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M7. Promoting Economic Equity through Our Institutions.    [Make a Comment]

Our institutions are to promote economic equity.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 21:2-6
If you purchase a Hebrew slave, he is to work six years; but in the seventh, he is to be given his freedom without having to pay anything. If he came single, he is to leave single; if he was married when he came, his wife is to go with him when he leaves. But if his master gave him a wife, and she bore him sons or daughters, then the wife and her children will belong to her master, and he will leave by himself. Nevertheless, if the slave declares, 'I love my master, my wife and my children, so I don't want to go free,' then his master is to bring him before God; and there at the door or doorpost, his master is to pierce his ear with an awl; and the man will be his slave for life.

Exodus 23:10-12
For six years, you are to sow your land with seed and gather in its harvest. But the seventh year, you are to let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor among your people can eat; and what they leave, the wild animals in the countryside can eat. Do the same with your vineyard and olive grove. For six days, you are to work. But on the seventh day, you are to rest, so that your ox and donkey can rest, and your slave-girl's son and the foreigner be renewed.

Leviticus 25:2-34 (Maimonides RP135; Meir ML21; Chinuch C112)
Tell the people of Isra'el, 'When you enter the land I am giving you, the land itself is to observe a Shabbat rest for ADONAI. Six years you will sow your field; six years you will prune your grapevines and gather their produce. But in the seventh year is to be a Shabbat of complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for ADONAI; you will neither sow your field nor prune your grapevines. You are not to harvest what grows by itself from the seeds left by your previous harvest, and you are not to gather the grapes of your untended vine; it is to be a year of complete rest for the land. But what the land produces during the year of Shabbat will be food for all of you - you, your servant, your maid, your employee, anyone living near you, your livestock and the wild animals on your land; everything the land produces may be used for food. 'You are to count seven Shabbats of years, seven times seven years, that is, forty-nine years. Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom-Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land; and you are to consecrate the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a yovel for you; you will return everyone to the land he owns, and everyone is to return to his family. That fiftieth year will be a yovel for you; in that year you are not to sow, harvest what grows by itself or gather the grapes of untended vines; because it is a yovel. It will be holy for you; whatever the fields produce will be food for all of you. In this year of yovel, every one of you is to return to the land he owns. If you sell anything to your neighbor or buy anything from him, neither of you is to exploit the other. Rather, you are to take into account the number of years after the yovel when you buy land from your neighbor, and he is to sell to you according to the number of years crops will be raised. If the number of years remaining is large, you will raise the price; if few years remain, you will lower it; because what he is really selling you is the number of crops to be produced. Thus you are not to take advantage of each other, but you are to fear your God; for I am ADONAI your God. Rather, you are to keep my regulations and rulings and act accordingly. If you do, you will live securely in the land. The land will yield its produce, you will eat until you have enough, and you will live there securely. If you ask, "If we aren't allowed to sow seed or harvest what our land produces, what are we going to eat the seventh year?" then I will order my blessing on you during the sixth year, so that the land brings forth enough produce for all three years. The eighth year you will sow seed but eat the old, stored produce until the ninth year; that is, until the produce of the eighth year comes in, you will eat the old, stored food. The land is not to be sold in perpetuity, because the land belongs to me - you are only foreigners and temporary residents with me. Therefore, when you sell your property, you must include the right of redemption. That is, if one of you becomes poor and sells some of his property, his next-of-kin can come and buy back what his relative sold. If the seller has no one to redeem it but becomes rich enough to redeem it himself, he will calculate the number of years the land was sold for, refund the excess to its buyer, and return to his property. If he hasn't sufficient means to get it back himself, then what he sold will remain in the hands of the buyer until the year of yovel; in the yovel the buyer will vacate it and the seller return to his property. If someone sells a dwelling in a walled city, he has one year after the date of sale in which to redeem it. For a full year he will have the right of redemption; but if he has not redeemed the dwelling in the walled city within the year, then title in perpetuity passes to the buyer through all his generations; it will not revert in the yovel. However, houses in villages not surrounded by walls are to be dealt with like the fields in the countryside - they may be redeemed [before the yovel], and they revert in the yovel. 'Concerning the cities of the L'vi'im and the houses in the cities they possess, the L'vi'im are to have a permanent right of redemption. If someone purchases a house from one of the L'vi'im, then the house he sold in the city where he owns property will still revert to him in the yovel; because the houses in the cities of the L'vi'im are their tribe's possession among the people of Isra'el. The fields in the open land around their cities may not be sold, because that is their permanent possession.

