The Torah in Parashat Behar (25) discusses various laws relevant to the sale of real property, including the provision allowing one who is forced to sell property to buy it back when he obtains the means to do so. The Torah distinguishes in this regard between batei arei choma – homes in walled cities – and other properties, stating that batei arei choma may be bought back only within the first year after the sale. If the seller does not buy the home back within a year, the sale is final, and the home does not return to the original owner even at yovel (the jubilee year). This is in contrast to other properties, which may be bought back by the original owner at any time, and if they aren’t, then they return to the owner with the onset of yovel. The Torah makes an exception to the law of batei arei choma in the case of the Leviyim’s cities: if a Levi is forced to sell his home, he is given the opportunity to buy it back at any time.
Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izhbitz, in Mei Ha-shilo’ach, suggests viewing the unique law of batei arei choma as symbolizing the potential “permanence” of interpersonal offenses. Sins committed against God alone can be atoned through repentance, whereas interpersonal offenses cannot be atoned without receiving the victim’s forgiveness (Mishna, Yoma 85b). Accordingly, the Mei Ha-shilo’ach suggests a parallel between the laws of the redemption of sold property and atonement. Most properties can be purchased back after they are sold, just as sins committed against God can be atoned at any time through the process of repentance. The law of batei arei choma, however, represents sins committed against one’s fellow, which could turn out to be a permanent stain on the perpetrator’s record if he does not seek reconciliation with the victim and earn his forgiveness. The Mei Ha-shilo’ach writes that just as the seller has only the first year to buy back the home, similarly, it is advisable for one who wronged his fellow to seek his forgiveness soon afterward, rather than allow the feelings of hostility to fester, which could make reconciliation far more difficult to achieve.
Walled cities are used to represent interpersonal offenses, the Mei Ha-shilo’ach writes, because the Gemara (Arakhin 15b) describes the lips as protective “walls” which are to prevent hurtful and inappropriate speech from leaving a person’ mouth. The case of one who sells his home in a walled city thus alludes to one who chose to surrender control over his “walled city” – his faculty of speech – and use it freely and without discretion, causing great harm to his fellow.
Addressing the unique status of a Levi’s home, the Mei Ha-shilo’ach suggests that this law reflects the notion that by devotedly serving God, we are always able, in a sense, to reclaim anything we’ve lost. The Leviyim, who ministered in the Beit Ha-mikdash, represent a life devoted to the service of God. And through the service of God, the Mei Ha-shilo’ach writes, “a person can achieve everything he’s lost.” What this might mean is that when we devote our lives to serving God, we are able to put our material possessions into a broader perspective. Financial losses mean less to us if we live with our minds focused on the goal of serving God. And thus in the cities of the Leviyim – for those who live like the Leviyim, devoted to the service of the Almighty – the loss of property is never permanent, because the financial loss will be offset by the satisfaction of serving God and maximizing one’s spiritual potential, the value of which far exceeds that of any material possession we could ever acquire.