“If Your Brother Becomes Impoverished”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In parashat Behar, the first of this week’s two parashiot, Behar-Bechukotai, we encounter the mitzvah requiring Jews to redeem the land of fellow Jews who become impoverished.

The Torah, in Leviticus 25:25 states, כִּי יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָכַר מֵאֲחֻזָּתוֹ, וּבָא גֹאֲלוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֵלָיו וְגָאַל אֵת מִמְכַּר אָחִיו , If your brother becomes impoverished and sells part of his ancestral heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him, shall come and redeem that which his brother sold.

Rashi citing the Sifra indicates that one may not sell his ancestral land (patrimony) unless he becomes totally impoverished, and even then should not sell all of it.

According to the Talmud in Kedushin 21a, a dispute is recorded whether the Torah requires the relative to redeem the land or urges the relative to redeem the land. All agree, the closer the relative, the greater the responsibility. However, since all Jews are related, going all the way back to Jacob, the responsibility to redeem the land ultimately, applies to all Jews. (See Behar-Bechukotai 5769-2009).

Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz in Da’at Sofrim, notes that the sages attribute the poverty requiring the sale of the land, to the sin of not keeping the sabbatical year, Shemita–failing to allow the land to lay fallow during the seventh year. For this sin, the landowner may have to sell his property, including his land and his house. He may even have to sell himself–to serve as a Hebrew slave, or even as a slave to a gentile.

Says Rabbi Rabinowitz, even though the suffering is a result of Divine decree, the Torah insists that every Jew must be merciful, and stand at the side of those who are poverty stricken and redeem their land.

Rabbi Yaakov Filber in his volume Chemdat Yamim, cites the interpretation of the Or HaChaim on this verse who interprets it homiletically. If a “man” has no redeemer, is a reference to G-d. If no Jew sufficiently motivates the people to repent and G-d is left with no redeemer, then G-d must find His own way, and lift His hands. The Jews will receive punishment while in exile, until such time as they recognize the need to repent and serve G-d. Only then will they be returned to their ancestral patrimony.

Rabbi Filber quotes the work of Rabbi Issachar Shlomo Teichtal, “Aym Ha’Bah’nim S’may’chah,” אֵם הַבָּנִים שְׂמֵחָה , which was written as a response to the Satmar Rebbe’s strong objections to the establishment of the State of Israel. Rabbi Teichtal writes that the punishment that the Jewish people experience, is G-d’s way of arousing people to return to the Holy Land. He quotes Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, who cites the verse in Song of Songs 1:4, מָשְׁכֵנִי אַחֲרֶיךָ נָּרוּצָה , “drag me after you and we will run together.” Explaining that there are two ways of taking ownership of an animal: the first is to call the animal to follow; the second is to beat it with a stick, as it runs in front of the master.

Rabbi Teichtal declares that if the People of Israel heed the voice of G-d calling them to return to the Land of Israel, G-d will lead the people to the land and they will follow without pain or suffering. However, if the people fail to listen to G-d’s beckoning, then they will suffer greatly from the beatings of the enemies, until there will be no escape except to the Land of Israel.

As we approach the celebration of the 50th year of the unification of the Holy City of Jerusalem, the message of return should be ringing in our ears. Although it is difficult for many of us to leave the comforts of the diaspora and relocate to Israel, there are important steps that can be taken to show our unrequited love for the land. Among the important gestures are supporting charities and institutions in Israel, vacationing in Israel more frequently, encouraging our children to study and to even live in Israel, buying a second home and investing in business in Israel.

These steps, although limited, will serve as a strong indication of our sincerity and our willingness to place the land of Israel and the City of Jerusalem at the forefront of our joy, “Ahl rosh simcha’tay’noo,”  עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתֵנוּ.

May you be blessed.