Deuteronomy 15:1-18 (Maimonides RP141-2, RN230-231; Meir MN56-57, MP62, 64; Chinuch C475-477, 480)
At the end of every seven years you are to have a sh'mittah. Here is how the sh'mittah is to be done: every creditor is to give up what he has loaned to his fellow member of the community - he is not to force his neighbor or relative to repay it, because ADONAI's time of remission has been proclaimed. You may demand that a foreigner repay his debt, but you are to release your claim on whatever your brother owes you. In spite of this, there will be no one needy among you; because ADONAI will certainly bless you in the land which ADONAI your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess - if only you will listen carefully to what ADONAI your God says and take care to obey all these mitzvot I am giving you today. Yes, ADONAI your God will bless you, as he promised you - you will lend money to many nations without having to borrow, and you will rule over many nations without their ruling over you. If someone among you is needy, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which ADONAI your God is giving you, you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from giving to your needy brother. No, you must open your hand to him and lend him enough to meet his need and enable him to obtain what he wants. Guard yourself against allowing your heart to entertain the mean-spirited thought that because the seventh year, the year of sh'mittah is at hand, you would be stingy toward your needy brother and not give him anything; for then he may cry out to ADONAI against you, and it will be your sin. Rather, you must give to him; and you are not to be grudging when you give to him. If you do this, ADONAI your God will bless you in all your work, in everything you undertake - for there will always be poor people in the land. That is why I am giving you this order, 'You must open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your land.' If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, he is to serve you for six years; but in the seventh year, you are to set him free. Moreover, when you set him free, don't let him leave empty-handed; but supply him generously from your flock, threshing-floor and winepress; from what ADONAI your God has blessed you with, you are to give to him. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and ADONAI your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this order today. But if he says to you, 'I don't want to leave you,' because he loves you and your household, and because his life with you is a good one; then take an awl, and pierce his ear through, right into the door; and he will be your slave forever. Do the same with your female slave. Don't resent it when you set him free, since during his six years of service he has been worth twice as much as a hired employee. Then ADONAI your God will bless you in everything you do.

James 1:27
The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world.

Supportive Scriptures

Deuteronomy 8:17-18
... you will think to yourself, 'My own power and the strength of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.' No, you are to remember ADONAI your God, because it is he who is giving you the power to get wealth, in order to confirm his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as is happening even today.

1 Samuel 2:7
ADONAI makes poor, and he makes rich; he humbles, and he exalts.

Ezekiel 46:16-18
Adonai ELOHIM says this: 'If the prince turns over part of his hereditary property to one of his sons, it is his inheritance; it will belong to his sons; it is their possession by inheritance. But if he gives part of his hereditary property to one of his slaves, it will be his until the year of freedom, at which time it will revert to the prince, so that the prince's heritage will go to his sons. The prince is not to take over any of the people's inheritance, thereby evicting them wrongfully from their property; he is to give his sons an inheritance out of his own property, so that none of my people will be driven off their property.'

Haggai 2:6-8
For this is what ADONAI-Tzva'ot says: "It won't be long before one more time I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasures of all the nations will flow in; and I will fill this house with glory," says ADONAI-Tzva'ot. "The silver is mine, and the gold is mine," says ADONAI-Tzva'ot.

Psalm 24:1-2
The earth is ADONAI's, with all that is in it, the world and those who live there; for he set its foundations on the seas and established it on the rivers.

Psalm 50:10-12
for all forest creatures are mine already, as are the animals on a thousand hills; I know all the birds in the mountains; whatever moves in the fields is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is mine, and everything in it.

Proverbs 22:2
Rich and poor have this in common - ADONAI made them both.

Matthew 25:14-30
For it will be like a man about to leave home for awhile, who entrusted his possessions to his servants. To one he gave five talents [equivalent to a hundred years' wages]; to another, two talents; and to another, one talent- to each according to his ability. Then he left. The one who had received five talents immediately went out, invested it and earned another five. Similarly, the one given two earned another two. But the one given one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. After a long time, the master of those servants returned to settle accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the other five and said, 'Sir, you gave me five talents; here, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Excellent! You are a good and trustworthy servant. You have been faithful with a small amount, so I will put you in charge of a large amount. Come and join in your master's happiness!' Also the one who had received two came forward and said, 'Sir, you gave me two talents; here, I have made two more.' His master said to him, 'Excellent! you are a good and trustworthy servant. You have been faithful with a small amount, so I will put you in charge of a large amount. Come and join in your master's happiness!' Now the one who had received one talent came forward and said, 'I knew you were a hard man. You harvest where you didn't plant and gather where you didn't sow seed. I was afraid, so I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here! Take what belongs to you!' 'You wicked, lazy servant!' said his master, 'So you knew, did you, that I harvest where I haven't planted? and that I gather where I didn't sow seed? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would at least have gotten back interest with my capital! Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. For everyone who has something will be given more, so that he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has nothing, even what he does have will be taken away. As for this worthless servant, throw him out in the dark, where people will wail and grind their teeth!'

