Behar: Redeeming the land

But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord…And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his holding, and you shall return, each man to his family…Therefore, throughout the land of your possession, you shall give redemption for the land. (Vayikra 25:4,10,24)

Motes of light descend on ready earth,
seeds of promise grow untrammeled,
nurtured at the Source.

We glimpse the dream: a mended world –
the poor are steadied, justice done;
the slaves go free; the land breathes.

And God smiles as He gathers in His crop.

The Sefat Emet comments on the phrase that mandates that in the year of the Yovel – the Jubilee, each man shall return to his holding. Here, he says, “holding” refers not to a person’s physical place of origin, but rather to his spiritual (divine) origin.

In a commentary on the parasha,, Rabbi Edward Feinstein notes that we learn in this same parasha, of God’s concerns for the poor and struggling. He points out that four times in this short parasha, the Torah tells us, “Should your brother sink into poverty…” The poor must be sustained. Interest may not be demanded on money loans. Lands sold off to cover debts must be returned to the original family. And, finally to enable the poor to redeem themselves from an ongoing cycle of slavery, a Jubilee is proclaimed every fifty years. In this year, all properties return to their original owners and all debts and contracts of indentured servitude are canceled. Thus the balance of economic power is restored to its original state of equality.
Rabbi Feinstein adds that the Torah is concerned, too, about the impoverishment of the land. He says, “In our pursuit of wealth we abuse and overwork the land.” Thus the Torah commands in this parasha that the land lie fallow for a complete year of rest.

In a further commentary on this week’s parasha, Behar,, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson notes that although the Jewish people were not sovereign in their own land for most of their history, their yearning and connection to the land never weakened and the liturgy is replete with allusions to their love for it and their dreams to return. We find in this week’s parasha a verse in which God tells the people to bring redemption to the land. Rabbi Shavit Artson wonders what this might mean, to bring redemption to a land. Agricultural instructions are issued throughout the Torah regarding the land, but he says clearly this is not one of them. He says, “According to most biblical commentators, this verse is understood as mandating a loving Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.” He notes that the land is referred to as an “achuzah – a holding” and is a part of our covenantal relationship with God. He adds, “Our ancestors agreed to serve only God, and God agreed to maintain a unique relationship with the Jewish People. That relationship was given form in the detailed legislation of the Torah and the Talmud as a way of shaping and cultivating the reciprocal obligations between God and the Jews. And the one place in the world where the Jewish People could act on every part of our brit was within the Land of Israel…”
The return of the Jewish people to its own land, then, represents an unprecedented opportunity to redeem the land by upholding social justice, as envisioned in Israel’s Declaration of Statehood in 1948 and, more explicitly, its 1992 Basic Law: Human Liberty and Dignity: “Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free.”


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