Behar-Bechukotai – 5778 – Shmita & Yovel: Conservation & Fairness

By: Larry Tobin

Parshat Behar describes the laws of Shmita and Yovel. Shmita is involved with ecology. Every seven years the land is given a Sabbatical. G-d tells the Jewish people that just like he gave them Shabbat, so too should they give the land a Shabbat. Every seventh year the land is to be allowed to sit fallow. 5782(2021/2022) will be the next Shmita year. Even though Shmita only applies to Israel and the Jews living there, it is important that all Jews understand Shmita and recognize the Shmita cycle. The ecological significance and underlying notions surrounding Shmita provide a roadmap of how to live. We are reminded to conserve our natural resources and to protect our environment. On a more personal level it teaches us to live beyond today and to plan for the future. What goals do I need to set for myself in order to accomplish my visions of the future?

Yovel, the 50th year following 7 Shmita cycles, is the Jubilee Year. It is treated as another Shmita year for agriculture. Hence, special planning is required in the 48th year to support years 49 through 51. Year 49 is a Shmita year. Year 50 is a Yovel year. Year 51 finds itself without provisions since no planting had taken place the previous two years. Yovel, unlike Shmita, is not limited to agriculture. All slaves are set free, including indentured servants. All sales of land are undone with property returning to its original owners. Thus, leases in Israel are limited to 49 years. The land belongs to G-d. People are only entitled to temporary use. The exact count of Yovel years is disputed, since the laws of Yovel no longer apply. Although we still count Shmita cycles, it is not clear that the current counting is accurate. If the Holy Temple is rebuilt in Israel, the Shmita count will begin anew and accurate counting of Shmita cycles and Yovel will then be possible.

So, what is the connection between Behar and Bechukotai? Why have these Parshaot been combined? In Bechukotai, G-d promises the Jewish people that if they keep His Commandments, He will then provide rain for their crops. If they do not, a number of enumerated punishments will transpire. The proverbial carrot and stick approach. The nexus between the Parshaot should, therefore, be obvious.

This week’s Parshaot provide an excellent overview of Jewish life in Biblical times and succeeding days when Jews were primarily involved in agriculture. There is much that we can gain by emulating Shmita and Yovel to create a better ecologically sound and fairer world. Perhaps in the future the Holy Temple will be rebuilt and the laws of not only Shmita, but also Yovel, will be reinstated.

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