Four (things) are called “nacḥala:” the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), as the posuk (verse) states: “You shall bring them to the mount of Your heritage (nacḥala)… [Shemot 15:17]; Eretz Yisrael is called nacḥala, as is stated: “… in the Land which the Lord, your God, gives you as a heritage (nacḥala) …” [Devarim 25:19]; Torah is called nacḥala, as is stated: “From Mattanah to Nacḥaliel…” [Bamidbar 21:19], and so, Israel, who received Torah are called nacḥala, as is stated “… My people and My heritage (nacḥala), Israel…” [Yoel 4:2] The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “Let Israel, who are called nacḥala enter Eretz Yisrael, which is called nacḥala and build the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), which is called nacḥala in the merit of Torah which is called nacḥala.
[Mechilta (Shira) chapter 10]
In a previous Dvar Torah, we discussed the four things which are called God’s kinyan (acquisition): Eretz Yisrael, Torah, the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), explaining that kinyan is not merely an expression of monetary ownership, but also a manifestation of the owner within the world.
Nacḥala Versus Kinyan
The Midrash we presented notes that the four things mentioned are not only God’s kinyan, but His nacḥala as well. Nacḥala is not an ordinary acquisition, but one that is transferred from generation to generation. Moreover, in accordance with the Torah, nacḥala may not be permanently sold. Halachically, the sale of land (in Eretz Yisrael) differs from the sale of moveable objects. Generally, when one sells a moveable object, the sale is final and the object permanently belongs to the purchaser, however, nacḥala (land in Eretz Yisrael inherited from one’s ancestors, to whom the Land was given when Eretz Yisrael was divided among the tribes) can be sold only until the Yovel year, when it returns to the seller. Thus, property sale in Eretz Yisrael is actually leasing, rather than outright sale.
There is an additional halachic distinction between the acquisition of a nacḥala and other kinyanim. With an ordinary kinyan, the seller cannot back out after the item has been acquired by the purchaser; however, with the leasing of a kinyan, the seller has the right to buy back the property at any time, and the purchaser must acquiesce, provided that he is reimbursed proportionally, in accordance with the number of years until Yovel. (As an example. If a field is bought for 400,000 shekels forty years before Yovel, the cost per year is 10,000 shekels; if the seller wishes to redeem his field after ten years, he must pay the buyer 300,000 shekels for the years remaining until Yovel.)
Why Must a Nacḥala be Returned?
Why does the Torah command that a nacḥala be returned to its original owner when he so demands, or at the latest during the Yovel year, while in other sales there are no such provisions? At first glance, we may suggest that the Torah wishes to guarantee the welfare of the poor and the weaker class, in modern terms – the laws of nacḥala convey a socialist approach, which allows one who became so destitute that he sold his nacḥala to retrieve the land and be financially rehabilitated. However, this suggestion is problematic; if the Torah’s motivation is looking after the welfare of the weak, it could have commanded that a certain sum of money be donated during the Yovel year, to be used to minimize the economic gap. Why does the attempt to achieve a financial balance require the return of nacḥala? Furthermore, one whose land is of poor quality will remain relatively poor even when the land is returned in Yovel, and we can assume that such a person would prefer a cash grant to the return of his ancestral nacḥala. The most serious question concerning the socialist suggestion is: Why return nacḥala to a wealthy person?
It seems that these questions can be answered by understanding the definitions of inheritance and nacḥala, an understanding which will bring us to an aspect much deeper than simple economics.
The Tithe of Animals
The Mishna [Bechorot 9:3] teaches that an animal purchased from another person is exempt from the tithe of animals. The Gemara [Bechorot 55b] derives this law from the posuk (verse) “… the firstborn of your sons you shall give Me, so shall you do with your cattle and with your sheep” [Shemot (Exodus) 22:28-29] – just as your firstborn sons are born to you and not purchased, so too the tithe of cattle and sheep is to be given from those which were born in your ownership, not purchased or received as a present. The Mishna continues and states that if brothers receive cattle or sheep as an inheritance from their father, they are obligated to tithe those animals. The two laws of the Mishna seem inconsistent: the first stating that only animals born in one’s ownership are liable to be tithed, while the second states that even those born in the father’s ownership must be tithed. Why should the heirs be obligated to tithe animals not born in their ownership?
Raising an additional question will allow us to examine the definition of inheritance.
Anointing the Son of a King
The Gemara [K’ritot 5b] teaches that even though a new king is to be anointed with oil, a king’s son who succeeds him is not anointed, since monarchy is inherited. We must understand why the fact that monarchy is inherited precludes the need for anointing the new king.
The Definition of Inheritance
The matter of the king who succeeds his father and numerous other examples make it clear that inheritance is not simply the transfer of assets from one person to another. Rather than the assets being transferred to the ownership of the heirs, the heirs take over their father’s status and replace him in this world. This being the case, it is understandable that heirs must tithe animals born in their father’s ownership – since their inheritance, as it were, puts them in their father’s place, the animals are considered as having been born in their ownership. As well, since monarchy is inherited, the king who fills his father’s shoes is considered as if already having been anointed.
Return of Nacḥala During Yovel
The Mishna [Bava Batra 108a] refers to the laws of inheritance as the “laws of naḥalot“. Based upon the above presentation, it is understandable why the Torah is so insistent that nacḥala be returned in Yovel and why not be sold for perpetuity. Inheritance and nacḥala are not merely assets received from one’s father, but expressions of the fact that a son carries on after his father. As noted, when a son inherits his father, he fills his father’s shoes and replaces him in this world. If nacḥala does not return to the heirs, the connection with the family heritage will be weakened and perhaps broken, a situation which the Torah wants to avoid. The Torah wants the ancestral nacḥala to be returned in order to maintain the chain of generations. It is only in the original family nacḥala that the son can truly develop his potential, since nacḥala is linked to the family. By inheriting a nacḥala, one becomes part of his family’s tradition.
Exposition of the Midrash
Based on this understanding of nacḥala, we can understand the Midrash’s reference to Eretz Yisrael, Torah, Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) and the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) as God’s nacḥala as taking us to a higher level than the earlier Midrash’s reference to these four as kinyan. While kinyan is an expression of one’s place in the world, nacḥala expresses the essence of one’s acquisitions within this world, the manner in which he fills his father’s place. Nacḥala is the tangible assets which connect a person to his roots and only through it is he able to express all the forces hidden within him, since this place has been designated for his family. We can understand the Midrash to mean that the prime manner in which God reveals Himself within the world is through the four things which are called nacḥala. That being the case, it is necessary for the four to unite in order to reveal God’s name within the world. If Am Yisrael is not within its nacḥala, Eretz Yisrael, it cannot make God’s presence in the world manifest in a complete way, because the nation is disconnected from the proper connection to its ancestors. Only when Am Yisrael is within its Land, its nacḥala, can we truly study and fulfill Torah, and with God’s help, build the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) through properly connecting the nacḥalot.