Parshat Behar presents laws regulating the sabbatical year and the jubilee year. The people are told that for six years they are to sow their fields and prune their vineyards, but, during the seventh year, the land is to be given a complete rest, a Sabbath. Every fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year in which land and vineyards must not be worked and in which liberty will be granted to all Israelites enslaved during the previous forty-nine years. The jubilee year also marks a return of any properties, purchased during the previous forty-nine years to the original owner-families who had been given thee land at the time the Israelites entered it.
The reward for obedience to these laws is the promise of security and agricultural abundance. There is reassurance that God will enable the people to subsist during the sabbatical year even as the land lays fallow. The crop in the sixth year will be so abundant that it will last beyond the seventh year. The aliyah concludes with the basic theory of land tenure: “But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me. Throughout the land that you hold, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
In other words, the Israelites are merely God’s tenants in the land of Israel. They do not have the right to alienate or abuse the land because the land belongs to God. It is a different approach to our role in the Land of Israel and even on this Earth — to be caretakers and not owners.
Rabbi Paul Arberman