Land Leases and Redemption

May 3, 2015

וְכִי־תִמְכְּרוּ מִמְכָּר לַעֲמִיתֶךָ אוֹ קָנֹה מִיַּד עֲמִיתֶךָ אַל־תּוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת־אָחִיו׃

When you sell property to your neighbor, or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another.

Leviticus 25:14

וּשְׂדֵה מִגְרַשׁ עָרֵיהֶם לֹא יִמָּכֵר כִּי־אֲחֻזַּת עוֹלָם הוּא לָהֶם׃

But the unenclosed land about their cities cannot be sold, for that is their holding for all time.

Leviticus 25:34

The Torah next addresses the issue of land sales in Israel. According to the text, the nature of the sale is more akin to a lease, as the land must revert to its original owner in the Jubilee year, as it is a heritage from God. The price of the land must be set according to the number of years it can be farmed between the date of sale and the date of the Jubilee.


Here we are given an interesting promise: if we keep God’s commands regarding the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, He will bless us in the sixth year so there is enough produce to last for three years until the crop planted in the eighth year is reaped in the ninth. This verse, the Israel Bible points out, is often cited to support the divinity of the Torah, for who other than God could make such a promise? It would take only six years to disprove such a claim were it not made by God Himself.


If someone is forced to sell his land due to financial strain, and then recovers and earns enough money to redeem his land, the Torah requires the buyer to sell the land back to its original owner before the Jubilee year, at a rate equal to the number of years remaining.


The Torah then tells us the sale of houses is not always the same as the sale of land. If a house is sold in a walled city, the owner has only one year to redeem it before ownership settles eternally on the buyer. However, if the home is located in an unwalled city, its law is like that of a field, which can be redeemed for money up to the Jubilee and reverts automatically at that time. The only exception is the house of a Levite, which may be redeemed at any time and reverts automatically at Jubilee.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

The order of subtopics in this passage, and indeed, in the entire portion, seems haphazard, causing many commentators to remark on it. Why do you think the topics are arranged this way? What can the order of topics teach us?

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