We end the Book of Leviticus this Shabbat with a double parasha, Behar/Behukotia. The book ends with an explanation of the Sabbatical Year (Shabbaton) once every seven years and the Jubilee Year (Yovel) once every 49 years. Both provided a reset of ancient Israelite society — indentured servants were set free; all land was returned to its original owner; and all debts were released.
The land does not belong to people as God said, “for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.” (Leviticus 25:23) Rather, we have use of it while we are alive and ultimately no one can be enslaved because God reminds us, “For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants: they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 25:55).
These principles are the basis of successful society according to our Torah, as we read, “I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land.”
We are now engaged in our own national reset as we shelter-in-place and practice social distancing. We have been forced to step away from our business and consumption and have the opportunity to slow down and think about what really matters to us.
Perhaps we can take this opportunity to think about the society we want to construct, one that respects the earth – because it is God’s – and does not exploit others – because we are all God’s servants. Perhaps if we do, all of us can thrive.