Parshat Behar From Aish HaNER
New England Region NCSY May 3, 2002
By: Abraham Engleson
In this week?s parsha, Behar, there is an extensive discussion of the laws of the shemittah (sabbatical) and yovel (jubilee) years. In fact, the entire parsha deals with in some way, shape or form, the laws or repercussions of the shemittah and yovel cycles. Why does the Torah deal so thoroughly with shemittah and not just list a few general laws and leave the rest for Rabbinical extrapolation (as is the case for most other mitzvot)?
We tend to forget that agriculture in the time of the Temple was mostly the entire nation?s source of income. All of the laws dealing with the land are not just regulations on how much fruit you can grow, but more of an economic code for the Jewish people. The laws of terumah and ma?aser not only give a person a sense of humility (that the food he grew is not really his), but they provide a system of taxation and welfare for the general community. This concept holds also true for the shemittah and yovel years. During these years, the land may not be worked and the produce that grows normally (such as apples on a tree) cannot be sold for profit; rather the entire field becomes ownerless and anyone can take the fruit as they please. In addition, all debts?no matter how outstanding?are forgiven and revoked. During the yovel year, all land purchases go back to their original owners, while freeing all slaves.
This system is set to become an economic equalizer in Israel. It bridges the economic gap between the various classes. The well-off landowners cannot make money off their property during shemittah, the poor can come as they please and take food for themselves, giving them a chance to get back on their feet. During yovel, if someone is in debt, they can get their land back. Slaves will have a chance to become free men after the yovel. The readily visible advantages of shemittah and yovel help the poor and make sure the rich don?t get greedy with all their wealth, giving them a sense of incomplete ownership of their property. Just as G-d instituted an economic stabilizer, so, too, we must be our own economic stabilizer by giving tzedaka and performing mitzvos to benefit ourselves and the less fortunate.