“The basis of ‘Shmita’ and ‘Yovel’ laws is the awareness that the fight on property, especially for ‘means of production’ of the property, is an eternal fight.” | The Year of Jubilee (painting by Henry Le Jeune) | cc: wikipedia
Rabbi Gil Native, the Rabbi of Eshel Avraham Community in Omer, dedicates this Dvar Torah to the memory of his mother Hilda the daughter of Shlomo and Elisheva Bein, who passed away on Lag Baomer 5771. Rabbi Nativ brings us a social ideological reading of Parashat B’Har and shows the alternative concealed in it.
After all the unconditional prohibitions of the 10 Commandments,”Thou shalt not murder,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” intended for protecting the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the family, in the third place is the command: “Thou shalt not steal” -the protection of private property. We read Parashat B’Har that it seems that there are different world orders in this parasha: there is no ownership of land; rather the land is leased, because land is not sold forever . The crops of my land is not always completely mine – every seven years every one can break the fences of the vineyard or grove and can pick and eat – the land will remain mine, but its crops belong to everyone, and according to the Sages everyone can come and pick food for 3 meals, not more than that, and in any case nobody has permission to pick in order to sell to others.
The basis of ‘Shmita’ and ‘Yovel’ laws is the awareness that the fight on property, especially for ‘means of production’ of the property, is an eternal fight. In every society there will always be differences between rich and poor, the propertied and those without property – the pretentious of the socialist-communist theories and ideologies that it is possible to solve once and forever the gaps and the tensions by building a society without social classes, a society without ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ has been proved to be an illusion. A new class of people who have influence and property will always appear. Even the Kibbutz, which was modest and wanted to create a voluntary community of 100 or 200 families with economic equality also failed. The tendency of the world is to cultivate the natural competition between people on private property, what is called by the sociologists ‘differentiation by recompensation’.
“Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”, Millions of Americans know these words. They are engraved on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, one of the national symbols of the USA, but only a few Americans know the context of the verse. The Biblical context does not speak of “liberty” as one of the principles of the Bill of Rights, but of a specific command that has to be carried out once every fifty years, Why is it important to read the words in their original context?
Firstly, in order to understand that ‘liberty’ or ‘freedom’ is not something gained once and for all, but has to be gained again and again, once every seven years on the personal level and once every fifty years on the public-national level. The human society is never static: the enslaved of yesterday will be tomorrow’s master and we have to pay again and again the price of liberty, which is a painful price for the master and the enslaved.
Secondly, and much More important: there is no way to disconnect the ‘liberty’ – freedom of conscience, religion, opinion and union from the economic reality! Hungry people can not be free. In Parashat B’Har the liberation of slaves on the Jubilee is inseparable from the ‘Agrarian Reform’ where the liberated man gets a piece of land (that was owned in the past by his family). If he will not get it, he will have to work for the land owners and sooner or later he will loose again his freedom. In an agricultural society the land is the main means of production, and the one who is forced to sell land that was inherited finds himself at the end, selling his children for slavery. In the modern society money and knowledge are the main means of production, and someone who has no money and no education, his ‘liberty’ and ‘rights’ are very limited although they are anchored in the state’s law.
Shmita in Parashat B’Har
The commands of Shmita and Yovel in Parashat B’Har are not an improved Marxist platform nor are they are a different system to close the social economic gap. Parashat B’Har has a moral educational purpose not only for the relationships between the poor – and the rich, but also or mainly, in the relationship between humans and God: the internalizing the fact that you should never say: ”My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17), even if we achieved our property with work and skill, there is always a supreme partner to it. If we give up some of our property in favor of the needy and weak, it is “for all things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee. For we are strangers before Thee, and sojourners, as all our fathers were: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is no abiding” (Chronicals 1, 29:14-15).
We have to keep and nurture the Israeli society as a society of justice and not as a society of charity. We have to internalize the priorities that the Rambam outlined in “8 ranks of justice” – the highest rank is to enable the poor to make his own living by making him a partner in a business or giving him a job, so he will not need charity. There are people in the society who are not able to make a living: old people and children, and sick and handicapped people. These people deserve the support of the society (charity), but in Israeltoday there are thousands of people who are capable and want to work, but do not find a job, and tens of thousands who work a full time job, but do not earn a living! The Wisconsin plan was supposed to return unemployed people to work, but as the Kuzari said: your intentions are good but not your deeds.
We have the obligation to liberate all the poor people of our country from poverty and to ensure the right of every citizen in the State of Israel to make a living for himself and for his family.