Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Behar 2024: “This Land Is Your Land” vs. “For the Land is Mine”

Raboyseyee and Ladies,

“This Land Is Your Land” vs “For the Land is Mine”

Shoin, back in 1969, Woody Guthrie released the hit single titled “This Land Is Your Land,” a song known to most Americans and since sung by kimat every singer from Bruce Springsteen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Azoy zugt the heylige internet, a most trusted source for information on such trivia.  The song is zicher and often recognized as a patriotic anthem; some have called “This Land Is Your Land” an alternative national anthem. Does everyone agree? Not! So happens that Native Americans argue that the song plays into America’s continual erasure of Indigenous peoples in culture. Many point out that America rests on stolen land. Stolen land? That epes rings familiar. The bottom line: no matter where in the world, there are always people arguing about land ownership. Ober, whose land is it?

And with that introduction, a warm welcome (taka high 70’s expected tomorrow here in the Five Towns) to Parshas Behar, where the RBSO proclaims “For the Land is Mine.” He doesn’t sing it, but He means it. He’s the boss and owner and Fartig! The land is His! Ober, which land is the RBSO talking about in our parsha?

Parshas Behar -read as a singleton in this leap year- is devoted almost exclusively to the related topics of “Shmita” and “Yoivel,” observed -or used to be- every seven and fifty years, respectively.  We have previously covered and explained these concepts and avada you should check out archives at Oisvorfer.com, ober bikitzur (in short for those who have forgotten or never chapped), here’s a shtikel review of what it is and what does down.

What the hec is Shemita? Literally it means a “release“: zicher not what many of you might be thinking, chazerim that you are. It means that every farmer and land owner in the land of Israel is commanded to leave his farmland, his vineyard and orchard and stop all agricultural activity. He must refrain from plowing, seeding, reaping, fertilizing, planting, pruning and gathering both the fruit from the trees and the vegetables of the ground. Nu, for all you farmers out there, if you chap, going a year without plowing, seeding, reaping, fertilizing, planting and pruning, seems a shtikel harsh. On the other hand, for married farmers, going one year without, may be a shorter time period than they are used to, if you chap. Ober there is good news: it does epes appear and so we were taught in yeshiva, that plowing and other such activities, outside the land, are quite ok, if you chap. Shemita, like the holy Shabbis, comes in cycles of sevens and like the heylige Shabbis, certain activities are forbidden. Ober, unlike the 25 hour Shabbis – depending of course on which shul you attend-  Shemita lasts an entire year.

Why did the RBSO proclaim Shemita? Ver veyst, ober some say it was to reinforce the concept that we are not the masters of our destiny. Nu, that’s no big chiddish (newsworthy); most of you have not been masters of your own domains since high school, if you chap. With Shemita observance, we taka learn that the RBSO is the real owner of the world and it is He, not us, who makes the final decisions. Shoin!

When was the first such 7th year? Taka a good question and one that is, of course, the subject of many discussions. For now, all you need to know is that here in golus (Diaspora), we don’t observe it all, and won’t until the Moshiach makes an appearance. What happened to Shmita and Yoivel? Aren’t they Toirah mandated? Didn’t the RBSO Himself hand down these concepts and laws? He did!

Ober says the Rambam (Shmita/ Yoivel 10,10:12) azoy: Once the tribe of Reuven and the tribe of Gad and half the tribe of Menashe were exiled, the Yoivel ended  as it says “and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” when all its inhabitants are on it, and they cannot be mixed up tribes with tribes, rather each sitting as appointed [in their tribal plots]. And just like that, Yoivel observance was over. More on that below.

משגלה שבט ראובן ושבט גד וחצי שבט מנשה, בטלו היובלות—שנאמר

וקראתם דרור בארץ, לכל יושביה“, בזמן שכל יושביה עליה: והוא שלא יהיו מעורבין שבט בשבט, אלא כולן יושבים כתקנן.‏

ובזמן שאין היובל נוהג, אין נוהג עבד עברי, ולא בתי ערי חומה, ולא שדה אחוזה, ולא שדה חרמים, ואין מקבלין גר תושב; ונוהגת שביעית בארץ מדבריהם, וכן השמטת כספים בכל מקום מדבריהם כמו שביארנו.‏

When Yoivel was a thing, the land could not be worked; crops were not harvested; and produce was shared by all. Moreover, the heylige Toirah (elsewhere) describes two additional aspects of Yoivel.  Ershtens (firstly), the land reverts back to its original owner, ober who might that be? What if he’s no longer alive? Nu, in that event, the land reverts back to its ancestral owners. And who are they? Ver veyst? All the land in Israel is redistributed to the descendants of those who initially conquered and possessed it.  Mistama we’ll have to dig them up and no wonder we can no longer fulfil this commandment. For most of you, this particular halocho is not a major concern, nor to most real estate investors, but should it be ignored? Also, on Yoivel, the slaves go free.

