This week’s Parashah is Behar – Shabbat 21 May 2022
G‑d commands Moses regarding the Sh’mitah (Sabbatical) and Jubilee years. Every seventh year is a Sabbatical year, when it is forbidden to work the land (in the Land of Israel). After seven sets of seven years a Jubilee year is proclaimed by a blast of the shofar (ram’s horn) on that year’s Yom Kippur. During Jubilee years all the laws of the Sabbatical year apply, and, in addition to the Sabbatical laws, all slaves are set free and all lands revert to their original owners.
We are commanded to conduct business ethically. Since, as aforementioned, all land reverts to their original owners during the Jubilee year, the amount of years remaining until the next Jubilee year must be taken into account whenever a real-estate sale is conducted, and the price set accordingly. The end of this section enjoins us not to verbally harass or intentionally mislead our fellows.
This section addresses an obvious concern: “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not sow our gather our grain?!” G‑d reassures us that He will bless the sixth year’s harvest, and it will produce enough to provide for three years — until the crop of the eighth year is ready to eat! The Torah then gives the rationale for the prohibition against selling land for perpetuity (instead, land can only be “leased” until the Jubilee year) — “Because the Land belongs to Me; you are strangers and residents with Me.”
A person who sells real-estate has the option of “redeeming” the land from the purchaser — provided that two years have passed from the date of purchase. The total price for which the land was sold is divided by the amount of years from the time of purchase until the next Jubilee year (when the land would anyhow return to the owner) in order to determine the price per year, and the original owner refunds the buyer however much money he had paid for the remaining years. A relative of the seller may also redeem the land on behalf of his family member.
All the laws mentioned above apply to fields and homes in un-walled cities. Homes in walled cities, on the other hand, may be redeemed for their full value for up to one year after the sale. If not redeemed within the year, they become the permanent property of the buyer, and they are not released by the Jubilee. Another exception to these rules is the property allotted to the Levites. The homes and fields in the forty-eight Levite cities are always redeemable — from the moment of purchase until the Jubilee year, when in any event they revert to their owners. We are then commanded to assist our brethren by coming to their aid before they become financially ruined and dependent on the help of others. We are also forbidden to charge interest on a loan to a fellow Jew.
We are commanded to treat Jewish slaves respectfully, never subjecting them to demeaning labour.
The Torah prescribes the redemption process for a Jew sold into slavery to a non-Jewish master. The same formula described above (Fourth Aliyah) is employed. Either the slave himself or one of his relatives refunds the master the amount of money that corresponds to the years remaining until the Jubilee — when the slave will go free even if he had not been “redeemed.” The section concludes with a brief mention of the prohibition against idolatry, and the requirement that we observe the Shabbat and revere the Holy Sanctuary.