On Mount Sinai, G‑d communicates to Moses the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles:

When you come to the land which I give you, the land shall keep a sabbath to G‑d.

Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit.

But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath for G‑d; you shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.

Even that which grows of its own accord in the field and vineyard may not be harvested in the Shemittah year; instead,

The sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you, and for your servant, and for your maid, and for your hired worker, and for your stranger that sojourns with you; and for your cattle, and for the wild beast in your land shall all its increase be food.

The Shemittah years express our trust in G‑d as provider:

And if you shall say: What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our produce!

But I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. You shall sow on the eighth year and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in, you shall eat of the old store.


The seven-year Shemittah cycle is part of a greater cycle—the 50-year Jubilee cycle. After counting seven Shemittahs—forty-nine years—

You shall sound the shofar on the tenth day of the seventh month, on the Day of Atonement shall you sound the shofar throughout all your land.

You shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants thereof: it shall be a Jubilee for you. You shall return every man to his estate, and you shall return every man to his family.

In addition to being a year of emancipation, in which indentured servants are set free and ancestral lands revert to their original owners, the fiftieth year is also a year on which all work on the land ceases, as in the seventh year of each Shemittah cycle.

Selling Land

The Parshah goes on to outline the Torah’s laws on commerce and property rights.

The ownership of movables—objects other than real estate and people—can be permanently transferred from one person to the other with a sale. The Torah only warns, “You shall not defraud one another.”

But in the Land of Israel, where each tribe was allotted its province and each family its estate, “the land may not be sold forever, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.”

So if a person becomes destitute and is forced to sell his estate, the “sale” is in fact only a long-term lease until the next Jubilee year, at which time it reverts to the owner. Thus,

According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewness of years you shall diminish the price of it; for what he sells you is a number of years of produce.

Furthermore, at any time (after two years from the time of the sale), the seller, or his close relative, has the option of “redeeming” the field from the buyer by giving him the equivalent value of the remaining years until the Jubilee.

All of the above, however, does not apply to the sale of a home within a walled city. Such a sale can be “redeemed” during the first year only; if the seller or his relative do not exercise this right, it remains in the hand of the buyer, nor does it revert to its original owner on the Jubilee year.

(Regarding the Levites, who did not receive estates in the Holy Land, only cities in which to live, the sale of a home in the city does return to the Levite owner in the Jubilee year, “for the houses of the cities of the Levites—these are their estate among the children of Israel.”)

Prohibition of Usury

If your brother grow poor, and his means fail with you, then you shall support him—be he a stranger or a citizen—that he may live with you.

Take no usury of him, or increase, but fear your G‑d, that your brother may live with you.

You shall not give him your money upon usury, nor lend him your foodstuffs for increase. I am G‑d your G‑d.

The Indentured Servant

And what of the person so impoverished that he has nothing to sell but his own self?

If your brother who dwells by you grows poor, and be sold to you, you shall not work him as a slave.

But as a hired servant and as a citizen he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the year of Jubilee.

Then shall he depart from you, both he and his children with him, and shall return to his own family, and to the estate of his fathers shall he return.

One Jew can never be another’s slave, for they are all G‑d’s servants:

For to Me are the children of Israel servants; they are My servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; I am G‑d your G‑d.

The Parshah of Behar (“on the mountain”) concludes with a warning against idol-worship, and yet another reiteration of the mitzvah of Shabbat.