, beans… (what else do farmers grow?)
But where do all those things grow? (on the farm, in the ground!)
Farmers want to use as much ground as they have to grow as much as they can – so they can make the most money.
Year after year, that makes the ground tired and worn-out: eventually, it stops working well.
The important thing Hashem needs to say in this week’s parsha is: don’t let the ground in eretz Yisrael get worn out!
Hashem told Moshe that the land needs a Shabbos, just like we do! Only not just for one day – an entire year!
The special Shabbos for eretz Yisrael is called Shemittah/שְׁמִיטָּה.
Our one-day Shabbos comes every seven DAYS: a one-year Shemittah comes every seven YEARS.
Every seven years, during Shemittah, the Torah tells farmers not to work – their land must rest.
Another special year came every FIFTY years. It’s called Yovel/יוֹבֵל (in English, it’s called Jubilee).
During Shemittah and Yovel, farmers couldn’t work on their land. They couldn’t grow and sell their food.
Just like the remote-control helicopter, the land needed to “recharge” and get ready to grow some more.
But how would the farmers earn money? How could their families eat and stay alive during Shemittah and Yovel?
Do you remember, from a few months ago, what Yosef told Paroh to do before the famine in Mitzrayim?
Yosef told Paroh to save up grain – their most important food, plus it’s easy to store – during the good years.
Then, when the famine came, there was more than enough food for everybody in Mitzrayim!
In this week’s parsha, Hashem tells the farmers there will be enough food to save up during the years before Shemittah.
He promises to reward them with amazing crops if they let the land of eretz Yisrael rest during Shemittah and Yovel.
The farmers had to stop farming and learn Torah – and trust that Hashem would take care of them.
Shemittah reminds us that the land belongs to Hashem, especially in eretz Yisrael. So does the Yovel year.
The Yovel year was another reminder – it was a time that Hashem “recharged” everything – made it new again.
At the Yovel, land that had been sold went back to its original owner – the family Hashem originally chose.
In the Torah, “free” doesn’t mean doing whatever you want – although that would be fun for a while!
The parsha reminds us after all of that that even if we’re free, we’re also still servants – to Hashem.
Hashem doesn’t want us to serve Him in the same ways non-Jews do, but with Shabbos and the Mishkan.
Today, we also serve Hashem by davening – and Kiddush Hashem, acting like His people, wherever we go.
“Kiddush Hashem” also includes behaving very nicely so people know the Torah helps us become good people.
In an ordinary year, this parsha is usually “doubled” with Bechukosai, where Hashem clearly explains some of the rewards for keeping Shemittah and the entire Torah – and the punishments for not keeping them.
Because this is a שָׁנָה מְעֻבֶּרֶת / “pregnant” year, the parshiyos are split up, so we will read about all of that next week!