The Torah Text
Leviticus 25 teaches about the Jubilee year, a remarkable institution that requires that every fifty years, all those enslaved go free, the land takes a rest from being worked, and land property reverts to original owners as assigned by God. After declaring that last statute, that land must revert to the assigned families, the text adds God’s explanation – “for the land is mine.” What is the significance of God’s ownership of land?
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
כי לי הארץ. זה טעם נכבד וכן אמר משה בתפלתו ה׳ מעון אתה היית לנו אתה כמו מעון עומד ודור הולך ודור בא
Leviticus 25:23 FOR THE LAND IS MINE. This is an important reason. Moses similarly said in his prayer, Adonai, You have been our dwelling-place (Psalms 90:1). [The meaning of the latter is, God, You are like a permanent dwelling-place.] However, One generation passes away, and another generation comes (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
Reflections for the Path
The Jubilee rules reveal a startling balance of permanence and impermanence. You can never permanently lose your freedom or your land property. Which means that “ownership” is an impermanent practice, because as (at least some) property changes hands over the years, the system is designed with an automatic reversal of ownership every fifty years.
Ibn Ezra’s comment suggests that the permanence we see in our parashah reflects God’s eternal enduring presence. Land belongs to God. Its permanence rests in a divine ongoing-ness. Humans, however, come and go. Impermanence permeates humanity. The Jubilee helps us let go of our illusion of control and turn instead to a life that respects the flow of change. When we see our material world as ultimately not ours, we simultaneously grasp that it is only just to share our temporary possessions so that all humans can live well. Possessions don’t last (as ours anyway), yet they do matter – and through our relationship to the material world we express our value for other humans (and even animal, plant, and mineral existence). To perceive our home as God’s permanence gives us the courage and moral clarity to act as good guests and good hosts while we can.