Behar: Jubilee!

Thou shalt re-boot your economy every fifty years.

Ok, it doesn’t really say that at the end of Leviticus, but that’s sort of what’s going on.  In Behar,  we encounter the Jubilee year.  “You shall count off seven weeks of years – seven times seven – so that the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years.  Then you shall sound the horn loud….and you shall hallow the fiftieth year…Jubilee!” (Lev. 25:8-12)

The rules of the Jubilee year are such that, frankly, it probably wasn’t ever followed literally, and certainly not for the last couple of thousand years.  It’s not just that the crops grown on the land can’t be harvested, but all the land that has been sold in the last 49 years reverts back to its original owner.  Presumably, in a tribal economy as the Torah describes, the main reason to sell one’s land would be because of hard times.  If you have to sell, ok, but pricing will depend on how soon that Jubilee year is coming up (the closer you are,the lower the price, and vice versa; it’s about how many harvests are left on that land that the owner can benefit from.)

What’s interesting though, is the Torah isn’t content to set forth realtor relations.  The rest of the laws surrounding Jubilee have to do with “what-ifs”:   what if your neighbor is on hard times and has to sell land to pay his bills?  Then, if no one from the community comes forward to help him out, then  what do you do?  What do you do if your neighbor is basically so poor that s/he’s in indentured servitude – can’t ever get out of debt in the foreseeable future.  Lend money to help, but not at unreasonable rates of repayment.  And that servitude will end at the Jubilee year.  Done. You can’t keep someone in debt forever.  …Jubilee year: reboot.

In other words, be fair. Be just in your dealings.  Don’t mess around with prices, or take advantage of timing in the market, to the point where your neighbor is even more irreparably harmed.  “Holy living” is in business practices, too.

What I see here is a guiding principle that at least every couple of generations, we are charged with taking a good look at ourselves, our economy, and the status of our neighbors, whether “kinsman or alien.”  Who is in need?  Who needs to be “redeemed”, helped out, given a hand?  “If your kinsman, being in hard straits, comes under your authority (indentured servant), and you hold him as though a resident alien, let him live by your side” (v. 35)  Rashi’s comment on that verse is:  “Do not let him fall any further to a state where it will be difficult to set him back up on his feet. “  Even back in the 12th century, Rashi knew that was always the more expensive route.

Gee. What can we learn from this?  I just got back from Washington DC and saw the Roosevelt memorial.  Carved into stone there is this quote:   “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It’s whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”    There’s another Rashi comment that would go along with Franklin; the text posits, “If a man has no redeemer for him…” and Rashi pointedly asks, “Is there any such thing as a Jew who has no one to redeem for him?”  Granted, Rashi was asking the question in a Jewish-centric community, but expanding on that leads us to ask what kind of a society do we have when a person in need  would be that alone?  How can we reflect these kinds of values in our economic system?

It’s time to bring a Jubilee-feeling into our economy,  not in an unfeasible way, but with some of the same guiding principles:  awareness for those in need, honest and fair ways of helping, and never forgetting the dignity of our neighbors.

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2 Responses to Behar: Jubilee!

  1. Julie Webb says:

    beautiful and right on target. Thanks, Anita!

    • Charlene says:

      It would be nice if these beliefs were “a light unto the world”. You express it as it should be. Thanks

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