This week’s Parsha, behar, teaches us about the shmitah and Jubilee years for the Israelites. In the initial descriptions, these laws apply to the land and how we must give the land a rest every seven years, just as we take a break every seven days. Then the laws begin to address how we treat other human beings.
It is from here that we find the famous quote inscribed on the Liberty Bell, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:10) The verse is in the middle of a section of laws describing The Jubilee. Every person receives his or her possessions back. Every slave or indentured servant is allowed to return to his family. The earth is given an extra year in which to regain its vitality.
Imagine if we lived in such a balanced world today. When you purchased something, you knew that it was really only yours on a temporary basis. It would return to the original owner when the jubilee year came. Imagine if all the slaves in the 1800s were allowed to return to their families when the jubilee year arrived. Would that have been the end of slavery in the South?
The jubilee year exists to remind us that each of us is equal. No matter what we have at a given time — no matter how rich or how poor, what we can buy or what we need to sell — we are all equal human beings and there will be a time when that equality must be restored. The question is, do we need to wait that long to help reach a world where we treat everyone as equals?
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinical Association.)