After the Jews crossed over the Yarden, the land was divided between the tribes and further subdivided between the families. Those parcels of land were called ancestral properties. It was intended that these properties remain in the possession of their original families; however, a family could sell their properties due to dire economic circumstances. The second to last Parsha in Vayikra presents the laws of Yovel (Jubile) and the return of ancestral properties to their original owners.
The sale of ancestral properties was not a complete transference of ownership from the family of origin to the buyer. Almost all ancestral properties reverted back to their families of origin at the Yovel (50th year) year; therefore, a more accurate description of what the Torah means by the sale of such property would be a long-term lease. Additionally, the sale was only guaranteed for two years. Following the first two years of the sale the original family(the sellers) could at any time buy back the property for its original selling price.
The laws of Yovel were intended to recalibrate the overall economy of Israel. Those who had made money from their land purchases and developments during the previous 50 years would of course keep their profits but at the Yovel year the original properties and their developments would revert back to the ownership of the original family. On the one hand it might seem unfair, on the other hand, every investor and developer went into a land purchase knowing that their purchase/lease was capped at fifty years.
The law of the return of properties at the Yovel made it absolutely clear that all things, including ownership of land and the successes of investments, were determined by G-d and G-d alone. As the Parsha states, (25:23) “…The land belongs to Me. You are merely dwellers and sojourners with Me.”
Allow me to explain.
At the time of the Exodus all the Jews were wealthy. No one was destitute and no one had financial needs. Fulfilling G-d’s request, they had taken with them the wealth of Egypt. Added to that was the wealth of the drowned Egyptian army that had been collected on the shores of the Yam Suf.
During their time in the desert G-d took care of all their needs “like a mother nurses her child.” When they entered the land of Israel they were each given a portion of land from which they were able to support their families and their future descendents. In essence, G-d designed it that the Jews would never have to be dependent on any one else or any other nation for their economic well-being.
The underlying message was, “You are my servants, not the servants of servants.” You are to be subject only to Me. You are not to be enslaved to the daily grind of eking out an existence from unforgiving ground and relentless pressures. However, this exclusive relationship with G-d presumed a level of Emunah (filth) and Bitachon (trust) that reflected the lessons of the Exodus and the desert experience. It presumed a belief in the totality of G-d’s benevolence as the source of all wealth no different than He had been at the time the Jews exited Egypt and entered the Promised Land. It presumed a trust of G-d that He would continue to be the source of all wealth and economic independence, always and forever.
The truly foolish reality of Jewish history is that regardless of where we lived, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora, the message remained the same. Our dependency on G-d remained absolute and complete. Regardless of the good times or the bad times, whether it was the golden era of Spanish Jewry and the extraordinary success of the modern day American community, or the centuries of persecution and destitution that has been until recently the normative Jewish experience, our dependency on G-d was and remains absolute and complete. The only variable is the degree of our forced enslavement to the demands of society and economy. The greater our Emunah (faith) and Bitachon (trust) the less our enslavement. The less our belief and trust in the totality of our dependency on G-d the more our enslavement to the demands of society and economy.
Continuing with the theme of Vayikra, Kedusha (sanctity) and the designation of purpose and value as defined by our service to G-d, the Torah details the laws of ancestral portions and the return of those properties at Yovel to their families of origin. It makes sense to conclude that the portion every family received was unique to them and their service to G-d. As such, the recalibration of the economy with the return of the ancestral properties to their families of origin served to reconnect each family unit to the concept of mandated purpose, value, and the totality of their dependence on G-d.
In Parshas B’Haloscha, the commentaries argue as to whether or not Yisro returned to Midian or continued on with the nation in occupying the land of Israel. In past issues I explained that Yisro’s dilemma was predicated on the fact that as a convert he would not receive an ancestral portion of the land. Eventually, his children would marry into the nation and inherit a portion, but not himself. Therefore, Yisro may have concluded that the land of israel was not essential to his personal mission as an servant of G-d; otherwise he too would have received a portion. Because he was not going to receive a portion he felt that he could return to Midian to accomplish his personal mission – spreading the word of G-d to the other nations.
The Jews of the Exodus were different. From the very beginning at the Bris Bain Habsarim (covenant between the halves) G-d promised Avraham that his children would inherit the land and leave their time of enslavement with great wealth. Clearly, G-d intended that the Jews should live in Israel without the ongoing economic worries that plague us today. On a more profound level, it was clear that G-d intended that each tribes should live in a specific location and that each family should have their exclusive place, their Makom Kavuah, their ancestral portion within their tribe’s borders.
For the Jews to achieve their mission they must live in Israel. For any one family to achieve their personal mission they must be connected to their ancestral properties. In fact, the concept of divinely allocated ancestral properties goes even further. It suggests that every person must approach his or her personal service to G-d from a multileveled perspective. On the one hand he must view his own unique talents, strengths, and challenges (weaknesses) in ascertaining his unique purpose and mission. He must also consider the family into which he was born to further understand and expand his identity and mission. He must then consider the tribe to which he belongs as well as the general designation and value of his position as a member of the Jewish people.
