Legal Mechanism of the Jubilee - בהר

Friday, 20 May, 2022 - 8:35 am

Legal Mechanism of the Jubilee  

In Biblical times, when all twelve tribes of Israel resided in the land of Israel, the commandment of the Jubilee year was in place. Every fiftieth year, all indentured servants were set free, and all land which was sold during the previous forty nine years would revert back to its original owner. As the Torah states: 

And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family. 
The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me. (Leviticus 25:10,23)

There are two possible ways to define the precise mechanism by which the Jubilee takes effect and causes all land to revert to the original seller. The first possibility is that it is, in the language of the Talmud, “a release of the King {a Divine decree}.” meaning that the sale in which the two parties engage in is a permanent sale, yet the Divine decree of the Jubilee intervenes and nullifies the sale. The second possibility is that the Jubilee is affected by the buyer and seller themselves. As a result of the commandment, the unspoken understanding of both parties is that the sale is a temporary transaction, which lasts only until the fiftieth  year. 

[There are practical implications between these two options. One interesting application was presented by the great twentieth century sage, the Ragatchover Gaon. Assuming the land was sold when the commandment of the jubilee was in effect, but by the time the fiftieth year came about the jubilee was no longer in effect (because the exile of the ten tribes nullified the practical application of the Jubilee).  According to the first perspective, the Divine commandment would only undo a complete and final sale in the event that the Jubilee year was in effect. In a case that the Jubilee year was no longer in effect, however, the Divine decree would not nullify the sale, and the land would remain in the possession of the buyer. According to the second opinion, however, the land would revert back to the seller, although the Jubilee was no longer in effect. Because at the time of the sale, the sale was only intended to be temporary, until year fifty.]

Just like every law of the Torah, the Jubilee applies within the spiritual service of every Jew. The equivalent of the jubilee in the soul of man is the freedom from inner bondage. The liberation from inner tension and negativity. The two possible mechanisms for the Jubilee to take effect represent two paths to achieve inner freedom. The first argues that inner liberation can come only as a gift from above. The second argues that the mechanism of the jubilee is man-made. And therefore, the inner freedom of the jubilee can be achieved through one's own efforts.

While in the legal realm only one of these perspectives are correct, in the spiritual realm both perspectives are true. The Jew is required to attain the freedom that he can achieve by his own efforts. When he does so, G-d bestows an even greater sense of freedom, that is a gift from on high.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, 12 Tamuz 5737

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