In Parshat Behar we find three 'summary psukim' that may appear to be superfluous. In the following 'mini-shiur' we attempt to explain their importance.
Let's begin with short outline of Parshat Behar, in order to identify where these three summary psukim are located, and their significance.
A. The "shmita" cycle (25:1-7)
B. The "yovel" cycle & guidelines (25:8-22)
* SUMMARY PASUK - reason for shmita & yovel (25:23-24)
A. Helping your neighbor who had to sell his field
1. one who sold his field to a jew (25:25-28)
2. one who sold his house (25:29-34)
3. one who sold his field to a non-jew (25:35-38)
*SUMMARY PASUK - the reason (25:39)
B. Helping our neighbor who had to sell himself
1. as an "eved" [servant] to a jew (25:39-46)
2. as an "eved" [servant] to a non-jew (25:47-54)
*SUMMARY PASUK - the reason (25:55)
This outline clarifies the progression of topics in the entire Parsha, showing how the laws of shmita & yovel are followed by several applications of these laws. Even though the economic system created by the laws of "yove" is designed to protect the poor (from the rich), the Torah also commands that society must provide additional financial assistance for a neighbor in distress.
Pay attention as well to summary psukim that delimit each unit. In our shiur, we will discuss their significance.
Let's begin with the first summary pausk, which concludes the laws of yovel and explains their underlying reason:
"And the land shall not be sold [to anyone] forever, for the Land is Mine, for you are like GEYRIM v'TOSHAVIM [strangers and residents] with Me. Throughout - ERETZ ACHUZATCHEM - the land or your inheritance, you shall give the land redemption" (25:23-24)
Even though God has 'given' the land to Bnei Yisrael for their inheritance, this statement highlights how the true ownership remains His. In other words, God remains sovereign, while He allows Bnei Yisrael the right to work the land as though it was theirs. To emphasize this 'arrangement', once every fifty years the land must return to God. [Sort of like a 'fifty year lease'.]
To appreciate the wording of this pasuk, let's compare it to a similar statement made by Avraham Avinu when he approached Bnei Chet to buy a burial plot. Note the textual parallels:
"And he spoke ot Bnei Chet saying, I am a GEYR v'TOSHAV among you, please allow me to buy an ACHUZAT KEVER [burial plot] from you" (Breishit 23:3-4)
Even though Avraham was a resident in the land, he was not the sovereign power; rather Bnei Chet were. As the land was not yet his, Avraham must purchase from them an ACHUZAH (note again parallel with "eretz achuzatchem" in 25:24), a 'hold' in the land, even though Bnei Chet control it.
Therefore, when Bnei Yisrael receive the Torah at Har Sinai, as they prepare to conquer "eretz canaan", these laws of "yovel" will help them appreciate the dialectic nature of their forthcoming sovereignty over the land. In relation to the surrounding nations, once Bnei Yisrael achieve conquest - they will become the sovereign power. However, in relation to God, they must constantly remember that the land still belongs to God. He has granted to them only towards the purpose that they become His nation. The laws of "yovel", which affect the very nature of property transactions during the entire fifty year shemita and yovel cycle, will serve as a constant reminder that God has given them this land for a reason (and purpose).
This background can also help us understand what may be the underlying reason for the laws of "Terumah" - the small tithe that must be taken from the produce of land, and given to the "kohen".
Just as the resident of any land must pay a property tax to the country's sovereign power, so too Bnei Yisrael must pay a 'tax' - i.e. TERUMAH - to God, in recognition of His sovereignty over the land. Ultimately God gives this TERUMAH to the kohanim (His servants), but note how the Torah emphasizes how there are two stages in this process. First, the "terumah" is given to God:
"And when you eat from the bread of the land, you shall lift up a TERUMAH for GOD..."(see Bamidbar 15:17-21)
Then (and only afterward) God awards this "teruma" to the "kohanim":
"And God told Aharon, behold I am giving you My TERUMAH that I am keeping that Bnei Yisrael have set aside..." (see Bamidbar 18:8)
[This also explains why terumah must be eaten "b'tahara", for the kohen is eating food given to him by God. In contrast, "maser rishon" the ten percent tithe given by the Yisrael to the Levite has not "kedusha" - for it serves as a direct payment for the services that shevet Levi renders to the nation.]
After explaining the reason for yovel, the Torah continues with several related laws. As we noted in our outline, these laws divide into two distinct sections, each containing examples of when one is forced to sell either:
1) His field, or
Each set of examples focuses on the need to lend assistance for those in financial distress, and is concluded with a special summary pasuk.
Let's see how each pasuk is special.
After the laws relating to how we must help someone who was forced to sell his own field, the Torah reminds us:
"I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt to give you the LAND OF CANAAN, L'HIYOT LACHEM L'ELOKIM - to be your God" (see 25:38)
To appreciate this pasuk, we must return to our study of "brit Milah" (see Breishit 17:7-8), and the key phrase of that covenant: L'HIYOT LACHEM L'ELOKIM (see 17:7 & 17:8). Furthermore, it was specifically in that covenant that God promised ERETZ CANAAN to Avraham Avinu, and in that very same pasuk, the Torah refers to the land as an ACHUZA (see 17:8).
Based on these parallels (compare them once again to Vayikra 25:38 & the word "achuza" in 25:25), we can conclude that this summary pasuk relates to "brit milah". Let's explain why.
Recall how "brit milah" focused on the special close relationship between God and His nation, and how Eretz Canaan was to become the land where that relationship would achieve its highest potential. [The mitzvah of "brit milah" serves as an "ot" [a sign] to remind us of this covenant.]
As Eretz Canaan serves as a vehicle through which Bnei Yisrael can better develop this relationship, it is important that each person receives his 'fare share' of this land. Certainly, we would not want the ownership of the land to fall into the hands of a wealthy elite. The laws of "yovel" in chapter 25 help assure that every individual keeps his share of the land.
It also becomes everyone's responsibility to make sure that anyone who becomes less fortunate remains able to keep his portion in Eretz Canaan.
This explains the cases where one was forced to sell his land, and its summary pasuk. Now we must proceed to the next section, which discusses cases where one was forced to sell himself.
Bamidbar 25:39-54 describes cases when someone becomes so poor that he must sell himself (not just his land) to his creditor; and how we are obligated to help him buy back his freedom. These psukim conclude with the following pasuk:
"For Bnei Yisrael are servants to Me, they are My servants whom I have taken them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God." (25:55)
Now, it becomes obvious why this summary pasuk focuses on servitude, rather than land. Servitude to a fellow man would take away from man's ability to be a servant of God. Therefore, the summary pasuk of this section relates directly back to the events of Yetziat Mitzraim. [From a this perspective, this summary pasuk can be understood as a 'flashback' to "brit bein ha'btarim", for in that covenant, God had already foreseen the events of Yetziat Mitzraim (see Breishit 15:13-18).]
Even though man is free and enjoys the right to own land and determine his own destiny; he must remember that his freedom is a gift from God, and hence it should be utilized to serve Him. But even those who have achieved freedom share the responsibility to assist those in financial crisis, in order they too can remain 'free' to serve God.