The Coin's Revolt

The jubilee passage reflects a theologization of the economic system. At the head of the monarchic model is God, who owns all the land on earth.

The mitzvah of observing a jubilee year (shnat yovel ) defines the nature of the relationship between man, earth and God. Once every 50 years, "liberty throughout the land" must be proclaimed and a jubilee must be declared: "and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family" (Leviticus 25:10 ). All lands that have changed hands in the previous 50 years must return to their original owners, the economy must be recalibrated and the real estate market must go back to square one. The reason for this is given later: "And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and settlers with Me" (Lev. 25:23 ).

The jubilee passage reflects a theologization of the economic system. At the head of the monarchic model is God, who owns all the land on earth. For their part, human beings become tenant farmers, and thus their property rights are limited. Equal opportunities are not offered to them in terms of giving them the right, for example, to buy and sell property. But the division of the land of Canaan into plots (nahalot ) does constitute a totally egalitarian distribution, which is perpetuated with the help of observance of the jubilee year. Even if one person has amassed a fortune while another has lost huge amounts of money during that period, no one is allowed to convert money into land in any absolute manner.

"The Sower" by Jean-Francois Millet (1850).

The currency-based economic system is actually a system of representations. The coin is a hard object that represents and replaces something that is real, thus enabling people to influence reality. It can also be seen as a refined cultural representation, or symbol of the phallus. One can therefore see property ownership as a means for establishing order in a male-dominated system; its conceptualization as such gives new meaning to the verse regarding the jubilee year. As set forth there, man cannot maintain irreversible, permanent property relations with other men because there is no absolute coin that is equivalent to the value of land.

According to the above passage, the economic system is relative; property value is determined in accordance with proximity to the jubilee: "According to the number of years after the jubilee thou shalt buy of thy neighbor, and according unto the number of years of the crops he shall sell unto thee. According to the multitude of the years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of the years thou shalt diminish the price of it; for the number of crops doth he sell unto thee" (Lev. 25:15-16 ).

Thus, for example, immediately after the jubilee year, a piece of land is worth five coins; after 10 years, it will be worth four; and after another decade, three. The jubilee year's horizon determines the relative nature of the "human" currency and thus the relative nature of the human phallus, which cannot purchase the land by itself, just as it cannot make the land be fruitful and multiply by itself. The landowner, the one with the phallus, is the one who owns the coin: God. He lends the coin of his potent power to man so that the latter can work the land for those 50 years. This act enables man to be fruitful and multiply within that period. At the end, the property is essentially freed of the manipulations it was subject to and returns to its original owner.

This description is imprecise, however. A closer reading of "And ye shall ... proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" teaches that it is not the land that is freed up and returned to its original owner. Because property cannot be held in captivity, it cannot be released. It is man who is granted liberty.

The economic system described in this week's reading redefines the state of humanity, and, to all intents and purposes, its changes as well. If God is the male element in reality and land is the female element that is fruitful and multiplies with the help of divine buying power, what is man? The Mishna states: "Man was created as a unique being in order to demonstrate God's greatness. Man can produce several coins with a single seal and all the coins will be identical; however, the King of Kings, Blessed be He, produces each human being with Adam's seal and yet none of them is identical with anyone else. Thus, each person must say, 'The world was created for me'" (Mishna, Tractate Sanhedrin, 4:5 ).

God created Adam as a unique being, as a unique coin with an absolute value. Every human being is in fact an archetype of a coin. While such coins represent human potential and all are of equal value, which is steadily duplicated and depreciates over time, the divine coin represents divine potential and is thus unique, absolute, possessing a value that is equal to all reality and - chiefly - cannot be duplicated.

Once every 50 years, the land returns to its original owner, humanity, and along with the economic system it withers, dies and is reborn, with heightened fortitude. The man-coin loses its value, withers; the metaphorical phallus dissipates, the absolute phallus is revealed, and then man is provided with a new "line of credit" for another 50 years. This is a phallocentric "celebration" in which God reminds the world who is its first master.

Such a perspective reveals the radical nature of the interpretations offered by our sages. Had they defined man simply as God's coin, this would have been an accurate translation of the economic perception referred to in Leviticus' jubilee passage. However, that explanation ends with an ethical projection of the act of coining on the consciousness of the coin - that is, man: "Thus, each person must say, 'The world was created for me.'" It is now clear what man releases himself from in the 50th year.

This Oedipal picture - in which man, as a metaphorical coin, helps God in his conjugal relationship with the earth - encourages man to rebel against the framework that has been imposed on him: to rebel against economic cyclicality, the clearly defined boundaries of the market and the constant depreciation of the value of the human phallus, especially the metaphorical one. From the standpoint of our sages, the revolt expresses itself in the radical reversal of the role of the currency. A person who declares, "The world was created for me," dispenses with the human coin and turns the world in which he lives into his property, without the "mediation" of that coin. The land's value might depreciate as the jubilee year approaches, just as the value of the metaphorical human coin depreciates.

However, when the man-coin understands why the man was created as a unique being and comprehends that he himself, created in God's image, is a unique and even divine coin - then the entire system is turned upside-down and is transformed from a system that castrates man into one that serves him. Although the practices of the jubilee year do not vary, in essence, man undergoes cognitive changes: When liberty is proclaimed throughout the land, he can once more return home as a free individual and can declare with total conviction, "The world was created for me."


Yakov Z. Meir's book "Gam Tzipor" (The Sparrow Too ), a novel about the Second Lebanon War, was recently published in Hebrew by Hakibbutz Hameuchad.