In Jewish law, how does one assert ownership? The Talmudic term is “Hamotzi mehavero–alav hare-ayah–the burden of proof is on the one who wants to remove the object from his fellow.” Or, as we say in English, “possession is 9/10 of the law.”
This legal principle applies to those objects that can in fact be owned by someone. Such objects can range in size and value from a pencil to a plot of land. Of course one can “own” land; that’s why we have deeds to property. But at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, in Parshat Behar, we learn that land ownership is not as cut-and-dry as we might think.
“God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of God. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of God: You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land, and whatever the land produces during its sabbath is for you to eat–you, your male and female slaves, your hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield.” (Leviticus 25:1-7)
This passage portrays great contrast between the apparent ownership and dominion for which people strive, and the reality of our relationship to the land. One the one hand, how many times does the word “your” appear in this passage? And at the same time, the Torah is commanding us to become entirely dependent on that land once every seven years. The land will indeed give produce, but not as a result of any human involvement.
This passage contains profound theological messages for the Jewish People, so that’s what we will delve into on Shabbat morning. These messages are also applicable to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, which we’ll celebrate on Yom Yerushalayim next week.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,