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This D'var Torah was delivered at the Dorshei Derekh minyan of the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia on 16 May 2009. The full text is attached following the excerpt... What strikes me about the difference between the two texts sets – Q’doshim, looking at the neighbor or community (including the day-laborer) and B’har/B’chukkkotai, focusing on family, is that when things get really tight, there are some people who will defraud, cheat and scam their own families, relatives and kinfolk.
(The Torah doesn’t seem to know that there are folk who would sell their own mothers for a shekel under the right circumstances.)We have a saying in some parts of the African American community: “All my skin-folk are not my kinfolk.” I can’t help but to think of these texts in light of our current global economic collapse and its particular American iteration. There are scam artists who target their own ethnic and religious communities, exploiting the trust that comes with kinship. There are caretakers and relatives who use the social security numbers of vulnerable elders to commit identity theft, and parents who use the new, unencumbered social security numbers of their minor children to re-establish credit for themselves and ruin the credit of their children before they’re even old enough to drive. Financial disparity and the appearance of financial disparity can push desperate people to commit acts of desperation.
And so the Torah recognizes that no matter how hard people work, they can’t always get out from under the burden of their debts, even if they’re not being mistreated by their employers or lenders. So B’har includes provisions for debt release, the go’el and yovel.
The go’el, or redeeming-relative, redeems their indebted kin, by paying off their debt and if necessary, buying them back from debt servitude or slavery. The yovel, is plan B. For those who don’t have relatives with the means (or will) to pay off the debt, debts and their collateral are to be released every seventh year in the Jubilee. This entire system rests on an assumption of divine ownership of land.