When Joshua led the Children of Israel in to the Promised Land, each tribe received a distinct territory that would be their tribal land. The area of their tribe was not randomly designated. Rather, in many cases, the territory matched their tribal character. The members of the tribe of Zebulun, who were mostly merchants and sailors, were on the coast; while Asher was apportioned land that was ideal for the rich crop of olives.

In the normal course of life, people often travel and move. The likelihood was that the ancient Israelites were not limited to their tribal territories. As people moved, they would, perhaps, choose to settle down and purchase land and build a home in areas other than their allotted tribal territories. The question might arise regarding the maintenance of the integrity of tribal territories when people from different tribes moved freely throughout the Promised Land.

It is therefore interesting to note that Jewish law requires that with the arrival of the year of the Jubilee (50th year), all land is returned to the original family to which it belonged. “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and you shall return every man to his possession…” (Leviticus 25:10). This law applied to all property in the Land of Israel located outside of a walled city.

In addition to maintaining tribal lands, the law mandating the return of property at the Jubilee served to re-balance the economy. Over a period of 50 years, some individuals might come to own a great deal of land, whereas many other citizens might have suffered reversals and become landless. In the 50th year, all land reverted to its original owner.

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine, for you are sojourners and residents with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). Whether one considers the law of returning land equitable or not, the Torah makes the land’s true ownership quite clear.

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