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Parashat B’har-B’chukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34)

“The land will give its fruit and you will eat your fill; you will dwell securely upon it.” (Leviticus 25:19)

Parashat B’har – B’chukotai mandates a shmita, or Sabbatical Year, when the land lies fallow and debts are cancelled (Lev. 25:2-5). After seven cycles of shmita, the 50th year is a yovel, a Jubilee, in which land reverts to its original owner and slaves are set free (Lev. 25:8-13). This is not a political preference; the Torah is pursuing a moral imperative. It is based on the notion human wealth is an illusion, because, “The world and its contents belong to God…” (Psalms 24:1). The Torah recognizes there always will be rich and poor (Deut. 15:11) and offers a way to ameliorate the corrosive effects of stratification.

The yovel is announced by blowing the shofar on Yom Kippur (Lev. 25:9). This is odd, because the yovel begins on Rosh Hashana. The first ten days of the yovel are a transition period, during which slaves do not work, but they are not set free. They feast, drink, and celebrate their impending freedom wearing crowns on their heads alongside their masters (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashana 8b). When the shofar is sounded, the masters then send them off with generous presents.

The Torah recognizes letting go of power is not easy, so it creates a liminal time/space allowing for adjustment to a new social reality. It safeguards the social fabric while acknowledging significant changes in status. Above all, it asserts the covenantal basis of Israelite society: everyone is connected and all are obligated one to another.

The Torah remains relevant thousands of years after its revelation/redaction (take your pick) because its vision of a just society is rooted in a deep understanding of human nature.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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