Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Behar
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

Parashat Behar

The Right of Ownership on Body and Property


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

12 Iyar 5765
Our parasha, which starts with the laws of shemitta (sabbatical year) and yovel (jubilee year) continues to discuss a series of laws regulating commerce, including limitations on the practice of slavery. Let us summarize the halachot as they arise and find the connection between them.

1. The laws of shemitta, which forbid working the Land during that year, also mandate that all segments of society and the animals of the Land partake in eating the fruit that grows (Vayikra 25: 6-7).

2. In the yovel, all slaves are to return to their homes (ibid. 10-13).

3. In the context of the law of yovel that people return to the family plots that were sold, one must be careful to charge a fair price for the field (ibid. 23-24).

4. There are additional limitations on the sale of real estate, including the ability to "redeem" a field that was sold (ibid. 25-34).

5. It is prohibited to lend money with interest, "for I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of Egypt" (ibid. 35-38).

6. One cannot overwork his eved ivri (servant) and must set him free after six years or in yovel "for they are My servants, whom I took out of Egypt, they shall not be sold the sale of slaves" (ibid. 39-46).

7. One should make efforts to redeem a relative who was sold as a slave to a non-Jew "for to Me are Bnei Yisrael servants. They are My servants, whom I took out of Egypt; I am Hashem, your G-d" (ibid. 47-55).

What is the common denominator between all of these different laws? In truth, all of these laws are connected to the concept of yovel. Yovel represents freedom. A free person has the right to make acquisitions and to have sovereignty over his body and his time. The laws of our parasha give legal, halachic weight to these concepts. Along with this freedom, stresses the Torah repeatedly, our ability to be free stems from the exodus from Egypt that Hashem performed for us with great miracles.

On this backdrop, let us review the aforementioned halachot. (1) Every seventh year the land is as if ownerless, as all have equal access to its produce, for indeed the Land always really belongs to Hashem. (2-4) There are limitations on the attempt to permanently take over another man’s property or body, because one person cannot negate the basic rights of another. (3-5) One must ensure that he accumulates wealth in a fair manner, and the wealthy or sly should not use his power to get rich through usury or trickery. (6-7) If our fellow man is forced to sell himself into slavery, we are required to take steps to protect his Divine form, which calls for him to be free as soon as possible.

Let us pray that the basic rights engendered in our parasha will be kept through the principle that only a servant of Hashem is fully free.

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