As you can imagine, volumes are written about these quite amazing pisukim in the heylige Toirah and avada there’s plenty of discourse as to what they mean or meant at one time.  Shoin, before you get all bent out of shape, the heylige Gemora (Arachin 32b) suggests that Yoivel is only in effect when the (entire) Jewish populace is living there. In other words, Yoivel is only declared if all the Yiddin are living in the land of Israel. If they’re not, no Yoivel.  Adds the Rambam and a majority of other commentators, that this is true for the previously stated mitzvah of Shmita as well. Sounds good to me and the bottom line: No shmita and no yoivel today.  (Laws of Shmita and Yoivel 10:8-9). Ober, mistama for business purposes, bazman hazeh (in today’s times) we understand this to mean that only a majority of the world’s Yiddin need to live there. And even though less than 50% of the Yiddin live there and even though min-hatoirah (biblically), there is no mitzvah of Shmita  or Yoivel for that matter, nonetheless, and as I suggested earlier, for reasons that are unknown to us -but of course known to the Rabbis that declared it to be otherwise- they do enforce Shmita in Israel today. What does enforcement entail? That for another day.


Over in the Promised Holy Land, some aspects of it are observed, others, not so much. Side note: back in the days of the Beis Hamikdash (temple era), lands which surrounded Israel observed certain customs of Shemita. Why? Seemingly, Shemita became a shtikel nuisance, when it conflicted with the ability to maintain a Jewish presence in the land, when letting the land lie fallow would have had deleterious effects, especially on their pocketbooks. The rabbis did what rabbis should do, what rabbis used to do; they sprang into action.

Ober, could they ignore Toirah law? Say it’s not so and chas ’sholom (heaven forbid)! Instead, they used their ingenuity to create one of many loopholes, this one known as the ‘heter-mechirah,’ (a legal fiction of a sale of the land to a goy) to neutralize the effects of the Shemita year. Shoin, now the goy could buy our chometz and our land! Gishmak! Who said Goyim were only good for turning lights and air conditioning on or off on the heylige shabbis? Their rationale: substantial losses amongst the Yiddin was a bad thing that needed to be avoided and this Shmita commandment was doing just that. Shoin, once classified as hefsid-miruba (great monetary loss) and in order to prevent mutiny and non-observance, the fast thinking and progressive rabbis of that time (bring them back, please) came up with perhaps the second biggest loophole in the entire Jewish religion, the old “let’s sell our land to a goy trick.” Most of us Avada still consider the selling of chometz to a goy routine, as the biggest of all loopholes ober, we can chap that land has more value than does chometz. In this iteration, the poor farmer who could not plow or seed -taka a disaster for most, simply signed on to a similar transaction. More on that another day.

Avada we chap that legal loopholes are a mainstay of kimat every religion and profession. Seemingly our good and knowledgeable rabbis of old, also found ways to weave these into the heylige Toirah, especially when it came to money matters, and why not? The RBSO doesn’t want His people to struggle for parnoso. Farkert!  And taka in the nineteenth century, when the Yiddin made their way back to the promised land of Israel and began farming, many of the greatest rabbinic authorities permitted–even encouraged–the “selling” of the land to goyim, effectively eliminating this fundamental mitzvah. The bottom line: back then, rabbis did exactly what rabbis should do: they worked diligently to make life better without violating the RBSO’s commandments.

And noch a broch (another disaster): Shemita also nullifies any outstanding personal debt. What? Did you just read that one can borrow money from his chaver (friend), wait seven years (less if one borrowed funds closer to Shemita) and then tell the lender that his debt is cancelled- expired and otherwise null and void due to Shemita? Indeed you did. This is called Shemitas Kisofim, yet another release and not a very pleasant one.

Moreover, lenders would be violating a loi-sah-say (negative prohibition) would they make demand for their payments or even politely ask for their loans to be repaid. Is this what the RBSO had in mind? And given these rules, how did so many Yiddin end up in the money lending gisheft (business)? And the answer raboyseyee is azoy: Again, our rabbis of those times chapped that Yiddin needed to be in the real estate and money lending businesses, and made it their business to find legal loopholes to make them function and work within the confines of the RBSO’s rules found in our parsha. Good on them, well played.

