“Throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies, then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years” (Leviticus 26:35.
(The seventy years of the Babylonian exile balanced the seventy sabbatical and Jubilee years which occurred during the time Israel angered the Lord in the land–Rashi.)
The portion of Bechukotai concludes the book of Leviticus, which began with the words, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying” (Leviticus 1:1). We know that the Tent of Meeting was erected on the first of Nisan in the second year after their Exodus from Egypt (nine months after the Revelation at Sinai). The book concludes: “These are the commandments that the Lord gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34); it went backwards in time to G-d’s words at Sinai. As Ibn Ezra wrote (in his commentary on Leviticus 25:1): “About Mount Sinai there is no chronological order, and this portion precedes the portion of Leviticus.” (We will add that it even precedes the erection of the Tabernacle recalled in Exodus.) You should know that we received the commandments in three places: on Mount Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, and in the deserts of Moab. In every place where it is written “on Mount Sinai” it speaks of when the Torah was given at Sinai, as the Rashbam wrote on Exodus 12:1, “But the rest of the commandments were given at Mount Sinai or the Tent of Meeting or in the deserts of Moab.” (On the matter of the confusing of portions and their lack of order we have already expanded in writing about earlier portions; we have also shown that it is not worthy of the Creator of the Universe, of whom it is said, “How wondrous are your deeds, O, Lord, in wisdom were they all done” (Psalms 104:24) to write such a confused and chaotic book, especially when it is one of laws.)
The section of curses related in Bechukotai, according to Nachmanides, is not the same as the one related in the portion of Ki Tavo, as written on Leviticus 26:16, “And all these are clear things in this covenant, that it shall truly hint at the first exile and redemption, but the covenant in Deuteronomy (Ki Tavo) hints at this current exile and its future redemption.” (About the written prophecies, see what we wrote in the article on prophecy.) Rashi on Deuteronomy 28:23 writes: “These curses (in Ki Tavo) were said by Moses on his own, and those at Mount Sinai came from the holy One, blessed be He.” Similarly in Tractate Megillah 31b, it says that the curses in Deuteronomy were said by Moses on his own. We marvel at this, for in Sanhedrin 99a it is written, “One who says that the Torah is not from the Heavens, or even one who says that the whole Torah is from the Heavens aside from this one verse which was not said by the holy one, blessed be He, but by Moses on his own has ridiculed the word of G-d.” Yet we find Chazal saying that an entire section was said by Moses on his own! The Tosfot noticed this difficulty and wrote, (Megillah 31b, fourth reference) “through the Holy Spirit.” But aren’t all the words of the sages said with the Holy Spirit? The Tosfot is admitting that the portion was not spoken by the mouth of the Glory. We, who have no favoritism, will say that even the section of curses in Leviticus was said not from the mouth of the Glory nor even by Moses, but much later on. And as is our way, we say nothing without proof. We will aid our position by quoting II Chronicles 36:21, “in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, until the land paid back its sabbaths; as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, till seventy years were completed.” Similarly, in Daniel 9:2, “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, consulted the books concerning the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord that had come to Jeremiah the prophet, were to be the term of Jerusalem’s desolation–seventy years.” Why did the author of Chronicles write “Jeremiah” and not mention the words of the living G-d in Leviticus 26:35, where it is explicitly written, “then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years” and make a count of the seventy years, exactly as Rashi did? Is Jeremiah more impoartant to mention than the words of the Torah itself? Against your will, you are forced to say that the section of curses was not in front of the author of Chronicles, but was a later addition.
Rashi calculated that Israel had not observed the sabbatical and Jubilee years for 436 out of the 850 years from their entry into Israel until their exile. How did he know this? It is written nowhere explicitly, but the very fact that they did what was displeasing to the Lord shows that the sabbatical years were not observed, and if they did not observe one of the Torah’s explicit commandments, how much more so were they likely not to have observed all matters not explicit. Now go and see that according to Rashi King Menasseh did not observe the sabbatical years throughout his years of evil (for every place it says “they did evil in the sight of G-d” they quite simply did not observe the Torah’s commandments), and this is quite opposite the prevailing opinion amongst the religious, who innocently think that through the period of the Judges and king Israel were exacting in their observance of commandments, both small and large, and even bring proof of their words from the Gemara in Sanhedrin 102b, that King Menasseh appeared to Rabbi Ashi in a dream after he scornfully said, “Tomorrow we’ll ask our buddy Menasseh.” In the dream, Menasseh said to him: “Whence do you cut the bread?” Rav Ashi answered him, “I do not know.” Menasseh said to him, “You don’t where to cut the bread, but you call me your friend?” Rav Ashi asked him, “Since you are wise and smart, how is it that you became an idolator?” Menasseh answered, “Had you been there, I would have grabbed hold of the edges of your robe and run after you.”
From this medrash aggadah the innocent reader might get the impression that King Menasseh was wise and smart and knew which end was up (but the urge for idolatry was too strong for his generation to resist). But this is not so, and as we have clarified; it is clear that they did not observe the sabbatical years explicit in the Torah, mush less matters not explicitly stated. The aggadah is just a fairy tale.
