Justice Found in the Torah

The Jubilee Found & Taught in the Torah

Verses from the Torah

The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you insofar as you may not sow, harvest crops growing of their own accord, or gather grapes from unpruned vines during that [year]. The jubilee shall thus be holy to you. You shall eat the crops from the field that (year]. In the jubilee year, every man shall return to his hereditary property. (Leviticus 25:11-13)

Furthermore the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is mine, you are but resident aliens under my authority.  Therefore, throughout the land you hold, you must provide redemption for the land. (Leviticus, 25:1-24, esp vss. 10 and 23-24)

At the end of every seventh year you are to cancel the debts of those who owe you money, the Lord himself has declared the debt canceled. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)

Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that he claims from his neighbor (reíah) he shall not dun his relative or his neighbor, because this remission is for the Eternal. (Deuteronomy 15:1-18 esp. vss. 1-2 and 13-14)

You shall count seven Sabbatical years, that is, seven times seven years. The period of the seven Sabbatical cycles shall thus be 49 years. Then on the l0th day of the seventh month, you shall make a proclamation with the ram's horn. This proclamation with the ram's horn is thus to be made on Yom Kippur. You shall sanctify the fiftieth year, declaring emancipation in the land for all its inhabitants. This is your jubilee year, when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family. (Leviticus 25:8-10)

The Meaning of Jubilee

The Torah teaches us the laws of the jubilee, Yovel in Hebrew.

The Torah tells us that we must count seven Sabbatical years. The jubilee begins on the tenth day of the seventh month of the fiftieth year. The seventh month here is Tishrei and the tenth of Tishrei is Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year the shofar is sounded. This is an announcement that it is the jubilee, a year of liberty and emancipation. Anyone who has Hebrew slaves, whether male or female, must free them. Similarly, if anyone has bought a field, he must return the field to its hereditary owner.

In order to enhance commerce without violating prohibitions on interest the Rabbinic authorities innovated the heter iskah: setting up a partnership so that the lender would supply a sum to the borrower for a joint venture. This indicates the manner in which loans might be made in order that lenders have a joint interest in the success of borrowers.

The Jubilee year is like the Sabbatical year, when it is forbidden to plow, plant, harvest, or prune trees. All crops must be left as public property. Just as on Rosh Hashanah we must sound the shofar, the ram's horn, we must do so on the jubilee. The shofar is sounded in exactly the same manner with the same blessings recited.

Initially, this is a commandment incumbent upon the court. After that, every Jew must sound the ram's horn.

From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, slaves would not return home but would not work either. The fields would not return to their hereditary owners, but the owners would eat, drink and rejoice with their crowns upon their heads. Then, when Yom Kippur arrived, the slaves would return home and the fields would revert to their hereditary owners.

The jubilee in Hebrew is Yovel, which comes from the word hovel, meaning to transport. It is thus written, "Bring a gift to he who is to be freed." (Psalms 76:12) It is called yovel because during this year each thing is "transported" to its owner and everything reverts to what it was in the beginning.

Others say that yovel denotes a shofar. It is thus written, "When the yovel blows the loud blast, they may climb the mountain." (Exodus 19:13)

Obviously, the jubilee entails great mysteries that the human intellect cannot fathom. However, there is also a reason that we can understand. G-d wants to show His nation that He is the Master of the universe. G-d said, "To Me is the land." (Leviticus 25:23) Therefore, in the end everything reverts to the owners whom G-d wants.

When a person sees this, he will refrain from stealing. He will not desire or reach out his hand for something that is not his. He knows that nothing will remain with him in the end; he will eventually have to return everything to its rightful owner. If a person takes something illegally from his friend, G-d will bring about a chain of events so that he will give it back. Therefore, a person has no gain stealing from others. The only thing that will remain from it is the sin.

The Sabbatical year and the jubilee also teach a person how he must direct his life. The seven years of the Sabbatical cycle allude to the seventy years that a person lives. A person sows and harvests for six years. In the seventh year he withdraws from his fields and leaves everything for the public.

Similarly, a person can spend the first 60 years of his life studying and working to earn a living, but in the "seventh year," as he enters the seventh decade of his life, he should put aside his business and separate himself from the worldly. He should start concentrating on the World to Come. He should study Torah as much as possible and keep as many mitzvot and good deeds as he can.

During the seventh year a person abandons his fields, vineyards and all their fruit so that other people will be able to eat of them. Similarly, a person must leave all his goods and property to others so that they can enjoy them.

When a person goes to the World to Come it is as the Sabbath. Neither gold nor silver will accompany him, only the mitzvot and good deeds that he has done in this world.

The jubilee has a similar teaching. Among the seventy years allotted to man, the first ten do not count. A person is still immature and does not understand what life is all about. Therefore, from his tenth until his sixtieth year a person has fifty years during which he functions in this world. These fifty years are alluded to in the fifty years of the jubilee cycle.

The Torah literally says, "You shall sanctify the fifty years..." This teaches that when a person reaches his sixtieth year and his fifty years of toil are over, he should strive to leave everything aside. He should try to forget all worldly matters and sanctify the fiftieth year. These are the years of the seventh decade. A person should think only of the future world.

The Torah says "emancipation" shall be declared. A person should emancipate his body of all worldly concepts. This is the time when "A man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family." The soul is ready to go to its original abode under the Throne of Glory. It has no more time for the temporal life. Therefore, a person should prepare his needs for the future life so that his soul will find repose.