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Parashat B’har (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)

“Do not wrong one another, but fear your God; for I the Lord am your God.” (Leviticus 25:17)

Parashat B’har describes the shmita as a shabbat shabbaton, a Sabbath of Sabbaths (Lev. 25:4). This is fitting because during the shmita, or seventh year, the land lies fallow (rests) and debts are cancelled. The 50th year (following seven cycles of shmita) is a yovel, a Jubilee, when the land reverts to its original owner and slaves are set free (Lev. 25:10, 41). Shmita and yovel presume everything we have is “on loan” from God: private ownership (or domination) is ephemeral and illusory. Shmita and yovel serve as periodic corrections to the “market” to manage economic and social inequality.

Shmita and yovel seem idealistic but impractical. Mostly, though, they seem impossibly distant and unrelated to life in 2019. But are they, really?

“But the land shall not be sold forever for the land is Mine..,” (Lev. 25:23) is the inspiration for the World Zionist Congress’s establishment of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 1901. The JNF is chartered to raise money to buy land (in Palestine and then Israel) to be held in trust for the Jewish people. The JNF sells the right to use the land: purchasers are tenants; they may use the land, but cannot sell or mortgage it, because it belongs to the Jewish people. That remains so today, as a result of Israel’s Basic Land Law of 1960.

Every Jewish person worldwide–not just Israeli citizens–has an actual share in the land in Israel and should be concerned with how that land is used-economically, socially, politically, and environmentally. The Jewish people are the current stewards of an ancient trust. Behar is not so distant.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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