19/20 May: Shabbat Behar-Bechukotai comes in 8.37 pm, goes out 9.53pm
This week’s portion contains laws that limit someone’s right to the land. For six years we can harvest our crops. But on the seventh year we must allow the land to lie fallow. Obviously this leaving the land alone has certain agricultural value. It is an opportunity to replenish the soil. But there is another powerful symbolism in not working the land every seven years. By not working the land, we are reminded that “the earth is the Lord’s.” We only have temporary use of the land.
There is another law in this week’s portion which drives the point home even more strongly. Every fifty years a shofar is sounded on Yom Kippur, and all land reverts to its original owners. Of course this hearkens back to the Biblical days when the land was divided between the various families in the various tribes.
If a family is forced by poverty to sell their land, the new owner does not take possession forever. They have use of the land until the Jubilee year, when it reverts back to its originally owner. This law, perhaps a bit idealistic, prevents property from accumulating in the hands of the wealthy few.
In our modern society we are strong believers in property rights. I am a homeowner and I appreciate the fact that I own a little piece of real estate in Israel. But every now and then it is important to remember that God is not interested in the few accumulating great wealth and control over a lot of real estate. God is interested in ensuring that everyone has a plot of land to call home.
Rabbi Paul Arberman