The Parsha for this week is B’har – Leviticus 25:1 to 26:2 – God spoke to Moses on the mount of Sinai and commanded him to tell Israel to keep a sabbatical year when they entered the land of Israel.
The sabbatical year or year of Shmita
Sic years were for sewing and harvesting and the seventh year, the year of Shmitah the land was to rest. The people were to eat produce of the land which would still provide food for all even though there was to be no sowing or reaping.
If the year of Shmita were to be observed, God would provide a bumper crop in the sixth year which would flow over into the seventh and eighth year because it wouldn’t really be till the ninth year that the cycle would be properly functioning again.
After seven weeks of years, that is to say after forty-nine years, a special Sabbatical year was to be proclaimed. This was the year of Jubilee when all property was to be returned to its original owner and original clan. The year of Jubilee was to be announced on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, with a blast on the Shofar.
All property was to be returned to its original owner in the Jubilee year, so the division of the land was to be exactly as it was to be distributed among the tribes. It is interesting that these commands were given in the wilderness while Israel as yet possessed nothing. The land belonged to the LORD, so all property was leasehold only. The price of a property depended on the number of years left on the lease in other words until the time of the next Jubilee.
The principles of Jubilee were the same as that of that of the other years of Shmita in that the produce of the forty ninth year would provide sustenance for two years.
If someone becomes poor and has to sell their property it can be redeemed by a close relative or by the seller himself if his financial position changes and he can now afford to do so. However, if he can’t afford to buy it back it stays in the ownership of the purchaser until the year of Jubilee.
A house inside a walled city can be bought for perpetuity but outside of a walled city it was to be returned in the Jubilee year. A Levite could redeem his house at any time, but he would get it back anyway in the Jubilee year. The agricultural land of the Levites was not to be sold
Care for the poor
If an Israelite brother were to become poor, he could sell himself as a hired servant but not as a slave. If he was lent money, it was not to be repaid with interest and he was to be set free in the year of Jubilee. If he became in a position to redeem himself then the price would depend on the number of years potential service until the year of Jubilee. Foreigners however could be bought and sold as male and female slaves.
The passage concludes with a reminder again not to erect idols and to observe Shabbat.
Haftarat B’har הפטרת בהר
The Haftarah portion is Jeremiah 32:6-27. The connection is the redemption of a field by Jeremiah in a place called Anototh from Jeremiah’s uncle Hamameel. Under the law defined in the Parsha in Leviticus 25:25 Jeremiah had the right to redeem it. The Chaldeans were laying siege against the land of Judah at the time. Why on earth would Jeremiah want to redeem a piece of land just before the invasion. It would be like buying a penthouse in Mariupol this February. However, he bought it as an expression of faith that the Jewish people would come back to the land. He put the deeds in a clay pot and buried it so it could be later discovered as a promise that in the future, fields and vineyards would be bought and sold in the land.
Observing the year of Shmita was an act of faith. Our ancestors had to believe that, in obeying God they would still be sustained. Whenever we give to God it is an act of faith to believe that God will bless us for it. It was faith that prompted Jeremiah to buy a field when the Babylonian invasion was imminent. In fact, without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Hebrew 11:6)
While Jewish people lived in the diaspora the laws of Shmita were never a problem since produce was never from the land of Israel. Today it is an issue since Israel has a thriving agricultural industry and the laws of Shmita don’t fit with modern farming methods and are therefore not generally observed. You can buy of bottle of Israeli kosher wine and the small print on the bottle will tell you the grapes were not harvested in the year of Shmita but that is probably an exception rather than a rule.
Haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews) in Israel have created a loophole, so in the year of Shmita they buy their vegetables from non-Jewish sources, which doesn’t exactly fit well with the Spirit of Torah.
The Spirit is an important aspect of Torah. In the time of our lord Yeshua, it was customary to put aside a sizeable sum of money to make a donation to the Temple Treasury which was known as Corban. There was a great deal of kudos associated with large donations of this sort so the more you donated the more you were respected. Yeshua criticized the Pharisees who did not support their aging parents properly since the money that should have been spent caring for father and mother was used to elevate their status in the community. (Mark 7:9-13)
If we can’t observe the letter of the Torah, we should understand the principles behind it which in the case of the law on Shmita is that God provides for us as we follow him and do his will. Maybe the time will come when Israel does come to trust God at His word and observe Shmita and see the bountiful crop on the sixth year and believe in His provision. In the meantime we can recognise the principles.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)
The laws of redemption of property are the framework for a society where abject poverty is eliminated. Western nations, modern Israel included, seem to hold the majority of its wealth among 10% of its population. Underneath that there is a sizeable middle class but everyone else struggles from day to day.
There could never have been giant monopolies in ancient Israel like Google Amazon or Facebook since every acquisition they made would have to have been returned in the year of Jubilee. The answer to capitalism is not socialism, but Torah where all are allowed to have possessions returned in the Jubilee and poverty does not become endemic
The doctrine of redemption helps us understand the redemption that was provide by Yeshua. We were sold by our first parents, Adam and Eve to serve a different master. As Boaz was a close relative who redeemed Ruth, so Yeshua has redeemed us to serve Him only and not another master.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13,14)
This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.