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Parshat Behar-Bechukotai: Gifs from G-d


And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and settlers with Me. (Leviticus 25:23)

Rabbi Elazar of Bartota said: Render unto Him that which is his, for you and all that you have are His, as King David said (I Chronicles 29:14): “For all things come from You, and of Your own have we given you.”  (Avot 3:8)

The parsha deals with the laws concerning yovel, the “jubilee year”, which is a most interesting concept.  After observing seven shmittah (Sabbatical year) cycles, forty-nine years in total, the fiftieth year not only has the same agricultural restrictions as shmittah, but a legal structure in which virtually all land property is returned to its original owners, and essentially all slaves are set free.  It is akin to a clock counter that, with the push of a button, can be reset to zero.  

Our normative concept of acquisition runs counter to this idea; if we buy something, we consider it to be ours forever.  The term “Indian giver”, today considered derogatory, arose from a similar cultural debate as to the nature of the ownership of land.  Certain Native American tribes would lease land to European settlers during the winter months expecting the lands to be returned to them when the planting and harvesting months returned.  Unfortunately, the settlers often took advantage of this understanding to simply occupy the lands permanently, meeting the original owners with armed defense when they returned.  Thus a person who gave such a promise and then reneged was called an “Indian giver”, but the appellation actually applied to the white settlers, not the Native Americans.

And it appears that the natural instinct of human beings is permanent settlement. But, despite this, “the land is Mine”. Rashi (cf. Leviticus 25:23) states, “do not be miserly with it, as it is not yours”. 

This basic concept is echoed in the words of Rabbi Elazar Ish Bartota in this week’s chapter of Pirkei Avot.  “Render unto Him that which is His” (Avot 3:7); Rabbi Ovadya M’Bartenura, in his commentary on the Mishna, states, “do not withhold yourself from busying yourself with Heavenly matters, whether this requires [the strength of] your body or [the power of] your money, for you and your money belong to Him” (loc. cit.).  One of the most basic human needs is control of one’s own body.  This concept is not coming to contradict autonomy per se, nor is it denying the privacy of one’s own wealth.  Nevertheless, when it comes to serving G-d, we have to be conscious of the fact that whatever we have–whether strength, talent, power, intelligence or money–comes from Him in the first place; we have it because He bestows it upon us.  For this reason, Rashi’s words apply, “do not be miserly with it”.  This is true of the realm of mitzvot ben adam leMakom (between man and G-d), and mitzvot bein adam lechavero (between man and his fellow man.

In addition, these ideas encourage us to continually reach higher when living a life of spirituality and holiness.  Our potential is much greater than we realize: for kindness, for generosity, for bravery, for serving G-d.  May we be blessed to give abundantly of the resources we have been given.


By Rabbi Tani Burton

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