The bottom lines: Shemita is no joke as it mamish wipes out loans that one gave in good faith hoping to be repaid. And why shouldn’t it? Who says that just because you were nice enough to advance a chaver badly needed funds, that you’re entitled to get repaid? Don’t you know that no good deed goes unpunished?

Shoin, let’s do some chazoro (review): Every seventh and fiftieth year, farmers must refrain from agricultural activity -plowing only allowed with humans, if you chap. Large-scale harvesting is also forbidden.  Furthermore, they must open the gates of their fields to allow any man or beast, free and unlimited access to all the crops.  Yet another tough mitzvah for Yiddin to observe; giving away crops for free? Unheard, unthinkable, and certainly not a very Jewish concept. Are we not trained to charge as much as possible? We are!

Yoivel -jubilee year- features two additional elements: the return of all real property -as in real estate mamish- to original owners and the emancipation of all indentured servants.  What? You bought real estate, land, buildings and more and must return it? To whom? And what about your investment? Yikes! The bottom line: Once these mitzvis are introduced, kimat the rest of the parsha details the effects of these final two laws on real estate transactions and the sale and purchase of indentured servants.  We’re allowed to buy and keep slaves? Say it’s not so please but the heylige Toirah seems to tell us that slave ownership was a thing back then. One last point but a big one: given that all transactions of land or servants is temporary, effective only until Yoivel, the point within the fifty-year cycle at which the transaction occurs determines the price. In plain English: Property sold shortly after Yoivel will carry a higher price tag, as the buyer purchases use of the land for a substantial period.  On the flip side, landowners selling property shortly before Yoivel must lower the price, as the buyer enjoys rights to the land for a shorter time. In plain English: The RBSO set up the entire real estate business and specifically how to value real estate. Profits seem to be regulated. Specifically, why so many Yiddin -all over the world- ended up in the real estate gisheft (business), ver veyst? Are they not following the RBSO’s mandates? Oy vey! Are these serious infractions?

Seemingly they are and says Rashi based on the heylige Gemora (Kiddushin 20a), azoy: the various sections of the parsha follow a precise order: First, the heylige Toirah prohibits us from doing business with the produce of Shemita / the Sabbatical year. That being stated as law, if, nevertheless, one covets money -who doesn’t- and trades in Shemita produce, he will eventually become destitute and will need to sell his movable property. If he still does not desist, he will next need to sell his real estate. If he still does not get the message, he will need to sell his house. Eventually, he will need to borrow money on interest. If he still does not mend his ways, he will, as time goes on, be compelled to sell himself as a slave to another Jew. If he still does not abandon his evil ways, he eventually will sell himself to a heathen! Are these scare tactics? Perhaps but they are all mentioned in our parsha. The observance of shmita is seemingly no joke.

The bottom lines: the laws of Shemita and Yoivel were given to emphasize that the RBSO owns all the land. Twice the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 25:2,4) speaks of the Shemita year as “a shabbis for the Lord.”  This year “belongs to G-d,” as it were, because it is when man withdraws from the land, thereby allowing the Almighty to reclaim His dominion over it.  The heylige Toirah does not recognize the idea of land ownership in the way that we do today. The Toirah’s approach is that the Land of Israel belongs to the RBSO who grants its inhabitants occupation rights. We are seemingly legal occupiers and case closed. The land of Israel was to be divided up, first by sheyvet (tribe) and then by family, in proportion to their population. This land was to be the ancestral inheritance of the families, but it was not theirs to buy, sell or even own. Says the heylige Toirah (25:23) “For the land may not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, for you are strangers and settlers with me.” What to do when land cannot be bought and sold? No problem: Although land may not be sold, it may be leased and shoin, leasing too became a business.  But every 50 years, when the Yoivel was proclaimed, all leases must come to an end and the land is to return to its ancestral owners. Who are these people? Ver veyst?

One last point: the commandments regarding Shmita and Yoivel pertain only to land and other real estate within the land of Israel.  Oib azoy, shtetl zich di shaylo (if so, the question arises as follows): If indeed, Shemita and Yoivel express the RBSO’s dominion over the land and its residents, why do these commandments apply only in the Land of Israel?  Is not the RBSO, the King, Ruler, Owner, and Master over the entire world?  Is land outside of Israel not under His domain? What’s pshat here? Ver veyst? Got answers? Send them in.


A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman

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