Sabbatical and Jubilee

May 3, 2015

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר׃

Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai:

Leviticus 25:1

בִּשְׁנַת הַיּוֹבֵל הַזֹּאת תָּשֻׁבוּ אִישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּתוֹ׃

In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his holding.

Leviticus 25:13

Our portion delves into the details of some of the laws which have already been mentioned. Its opening line, “And the LORD spoke unto Moses in Mount Sinai, saying” (25:1), is cited by the Sages to demonstrate that not only the broad strokes of the Ten Commandments, but all the laws of the Torah, were given by God at Mount Sinai.


We are given a more complete picture of the expectations of the Sabbatical, or shmita, year. Every seventh year, we are commanded to let the land rest completely. Traditional farming activities, from planting and plowing to weeding and finally harvesting, are forbidden. More than an agricultural law, this is a social requirement, for all the land that year is treated as if it were ownerless, and the natural growth may be eaten by anyone (including, but not restricted to, the landowner and his family).


Once every seven cycles, a Jubilee year is declared with a shofar blast on the Day of Atonement. That year, which follows a Sabbatical year, the land must also be left to rest. In addition, as the rest of the portion explains, the Jubilee serves as a “reset” for the nation, with slaves being freed and land reverting to its original owners.


Of the Jubilee, the Torah says, “…proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof…” (25:10). This verse appears on the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania. As the Israel Bible points out, this made it a symbol of freedom in the eyes abolitionists in the 1830s, and it is an icon of American independence and liberty to this day.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

The Torah requires the years leading up to the Jubilee be counted. Why do you think that is? Is it a practical act, or could there be a moral imperative behind it? Where else does the Torah command that ‘seven sevens’ be counted?


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