We have already seen Chazal distorting the Scripture to keep our forefathers from seeming evil before the Lord. They said, “Any who says that David sinned is mistaken” (Shabbat 56a). It will be enough for us to quote Abarbanel on II Samuel, chapter 11: “And these things [that David did not sin] our sages OBM maintain by way of exegesis, and we cannot answer them. What they said is enough: “Rabbi, who comes from the House of David, overturns what’s written to acquit David,” for they had it as exegesis, and so Rabbi, a descendant of David, turned the truth on its head to make David look better, not worse. Why is it said that he tried, and not that he succeeded? Because the whole evil deed is written explicitly …When all is said and done, if the Scriptures call him a sinner and he admitted to his sin, how could a person be mistaken to believe so? [To the extent that Chazal said that any who call David a sinner are mistaken.] I can accept that he sinned greatly and admitted it, made a full repentance and accepted his punishment, and thus his sins were atoned for.” Abarbanel rejected out of hand the exegesis of Chazal; how much more so should be the dreams of Rav Ashi about King Menasseh, the ostensible keeper of commandments.
Chazal’s exegesis always carry implications. Mainly, one who examines the of our sages exegesis will see things far from common sense; this can be understood by saying that the sages wanted to bring the members of their generation closer to Torah and commandments using whatever drew the heart, though it might not be true. What isn’t clear is the casualness of their Scriptural proofs, brought without rhyme or reason; we will explain the matter. For example: Chazal explained that David, “G-d’s anointed one,” did not sin, and it most assuredly was so that religious Jews should not see David’s actions and through them come to sin, saying, “If David sinned through adultery, how am I to stand up and overcome my desires?” And so they would come to sin. The question is–how did they come to this explanation? In Tractate Shabbat 56a it is written, “Rabbi says that this evil is different [“Why did you scorn the word of G-d to do what is displeasing to the Lord?” II Samuel 12:9] than all other evils in the Torah, for by all the evils in the Torah it is written ‘and he did,’ while here it is written ‘to do.’ He [David] wanted to do it, but did not.” When we checked whether Rabbi, the leader of Israel and the compiler of the Mishnah, was exact in these words, we found that he was not, for there are six other verses which state “to do what is displeasing to the Lord”!
For example, in I Kings 21:25, “Indeed, there never was anyone like Ahab, who committed himself to doing what was displeasing to the Lord…” Perhaps Ahab also only wished to displease the Lord but did not? It is also written, in II Kings 21:16, “Moreover, Menasseh spilled so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end, besides the sin he committed in causing Judah to do what was displeasing to the Lord.” Are they saying that even Mennaseh only wanted to displease the Lord and did not?
So the evil of David’s sin is no different, despite Rabbi’s words; it is told in the same words as the sins of kings who were the greatest sinners. What Rabbi said, that “to do what is displeasing to the Lord” is a singular occurrence in the Bible and special to this case is completely untrue. We are greatly amazed that Rabbi said things which can so easily be refuted. Any possible answer (from simple ignorance of the Scripture to enormous changes in the Scriptural text) has implications even more disturbing than the question. In any case, you see from all the above that not only are Chazal’s exegesis far from logical, they even distort the facts.
Now we shall return to the years the people of Israel did not observe the sabbatical years or the Jubilee. Radak writes in his commentary on Ezekiel 4:5, “The days of enslavement between judge and judge, when they would do what was displeasing to the Lord and were enslaved to gentiles, from Joshua until Samson were 111 years.”
Now go think: Joshua died 28 years after the entry into Israel. The first 14 years they conquered the kand and divided it and did not observe the sabbatical years, as brought in Erchin 12b. They began to count the sabbatical years after the 14 years of conquest and division; only in the 21st year did they observe the first sabbatical year; when the second sabbatical year occurred, in the 28th year, Joshua had already died and they did not observe the sabbatical year. In Seder Olam chapter 11 it is written, “Joshua observe with them the first sabbatical year; he did not conclude the second before he died.” The Scripture says, immediately after Joshua’s death, in Judges 3:8, “The Lord became incensed at Israel…and the Israelites were subject to Cushan-rishathaim for eight years.” because they had done what was displeasing to the Lord in worshiping the Baal and Asherah idols (see there). Therefore, the third sabbatical year was not observed by the Israelites, and it appears that after the death of Joshua in the second sabbatical year they stopped observing sabbatical years altogether. We find, in Tractate Erchin 32b, “‘And those who returned from exile, who came back from captivity, celebrated Sukkot and sat in booths, as they had not done since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, for the people of Israel…and it was a great joy.’ Is it possible that David came along and they did not celebrate Sukkot, that they did not celebrate Sukkot until Ezra came along? But their re-entrance in the days of Ezra were compared to their entrance in the days of Joshua; just as in the days of Joshua they counted sabbatical and Jubilee years and sanctified the enclosed cities, so, too, in the days of Ezra did they count the sabbatical and Jubilee years and sanctify the enclosed cities.”
Woe to the people of Israel for whom this is called observing the sabbatical years as they should be observed. From the day the entered the land of Israel they observed but one sabbatical year fully and the second partially; bu the third they had ceased. Twice they observed the sabbatical year in the days of Joshua and then, according to what is written, they only partially observed the sabbatical and Jubilee years until the return to Zion, hundreds and hundreds of years later! But perhaps this is not the way it happened at all. Perhaps they only invented sabbatical and Jubilee years in the days of Ezra the scribe and fabricated tales of sabbatical years which had, so they said, been observed in the days of Joshua the son of Nun. If this is indeed the truth, it has profound implications for the shaping of the Scripture and halacha; the diligent student, curious and wise, should research deeply into the secret of the matter.
Words of True Knowledge.