Matthew 26:11a
The poor you will always have with you ...

1 Timothy 6:17-19
As for those who do have riches in this present world, charge them not to be proud and not to let their hopes rest on the uncertainties of riches but to rest their hopes on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Charge them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and ready to share. In this way they will treasure up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may lay hold of the real life.


This Mitzvah addresses our governmental, societal, and religious institutions (e.g. our national and local governments, our congregations, our families, etc.), regarding their contributions to the financial equity for us that God intends. Financial equity is not the same thing as financial equality; equity is fairness in opportunity, and God addresses this most clearly in Deuteronomy 8:18 when He says to the Israelites:

No, you are to remember ADONAI your God, because it is he who is giving you the power to get wealth, in order to confirm his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as is happening even today.

The "power to get wealth" spoken of in the Scripture is financial opportunity, but Scripture is clear that not all of us will achieve wealth, for Yeshua said in Matthew 26:11a:

The poor you will always have with you ...

Exodus 21:2-6, Exodus 23:10-12, Leviticus 25:2-34, and Deuteronomy 15:1-18, contain commandments that redistributed monetary wealth and restored land to its original Israelite owners every seven years (the Sh'mitah - the Sabbatical year) and every fifty years (the Jubilee year - also a Sh'mitah) respectively. They also command forgiving debts and releasing slaves on Sh'mitah, and the Sh'mitah is a year of rest (analogous to the weekly Sabbath) when the Israelites, along with their land and animals, were required to cease from work. It was a year when all (including those who were poor) could eat from what grew of its own accord, that was the result of the prior six years of cultivation. Food could be gathered but not methodically harvested; the latter was considered working the land, whereas the former was not.

These Scriptures, especially those about the Sh'mitah and the year of Jubilee (Yovel), difficult as they are with which to comply in today's society, remind us that it is God (and not we) who owns the land and other forms of worldly wealth and, if we acquire them, we are required to periodically return them so that other individuals and other generations may have similar opportunity. This is especially emphasized by the requirement that all land sales must be with a right of redemption by either the one who sells it or his kin.

Some argue against the foregoing by pointing out that the mandated redemption or return is not back to God, but rather back to persons and families that were previously given the land or, in the case of forgiveness of loans, to individual borrowers who had no historic right to retain what they borrowed. What causes all of this to make sense is adding to it the biblical mandate of stewardship. God ultimately owns everything, and we are mere trustees of what He owns and entrusts to us for a time. Our property, both real and personal, is temporary and intended for our own use, and also for the use of others as we are charged with generosity, and compassion for the needs of our neighbors. Whether we are good stewards of God's wealth depends on how wisely and how charitably we use His wealth - how much we use for ourselves as compared to how much of it we use to bless others.

While this Mitzvah has ramifications for our personal tithing and tzadakah (charitable giving), its purpose is mainly to mandate that we employ its principle of economic equity in how we manage our various institutions over which we have influence. The relevant Scriptures of the Torah to which I have referred cannot be literally applied today because we are subject to the laws of the secular governments under which we live that almost never make allowance for them. That notwithstanding, God wants us to incorporate the Torah principle of financial equity in the institutions that we control, and wherever else we are able.

Daniel Juster

Although the Bible allows for gaining wealth and allows for inequality of results in increase, it seems to also try to limit vast disparities of wealth and poverty. Note the text of Deuteronomy 17:16-17, that refers to the appointed king of Israel:

However, he is not to acquire many horses for himself or have the people return to Egypt to obtain more horses, inasmuch as ADONAI told you never to go back that way again. Likewise, he is not to acquire many wives for himself, so that his heart will not turn away; and he is not to acquire excessive quantities of silver and gold.

Now if this applies to the king, it must certainly apply to all others. We are not given a detailed law of its application except that the land upon which we live is to be returned. In ancient Israel, most of people's wealth (not all) was in the Land. Oddly, one could profit from the sale of land, and the resulting profit (money) would not have to be returned. Also, the Bible seems to look to some level of wisdom in financial proportionality, but does not give a rule for percentages or amounts.

Classical Commentators

This Mitzvah, in the general way it is stated, is not addressed by Maimonides, Meir, or HaChinuch. The probable reason is that their mitzvot are drawn solely from the Scriptures of the Mosaic period when economic equity was intrinsically built into Israel's societal and governmental institutions by God, so they felt that constructing a separate mitzvah commanding it was not needed.


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