DEUTERONOMY 15
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[Devarim 15 Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)]


1 At the end of every 7 years [shevat shanim] thou shalt make a release [shemittah].

Each Israelite had to realize that God had loved him and done great things for him. He had therefore to love the Lord his God in return. But if that was his first and overriding duty, there was a second like unto it, as the harvest laws made plain - to love his neighbour as himself.

Each year, ... taught this same great lesson; the seventh year merely taught it more emphatically to match the stress which it placed upon the idea of redemptive rest.

The coincidence of the Sabbath Year and the Year of Release cannot be proved textually, but in view of their symbolic significance there is clearly no need to do so: it is self-evident...

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2 And this is the manner of the release [ shemittah]: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it [cancel the debt]; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called Yahweh's release [Shemittah].

The arrangement was a salutary check on avarice in the creditor, and afforded him an opportunity to appreciate what a boon was his generosity to the poor man who benefited by it.

God had taken pity on his distress in Egypt, so the nearness of the year of release was not to induce meanness in him, or a disregard of his brother's need. (See v7)

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3 Of a foreigner [nokhri] thou mayest exact it again [require a debt to be repaid]: but that which is thine with thy brother thine hand shall release [the claim];

This careful distinction... emphasized the privilege of membership of the Covenant People

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'Implicit here again, we note, as a compelling motive, is the memory of God's mercy to them in taking account of their need when defenceless slaves in Egypt. That memory was to lay even greater claims upon them, moreover, for once in seven years they were also to acquiesce cheerfully in the total cancellation of their rights as creditors.

... For what had his bondage in Egypt been but a symbol of his hopeless indebtedness to God, as a sinner? His deliverance had thus in a very real sense been a full and absolute "release" from his debts - God had granted him the total pardon of his sins. The ritual of the Year of Release thus made him consciously realize that he, having himself had his trespasses forgiven, was under the inescapable obligation to forgive in turn those who trespassed against him.

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7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates [she'arim] in thy land which Yahweh thy Elohim giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart [lev], nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:

8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need [machsor], in that which he wanteth.

9 Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart [lev beliyaal], saying, The 7th year, the year of release [shnat hashemittah], is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto Yahweh against thee, and it be sin [chet] unto thee.


The command was attended by a warning. If he proved guilty of Pharaoh's hard-heartedness God would hear his brother's cry as He had heard Israel's in Egypt, and requite his sin as He had requited Pharaoh's. The fact that his debtor was one who had been given release from Egyptian bondage entitled him to generous treatment by his richer brother as well as to all the privileges of "the Lord's release".

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15 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt [eved in Eretz Mitzrayim], and Yahweh thy Elohim redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.


God had redeemed them, everyone, from bondage so they were to confer the same benefit on those of their brethren who were in bondage to them. And in doing so had not God seen to it that they should come out "with great substance", the Egyptians being only too eager to accede to their request to borrow their possessions in the desperate endeavour to hasten their departure on the fateful night of Passover?

So they too were to ensure that their Hebrew bondservants went out liberally supplied with every necessity of life. Symbolically, as it were, they were constantly to be reliving the Exodus.

In keeping with that fact the weak and defenceless were ever to be the objects of the Israelite's solicitude, for he himself had known the perils of their position when a slave in Egypt.

"Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge: but thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing" (Deut. 24 : 17- I 8).

He had suffered in Egypt not only as a slave but as an alien. Never was he therefore to perpetrate the same wrongs as he had suffered himself against any alien in his own midst.

"If a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 19 : 33-34; cf. Exod. 23 : 9).

One law in particular made pathetic appeal to his own sense of gratitude for the freedom which he enjoyed as a slave liberated from a cruel master:

"Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him" (Deut. 23: 15-16).

The thoughtful Israelite could not fail to see a didactic purpose in this law. He was to see in the fugitive slave the reflection of himself fleeing from Egypt and to accord to him the same mercy and protection as he himself had been vouchsafed by God. Apart from humanitarian considerations any failure on his part to obey was much more than an act of disobedience: it was also an unwitting confession of spiritual blindness.

There was always a risk that such blindness might lead to the oppression of a fellow Israelite. This was emphatically forbidden.

All Israelites - high and low, rich and poor - were equal in their enjoyment of redemption from Egypt and membership of the Covenant nation. None was to forget it: so none was allowed to make a bondman of another Israelite.

"And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: but as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee and serve thee unto the year of jubile: and then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return. For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as bondman. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God" (Lev. 25: 39-43).

Such bondmen were always to be foreigners: "they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel ye shall not rule one over another with rigour" (verse 46). A foreigner on the other hand was not allowed to make a bondman of any Israelite who sold himself into his service: "As a yearly hired servant shall he be with him: and the other shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight" (verse 53).

Any Israelites who could were to regard it as a bounden duty to redeem any such needy brother and thus remove the anomaly presented by a member of the Covenant People serving one of the heathen.

As for any Israelite who esteemed the privileged status of his brother so lightly as to kidnap and sell him for gain, only one punishment was appropriate: "If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you" (Deut. 24: 7). Liberty was the God-given right of an Israelite. Even if his brethren failed in their duty by not redeeming him, that right was safeguarded by his automatic release in the usual way (cf. Deut. 15: 12).

"For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 25 : 55).

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21 And if there be any blemish [mum] therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish [serious defect], thou shalt not sacrifice it unto Yahweh thy Elohim.

God demanded perfection of service. And to make it clear what was particularly abhorrent to Him in His People, two blemishes were named expressly-"as if it be lame, or blind". That is lameness of spiritual walk, or blindness to spiritual duty, ill befitted the People of God.

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