Last week, in Parasha Emor, God called the Kohen (priests) to live lives that expressed a greater measure of holiness. It also described seven essential festivals that are fundamental to Israel’s walk with the Lord.
In this week’s Torah portion, God gives to Moses the laws concerning the Shemitah or Sabbatical year.
The Year of the Shemitah
God commands Israel to observe the Shemitah every seventh year, a Sabbath for the land. According to these laws, crops are not to be planted, tended, or harvested, and all agricultural activity is prohibited, although anyone can eat what the land produced naturally.
Israel observes this commandment today, and this year happens to be a Shemitah. While traveling down the highway from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, we observed signs posted in several unkempt and overgrown fields along the side of the road saying (in Hebrew), “We observe the Shemitah year here.”
Of course, this rest parallels God’s rest after creating the universe, as well as the Shabbat.
In Judaism, “seven” signifies a completion as well as holiness. It is considered the “all-encompassing number that celebrates the sacred purpose of a Jew to infuse holiness into the whole of Creation.” (Jewish Wisdom in the Numbers)
The Land of Israel is to be the Holy Land. Our behavior toward one another should portray a holy people living in the Holy Land.
God warns His people not to cheat, defraud or take advantage of one another and forbids them to charge interest on money loaned to a fellow Israelite. God wants us to deal fairly with each other and practice business integrity.
“Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 25:17)
God also makes it clear that He holds the title deed to this land and does not give us the authority to sell it permanently.
We are only residents on this land that God has given us to live in as pilgrims and strangers. That means the leaders of Israel have no right to sell off portions of the Land to the enemy in exchange for false promises of supposed peace.
“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers.” (Leviticus 25:23)
The Year of Jubilee
“Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee [יוֹבֵל Yovel] for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.” (Leviticus 25:10)
After every seven cycles of seven years, in the fiftieth year, the shofar is to sound and the Yovel (יוֹבֵל) or Jubilee year is to be celebrated. Not only is the land to lie fallow, but also all debts are to be cancelled and all indentured servants are to return to their land and family.
We serve a God of kindness and mercy, and His laws are for the good of all—even for the land itself.
Although some among the Jewish People might have endured a time of servitude, they were not to permanently remain in that situation. It is because God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt that no Israelite was to become a permanent slave of another. In the year of Jubilee, all were to be redeemed and released.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” (Leviticus 26:13)
In Judaism, 50 is the number of transcendence. It indicates a return to God and the emergence of a new creation.
Under the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant ), which was sealed with the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) on Shavuot (Pentecost) 50 days from Passover, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) became our spiritual Jubilee. In Him, all debts are cancelled. He has redeemed us from slavery to any kind of oppression and empowered us to walk in holiness with our heads held high. Halleluyah!
Living in the Blessings in the Holy Land
In the Bechukotai (In My Statutes) portion of this week’s reading, God promises a blessing upon the people if they obey His commandments in the Torah—but He warns of punishment, persecutions and even exile for disobeying them. He says:
“If you walk in My statutes [Im bechukotay teileichu], I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase.” (Leviticus 26:3–4)
We must keep in mind that God does not willingly afflict or grieve us; He only does so when it is absolutely necessary to get our attention so we can see the error of our ways and, through His mercy, put our feet back on the right path.
“For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:32–33)