Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)A Radical Solution for Intergenerational Poverty

Imagine the following two scenarios: (1) You decides to sell land that had been in your family for generations and sometime later you came to 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.This week’s Parsha introduces the novel idea that 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 all freed. This is applicable only in the land of Israel and only when the majority of world Jews live in Israel.One of the moral lessons learned from the Yovel (i.e. 50thor “Jubilee) year is the fundamental idea it reinforces; 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.There is 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.There is a solution; there is a way to prevent poverty from becoming culturally ingrained within a family or society. Relief must be provided before an underclass mentality can develop. The Mitzvah of Yovel (50th year) provides a method of preventing inter-generational poverty. Twice every century, families, communities, and even cities are given a fresh start. Real estate monopolies are broken and redistributed, 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.     On 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 have fallen to a level of abject poverty but when Yovel arrives, husband, wife, and children can begin a new life as free individuals upon 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 should the more privileged take responsibility? 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, and food for thought with which it nourishes us, releases us from having to choose between a socialist or capitalist system.Yovel gives everyone a second chance. People who have become arrogant to their massive holdings, will be forced to recalibrate and confront the reality that G-d, not them, runs the world. People who have made irresponsible life choices, are given another chance. Although the Mitzvah of Yovel (the 50th year) is no longer applicable or observed,the lesson that, every so often, people need to refocus and seriously look at their existential reality should not get lost on us.Can you think of someone in your life who needs-even though (s)he might not deserve it-a second chance? If no one comes to mind, perhaps it’s you who needs it. But you don’t have to wait 50 years; second chances begin as soon as you allow them to. 

Good Shabbos