Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)

)A Radical Solution for Intergenerational Poverty Imagine the following two scenarios: (1) You decide to sell land that had been in your family for generations and sometime later you realize it was a major immense mistake. Your family falls into poverty, which leads to a downward social and economic spiral, one which can lead to what sociologists call intergenerational poverty. Policies and programs have been designed to break this cycle, but they only begin to scratch the surface. (2) A real estate group has holdings all over a large city; as they acquire more land, they start to have a monopoly. Ultimately, people who have rented stores, apartments or homes for generations find themselves without a place to live or work because they can no longer afford it. These problems are real, and the global community has still not found a solution. Although the Torah doesn’t specifically address these two scenarios, it does provide a revolutionary outlook on how to approach these and similar challenges facing us today.
It’s a novel idea; every 50 years, ancestral land is returned to its owners and all indentured servants (i.e. Jews who had defaulted on loans and became servants of their debtors), were freed. This is applicable only in the land of Israel and only when the majority of world Jewry live in Israel.
One of the moral lessons learned from the Yovel /Jubilee (i.e. 50th ) year is the idea that the Almighty owns the land, not us. We can purchase land for a period of time, but our ownership is limited. When the 50th year arrives, we must recognize G-d as the legitimate owner. He has the right to restrict our use of the land and to require its redistribution by returning it to its original owners. Here’s another aspect of the Yovel phenomenon. Modern society accepts the responsibility to provide for its less fortunate members. However, the task often seems overwhelming, especially when poverty can become so ingrained in the structure of a family that it goes from one generation to another. New generations, raised in poverty, lack the hope, skills, education, and motivation required to propel themselves to economic independence—but there is a solution.
The way to prevent inter-generational poverty from becoming culturally ingrained within a family or society is the Mitzvah of Yovel (50th year). Twice every century, families, communities, and even cities are given a fresh start. Real estate monopolies are broken, and families get back their land, and have the opportunity to start afresh. The land will never belong to a privileged few or ruling class—everyone receives a portion.    
The same day that land reverts to its original owners, people who had become indentured servants due to debt are also freed. This too assures the disadvantaged that they, too, will receive a fresh start. The servant and his family might have fallen to a level of abject poverty but when Yovel arrives, husband, wife, and children can begin a new life as free individuals on their own land. G-d gives them a second chance.
This entire system is more radical than any system in the world today. It demonstrates the level of responsibility we bear for the welfare of those in need. It also shows a direct relationship of the Land of Israel with the Jewish nation. The Land isn’t ours to exploit, it is given to us to improve not only the life of its citizens but also to be a model for others.
Every 50 years we are reminded that the Torah, our instruction book for life, integrates both socialism and capitalism in a unique way. Is it the collective responsibility of society to provide for the needs of the poor or is this the responsibility of the rich? Is it right to divide profits equally among all citizens or does each person have the right to his or her own assets and personal freedom? The uniqueness of the Yovel year gives a new solution to society’s challenges and releases us from having to choose between a socialist or capitalist system.
Yovel carries two important messages. (1) People who have become arrogant due to their massive holdings, are forced to recalibrate and confront the reality that G-d, not them, runs the world and (2) people who have made irresponsible life choices, are given a second chance.
Although the Mitzvah of Yovel (the 50th year) is no longer observed, the lesson that individuals and society need to seriously look at their existential reality, should not get lost on us. If we have accumulated much real estate, capital, and holdings, are we letting it go to our head or are we remembering that our existence is transient and that we are meant to be of service to others? Are we the faithful guardians of the resources we possess?
Yovel also demands that we give people a second chance. Can you think of someone in your life who needs a second chance—even though they don’t deserve it? If no one comes to mind, perhaps it’s you who need it.The good news is that you don’t need to wait 50 years for a second chance, it begins as soon as you choose to open your mind and allow it in. Good Shabbos 
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