Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and CHU"L will be one parsha off for the next few weeks. I will be following the schedule in Eretz Yisrael. Click here for a Dvar Torah for this week's parsha in CHU"L, Parshas Emor.
Parshas Behar discusses many property and land-based laws. The most famous laws discussed are the laws of Shemittah and Yovel. However, the parsha contains another topic that is less discussed and less understood, the laws of selling property in Eretz Yisrael.
Each tribe in Bnei Yisrael received a specific portion in Eretz Yisrael. Since owning land in Eretz Yisrael was (and is) considered a privilege and opportunity, if for some reason you were forced to sell your property, Hashem wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to buy it back. The Torah gives different conditions on this buy-back policy depending on the type of property that was sold.
A field could be redeemed beginning a minimum of two years after the sale; however, it was automatically returned to the original owner during the Yovel year, the fiftieth year of the Shemittah cycle. A house in an un-walled city had the same restrictions. The seller of a house in a walled city had up until a year after the sale to redeem the property. (The Leviim, who didn’t have a specific portion, just 48 cities scattered around the country, had no time constraints for redeeming their fields and houses. It began immediately and had no end point.)
The Ramban explains the logic behind each of these laws. Selling your house can be an emotional endeavor; your house is something you use to define your existence, it can be hard to give it up. Therefore, the Torah wanted to give you the opportunity to buy it back if you regretted the decision, but only up to a year. Spending a year and breaking in your new house clearly showed that you were happy in your new situation, so the buy-back policy expired.
In terms of fields, in those days, many people farmed. Some were full-time farmers and some were part-time, but having land to plant on was a very financially sound method of business back then. If you sold land, it was clearly a sign of hard times and not a desire to ‘get out’ of farming. Therefore, even many years later, a person would still want their land back. However, once you sold the land, it was only fair to allow the buyer the opportunity to work the fields and produce a harvest. So the Torah arranged a system. The land was ‘leased’ for a 2 to 50 year period, depending on how long until the next Yovel. The seller had to give the buyer at least two years in which he could cultivate the land in any way he wished and the buyer had to give it up at any point after that. By Yovel, the field was automatically redeemed. The field would be returned to the original owner, no questions asked; if he wanted to lease the field for another 50 years, he was free to do so. If the sale was completed within two years before Yovel, the lease was up after the following Yovel.
In those days, enemies were common and most cities had their own form of protection against any danger that might have come up. Most of the time, they built walls. However, sometimes cities built houses outside the city limits, right up against the fields which bordered the town. These houses were used to house farmhands and allow watchmen to live right next to the field they were guarding. Essentially, these houses were part of the field. Therefore, the same halachos that apply to fields apply to them as well.
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