“And if his hand cannot find enough to pay him back, what he sold shall be in the hands of the buyer till the jubilee year” Leviticus 25:28


Shemittah and yovel are deceptively different. 

The shemittah year occurs every seven years. In this sabbatical year, the produce of the land is ownerless and people may partake of any fruit or vegetables still growing, even in private fields.

The yovel year occurs every fifty years. In this jubilee year, slaves return to a state of freedom and any land that has been sold is returned to its original borders as allocated when the Jews entered the Land of Israel. 

When looked at superficially, the yovel year seems to be a more intensive version of the shemittah year. In addition to the land “returning” to God, there is an added “return” of slaves and previously sold properties.

However, if we take a deeper look, the two are actually opposites. The theme of the shemittah year is that we as humans relinquish our possession of land to a higher Source. The shemittah year is also referred to as a Shabbaton, a Sabbath. 

Just as on Shabbat we recognise that all our talents and abilities are God-given and we dedicate those powers to the service of Hashem, in the shemittah year we acknowledge that our abilities to grow produce are limited to the means that are given to us by Hashem. It is a time of humility when we are at the whim of God.

But the yovel year marks something entirely different. The return of slaves and land every fifty years entails the return of humans to their dignity. Those who were forced to sell their property reclaim it, bringing it back to its rightful owner, and rightful tribe.  

With this we proclaim that Hashem “plants” us each in our specifically allotted place and that it is our responsibility to occupy that place and make use of our portion. The yovel year is not the time to be humble, it is a time to stand up tall and proud. It is a time to view our portion as our responsibility.


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