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EQUAL RIGHTS

by Rabbi Norman Schloss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Yovel (Jubilee) year which we learn about in this week's Torah portion is to remind Man of the Divine ownership of everything in the universe, as the verse states, "For the land is Mine, for you are sojourners and settlers with Me" (Leviticus 25:23).

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The Yovel (Jubilee) year which we learn about in this week's Torah portion is to remind Man of the Divine ownership of everything in the universe, as the verse states, "For the land is Mine, for you are sojourners and settlers with Me" (Leviticus 25:23). The Yovel year is a reversion to the innocence of creation, when before Adam had sinned, the whole world was Hashem's, undisturbed by human ownership.

It is interesting to note that the ushering in of the Yovel year takes place not on Rosh Hashanah, but on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 25:9-10). Just as Man becomes purified on Yom Kippur and returns to his original innocence and state of purity, the world is similarly righted with the onset of the Yovel year. This does not mean that the land reverts to society to be subdivided as was done in the Middle Ages. Rather, no mortal or human institution has any exclusive rights to the land, but all are free to enjoy its fruits. In fact, the sovereignty of Hashem over everything and the true equal rights of every person to enjoy Hashem's bounty is the keynote of Yovel. This theme is so pervasive that it is underlined in all transactions in the years leading up to Yovel, the year when all land in Israel returns to its original ancestral heritage (as a result of this event, any sale of land is, in effect, a lease until the Yovel year). Both the buyer and the seller are warned to abide by the laws of justice in their business transactions: "lo tonu - do not wrong one another" (Leviticus 25:14,17). As Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, explains, there are two categories of ona'ah - wrongfulness.

Ona'at mamon - monetary wrongdoing. When dealing in the sale or purchase of land, the price should be determined in accordance with the number of years still to go until the Yovel and the annual yield that the owner can expect to get from the produce. If the number of years to the Yovel is short and a high price is asked, the purchaser is defrauded. If the number of years is long and the price is too low, then the seller may be cheated. Therefore, both are admonished to be fair and equitable.

Ona'at devarim - verbal wrongdoing. The Torah further warns us that we should not annoy or give someone wrong advice. If you may wonder, since nobody will ever know if we intended to harm another person, what is stopping us? The Torah responds in verse 17 as it often does regarding matters that are left to human conscience, "Veyarayta m'Elokecha - You shall fear G-d". Hashem knows what we are thinking and we can't hide our evil intentions from Him. Rashi further elaborates on this obligation in his commentary on the Talmud (Tractate Baba Metziah): If a person is a Baal Teshuvah (one who has changed the course of his life by repenting from his past transgressions), don't say to him, "Remember your former deeds." If he is a convert, don't say, "Remember the deeds of yourforefathers." If he is a convert who wants to learn Torah, don't push him off by declaring, "How can a mouth that ate non-kosher food speak the words of Torah that came from the mouth of Hashem," and so on.

Yovel teaches us of the equality of humankind in recognizing the oneness of Hashem. Any taking advantage of someone's weakness, whether it pertains to buying and selling of fields, or raising false hopes, or in making tactless and derogatory remarks is not the Torah way. May we all merit to practice the lessons of Yovel and in so doing bring about the coming of the Mashiach (Messiah) hastily and in our time.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Nechama Leibowitz of blessed memory who passed away last month at the age of 92. It is based upon her Studies in the Weekly Sidra-1957. She was my "Chumash Rebbe" when I had her as a teacher in 1971-72.

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Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.

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