“And if your brother becomes poor, and his means fail with you, and you shall uphold him: as a stranger and a settler shall he live with you. Take no interest from him or increase; but fear your G-d; so that your brother may live with you. You shall not give him your money with interest, or give your food for increase. I am Hashem your G-d, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your G-d.” (From this week’s Torah portion (in Israel), Behar, Leviticus 25:35-38)
The Torah portion of Behar holds the keys to the Jewish answer to the socialism vs. capitalism debate.
In this Torah portion we learn of the sanctity of a Jew’s portion of land in Israel and the obligation of the landowner to leave the produce in the corners of his field (and what was forgotten or dropped) for the poor. The landowner is not giving anything up. The produce that he leaves for the poor does not belong to him, in the first place. If he does not leave it in the manner specified in the Torah, he has robbed the poor of what was rightfully theirs. This can be misunderstood as a socialistic approach to economics.
On the other hand, the Torah is acutely capitalistic about property. Even if a person sold his field to others, it must be returned to its original owner in the Jubilee year. A Jew’s land (in the Land of Israel, of course) is not real estate. It is sanctified unto him and if necessary, must be redeemed. But the landowner is not allowed to do business with his sanctified property as he pleases. In essence, the landowner is leasing the property from G-d – according to G-d’s rules.
This is how the Torah maintains the balance between capitalistic liberty and the concern for human well-being professed by socialism: The liberty of private ownership and the exclusive rights of the individual over his life and property on one hand, and the servitude to G-d – and not to a person or system that will forcibly reallocate property to others, on the other.
How do we translate these ideas to our times? Liberty from servitude is G-d’s will – but the only way to acquire it is to accept G-d’s mastery over all.