Yerushalayim, Yovelot and yeomen

  • ParshaRabbiRaanan
The story is told about someone who, during an audience with Baron Rothschild, asked him how much he was worth. The Rothschild wealth to this day remains legendary, so the guest could have, at best, expected an approximate as a reply, if in fact he was going to get one.
by Rabbi Ilan Raanan, Yeshiva Shul | May 18, 2017

Not only did he get a reply. It was an exact reply - to the last cent! The Baron reached for a ledger from the bookcase. The visitor’s intrigue that Rothschild actually kept a precise record of his net worth at arm’s reach, turned incredulous upon hearing an amount that, despite its immensity, could have only been but a fraction of the Baron’s wealth. 

Responding to the perplexed look on the visitor’s face, Rothschild explained that this ledger contained the total amount he had given to charity. That amount, Rothschild explained, was truly his and could never be taken away from him. Everything else might be his only today. Conceivably, he could lose everything tomorrow.

Wealth is transient. So is ownership. In fact, ownership might only be a façade. 

The portions we read this week commence with the laws of Shmita and Yovel, the seven cycles of the Sabbatical year culminating in the Jubilee every 50th year.

The most significant aspect of the Jubilee pertained to ownership of the land. When real estate was sold, it would revert to the original owner on the Jubilee. The new owner would be a yeoman for a limited period of time. 

Transfer of ownership was subject to the number of crop-years that remained in the 50-year reckoning. The Torah explains: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine; for you are sojourners and residents with Me” (Lev 25:23).

The lesson of the Yovel is clear. Material ownership is only relative. What is mine, is only mine in terms of your lack of rights to it. And when I sell it, I merely forgo a relative ownership. Absolute ownership is the sole proprietary of the Divine! 

The Yovel lesson would concur with Rothschild’s absolute net worth, but would disagree with his explanation. All that was truly his, was what he had given to charity. Never mind the conceivable morrow; the legendary Rothschild wealth never existed in absolute terms!

This lesson of the Yovel rings true when singling out Yerushalayim. How many times has Jerusalem, the most coveted place on earth, changed hands! 

The Biblical conquest of the city is a mystery, both in terms of when and how it was conquered. The Sages of Talmud (Yoma 12a) debate whether the city was ever divided among the Tribes of Israel. 

One opinion maintained it was shared between Judah and Benjamin; the other held it was never divided. Who then was the owner?  The entire Jewish people? All humanity that originated from its dust, according to one Midrash? Crusades. International ownership. A city shared by three monotheistic faiths. Intifadas. (American President Donald) Trump’s ostentatious visit, and of course the question of the location of embassies. 

The exciting Yovel we are about to celebrate of a united Jerusalem in Jewish hands, only through Divine intervention during the Six Day War, contains a humbling message: “The land is Mine” and we are but “sojourners and residents”.


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