Sedra of the Week: This week.. Behar

Sedra of the Week: This week.. Behar

This week's torah portion reminds us of our agricultural roots.

This week’s reading reminds us of our agricultural roots. Under God’s law, the land must not be overworked, hence a Sabbatical year is instructed for application in the Holy Land.

Until today, Jews keep these laws in Israel, and have also observed parallel and linked practices outside of the Holy Land.

The earliest Jewish communities in the New World of Sephardic descent have continued to farm the land in accordance with Torah principles of agriculture.

The law of freedom links the land to the people by instituting a return of land to its owners in the Jubilee year.

The Jubilee, or 50th year following seven times seven-year agricultural cycles, is proclaimed by the blasting of a horn which returns to full autonomy even the longest-serving
Hebrew servant.

The clarion call of freedom is so important that if the local authorities cannot arrange for the shofar to be blown, the command reverts to each individual, so that the entire country reverberates to the sound of freedom on that Yom Kippur, twice a century.

Apart from the land cultivation and personal freedom, property sales are affected by the Jubilee year, too.

In that year, all holdings of land return to the previous owner. This way, tribal allocations were preserved in the early part of the First Temple era and sales of land at that time were limited to a lease of years remaining up until the next Jubilee year only.

Thus, the land cannot be sold beyond reclaim, so as to protect the divine status of its ultimate ownership.

The fourth link that the land makes with us is with social welfare. If a landowner had to sell his land through poverty, his nearest relative should redeem what was sold, or return to
his holding by compensating the current holder for the expected profit he would expect to make in the years remaining before the next Jubilee year.

The next link is with city planning. Only open country which could be redeemed is sold by a poor landowner. Arable land in
enclosed, city-dwelling areas was not subject to redemption laws.

Care for the land moves us to care for others. The Torah instructs against Jews lending to their brethren on interest or holding any long-term debtor to any oppressive treatment.
Jews are furthermore obligated to relieve the stress of other Jews who become subservient to citizens from another religion.

The ethical commands discussed in this week’s reading culminate in the overarching principle that as Jews we should place freedom from oppression or subservience to other human beings as the highest spiritual value.

• Ariel Abel is rabbi at Liverpool Old Hebrew

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