Parshat Behar – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
Parshat Behar opens with the mitzvah of Shemittah: "When you will come to the land which I am giving you, the land will rest a sabbatical (year) to G-d." (Vayikra 25:2) And the parsha continues with the mitzvah of the Yovel: "And you will sanctify the fiftieth year…it will be a Yovel for you, and each man will return to his family and his inheritance." (Vayikra 25:10)
There is a special significance to reading Parshat Behar and learning the halachot of Shemittah and Yovel during the Shemittah year in Eretz Israel, in the sovereign Jewish state, at "the beginning of the blossoming of our redemption."
The Torah's Emunah (faith) – based strategy relating to division of the national land resources, in Eretz Israel, is derived from the overall world-view of Judaism. This strategy comes into play exclusively in the mitzvot of Shemittah and Yovel, in the return of estates to their original owners on the Yovel year and the prohibition against selling land permanently.
Since the dawn of history, the status of lands has been one of the key issues in economy and society. Land was the source of income and basic necessities, and gave men economic security. "Any man who has no land is not a man." (Talmud Yevamot 63a) Commerce in land, in the form of real estate, has always been an important part of economic activity. It is universally regarded as a secure, stable investment with an excellent chance of (at least) maintaining its value, as well as yielding high returns.
The control over the national resource of lands and the way they are distributed to citizens was one of the expressions of sovereignty of central government. It was a position of economic and social power and control. Sometimes the government nationalized the lands and sometimes it divided them up in a fair way, but there were also times when elite groups of royalty and wealth took over them. There were periods (for example in ancient Rome) when the division of land was a point of contention between the citizens and the rulers, or a cause of conflict between the classes. Sometimes this strife even brought on the collapse of governments and national institutions.
In human culture, the general assumption is that land is man's property, and he alone decides on its division and the criteria for its acquisition, as well as the relationship between the land and those with a franchise to work and develop it.
The basis of the Emunah-based Jewish view is that all the lands belong to the Master of the World. "The entire land (world) belongs to G-d - He created it and He gave it to whom He saw fit, according to His will." (Rashi on Bereshis 1:1)
The dividing up of the land resources of Eretz Israel into portions is performed under Divine Providence, by lottery and Ruach Hakodesh. "The land will be divided by lottery." (Bamidbar 26:55) This division is even-handed and just, according to the tribes, the size of the nuclear families and the quality of the land. "To the many, give a large portion, and to the few, give a small one." (ibid 26:54) "A tribe with a large population was given a large portion, and even though the portions were not equal since the allocation was in proportion to the size of the tribe, nevertheless this was all done by lottery and the lottery was guided by Ruach Hakodesh." (Rashi) "And there was a miracle in that all the lots of all the men of each tribe joined together for this (meaning that every family received exactly what it needed in their tribe's combined portion), and another miracle was that a small tribe did not receive a large portion in the land." (Siftei Chachamim)
Consequently, the Torah requires the return of estates to their original families on the Yovel, and prohibits the permanent sale of lands: "And the land shall not be sold permanently, since the land is mine and you are foreigners and residents by Me." (Vayikra 25:23)
The simple understanding of the root of this mitzvah is that G-d wanted to proclaim to his nation that the entire world is His, and in the end everything (that He gave) will return to whoever who G-d chose to give it to originally, "since the land is mine." (Sefer HaChinuch 330)
The return of the inheritances, and the prohibition against permanently selling lands, ensure that we remember who the land belongs to. These mitzvot grant permanence to the original allocation, therefore the inherent justice and equality will be kept, and elite wealthy groups will be prevented from taking over the nation's land. This check on the creation of a gap between the classes and the loss of sources of livelihood safeguards social and economic stability. This in turn guarantees our long-term and stable hold on the land. "You are…with Me"- when you are "mine" then the land is "yours." (Sifra Behar 4:8) "And you will live on the land securely" – this is national, "external" security; "And you will live securely upon it" – you will be assured of physical, "internal" prosperity. "And you will live securely"- our very living in Eretz Israel and the way we settle in our land will give us security and will ensure that we will not require protection from our enemies. (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, Vayikra 25:18-19)