The message becomes clearer and clearer. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” translates into value your neighbor as you value yourself. Start with valuing yourself. Do the work of ascertaining your own unique creation and purpose as defined by the person you are, the family and tribe into which you were born, and the choseness of being a Jew. Know that G-d intended whatever is the sum total of that equation. Likewise, every other “neighbor” (Jew) that you will meet will be equally chosen and valuable. Be certain to value him or her as they deserve to be valued and treat them accordingly. From that familiar point of reference we must then extrapolate the value of every human being. More so, recognize and accept that G-d grants Jew and non-Jew the means for attaining their purpose (their unique mission) no different than G-d provides you with the means of attaining your purpose. (Birchas Kohanim – the blessings of the Kohanim – see Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch))
Therefore; make sure that your interaction with everyone advances their personal cause rather than hinders it. Recognize and accept that the confluence of destinies that brought you in contact with each other, for however long or short a time, was intended by the Creator for each of yours advancement. Sometimes the encounter will force you to overcome negative traits within yourself and better yourself in the process. Other times it will reinforce positive traits of kindness, generosity, and humility and strengthen your better self in preparation for greater opportunities and challenges. At the same time, the other person is also being granted the opportunity of growing through overcoming the negative and strengthening the positive. Nothing is by chance, everything is by design, and the opportunities of serving G-d and each other are constant and ever present.
What does G-d want from us? Clearly, He wishes us to come to terms with the tools He has given us and do our best in accomplishing our mission. That is why G-d provided so many hints and sign posts along the road of our lives to help us succeed and not fail.
Also, G-d does not give up on us. Rav Dessler has a magnificent essay on not giving up on ourselves where he states that the further we are from recognizing G-d the greater His Chesed (kindness). Not to suggest that the sinner benefits from his sinning; just the opposite. The sinner must and will suffer the consequences of his actions; however, G-d will never give up on that sinner. G-d will continue to provide opportunity after opportunity for the advancement of that person toward the successful fulfillment of his or her mission.
What happened when a person or family failed to accomplish their mission due to financial hardships of their own doing or otherwise? Clearly, everything happens within the design of the Creator and the individual and family must have needed to undergo the financial difficulties in order to accomplish their mission. Because G-d is invested in success rather than failure we can assume that at some point the intended lesson of being destitute was learned by the family and individual or else G-d would have employed some other approach. Therefore, at some point G-d granted the family the opportunity of regaining its original wealth. That opportunity came every 50 years with the laws of Yovel.
Imagine a family that had to sell its ancestral portion due to economic hardships. Although the sale provides a degree of relief the family never regains the opportunity of redeeming their original land. Fifty years pass during which the ensuing one, two, or three generations learn the tools and skills intended by G-d to advance their mission. During that time the ancestral lands were successfully developed into income producing properties that earned for their interim owners wealth and financial independence. With the advent of Yovel the original owners of the land, the family of origin, stand to experience an economic windfall when their ancestral properties are returned to them fully developed and financially viable. At that time they can either arrange some kind of a managerial deal with the interim owners so that they both reap the benefits of the 50 years of investment or they can undertake the management of the properties themselves. Either way, the family discovers that the 50 years of relative difficulty have ended and G-d has once again granted them the gift of potential economic independence. In essence, G-d has repeated history and given the family a second chance for living in Israel under similar conditions as their ancestors lived when they first crossed over the Yarden river! Once again the family is in the position to accomplish its intended mission without economic worries and difficulties.
This concept of correction and second chance is evident from Rashi 25:18. The verse says, “Do My decrees and My ordinances (the laws of Shemitah)… and you will live securely in the land.” Rashi comments, “Because of the sin of not keeping the Shemitah (seven year cycle) the Jews were exiled from the land… The 70 years of exile in Babylon were in exchange of the 70 Shemitahs that the Jews did not keep.” The laws of Shemitah and exile teach us that our wealth and economic independence is a gift from G-d. Without His ongoing benevolence and largess we would not have the economic safety and independence we enjoy. So long as we recognize upon Whom we depend and keep His Mitzvos we are gifted with that independence as well as the tool called Israle. If we do not remember our absolute dependency on G-d and do not use Israle to accomplish our individual, familial, and national objectives G-d takes back His gift of economic and national independence.
The objective of the Jewish nation is to spread the reality of the Creator to the rest of the nations. The easiest way to do so is by all of us living in Israel and living in the way G-d intended with economic independence and security. However, when we ignored the 70 years of Shemitah and lost sight of: who we were as a nation, what our mission was as a nation, and upon Whom we were dependent for the gift of economic independence and Israel, G-d sent us into exile. His reason for doing so was to continue our national mission of teaching His reality to the other nations. However, we would have to do so without the ease and benefit of economic and national independence. Instead, we would still have to accomplish our mission while subject to the persecution and economic pressures of another nation. Once the 70 years of Shemitah had been made up and we had learned the lesson of our absolute and total dependency on G- d (the story of Purim) G-d gave us back Israel, the Temple, and a second chance. Finally, as we near the end of Vayikra, the book devoted to presenting the ideal life style of the Jew (a lifestyle of sanctity, designation, purpose, and value), the Torah once again emphasizes the setting of family to accomplish this ideal. It is the family that sells its ancestral lands and it is the family that will eventually regain its wealth and independence with the return of the properties at Yovel.
The verse states (25:23) “And the land should not be sold in Tzmitzus (perpetuity) because the land belongs to Me (and not you).” The original division of the land between the 12 tribes and further subdivision between the families was intended by G-d for reasons far beyond economic and financial fairness. Each parcel and section is intimately linked to the identity and mission of the person, family, and nation. G-d tells us in no uncertain terms, “Keep those divisions! Follow My prescription for success and independence! Protect and maintain the sanctity of the land, the sanctity of the family, and the sanctity of the individual. If you do so, (25:24) “…redemption will come to the land!”
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.