Just consider that for a minute. On a regular 50 year cycle, the Torah gives us the right to sell, exchange, mortgage, and pledge the rights to our land, but then teaches us that we are only temporary custodians ; our property and proprietary rights will expire at the end of the Yovel, jubilee, cycle. The natural way of typically opportunistic humans would be to make the most of the chance while we have the ability. The Torah, however, predicts this inevitable bit of human behavior. “A man shall not oppress his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d. (25:17)”
We could easily stop here and learn a lesson or three from the text. We are merely caretakers and residents of the land. If we have a biblical mandate to allow it to rest and regenerate on a regular basis, how much more should we protect the resources it provides? How can we justify what we do to our environment which is doing permanent damage to the global climate, and write it off as being vital to our survival? There’s a reason why the Torah places the verse about oppression in the middle of the section. We have made a commodity out of our perceived right to abuse the environment, in the name of our societal needs, to the point where the global ecosystem may not be able to recover.
Did we not get the hint? Look ahead at 25:35. “If your brother is impoverished and loses his means, you should support him, even if he is a stranger or resident, that he should live with you.” Simple economics says that it’s a whole lot easier to pay down that debt in advance instead of having to make up the difference later. After a year of record deforestation in the Amazon, known as the “lungs of the world” for the amount of CO2 it absorbs, can we reconcile our mandate to be caretakers of our fields with our management history? When cities need to tell their residents to stay indoors because the air quality is hazardous to their health, we’ve clearly exceeded our 50 year reset window.
After the seven, and seven times seven year cycle, slaves are freed and G-d reclaims His right to restore the land to its original status. The laws against oppression warn us about the dangers of claiming the land for our unfettered and unbounded use. Behar ends with a seeming non-sequitur, which, in actuality, is anything but. “You shall not make idols for yourselves, nor shall you make a statue or pillar or a sacrificial stone in your land to bow down to, for I am the Lord your G-d. (26:1).” If we don’t renounce our slavery to the worship of the forces which have granted us the ability to manipulate and commoditize our resources, then we will have failed in our roles as caretakers of the gift we were given. If we can see each other amidst the smoke of the climate change induced fires, survive the hunger from the famine we have created, and overcome the oppression of those who continue to use our dwindling resources for profit, maybe, just maybe, we can fulfill the warning we were given, but did not heed, three millennia ago.
G-d told us so.
Shabbat Shalom!Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen