The yeshiva was full Shavuos morning. In addition to all the talmidim who stayed for Shavuos, there were many guests who had come to be part of the powerful holiday experience.
Shlomi was still tired from staying up all night learning Torah. As the baal kriah read Megillas Rus, Shlomi strained to pay attention. He was inspired by the dedication of Rus and the concern of Naomi and Boaz for her. He anticipated the happy ending of the birth of David, destined to found the kingly dynasty of Am Yisrael.
However, Shlomi was confused by the interchange between Boaz and Ploni Almoni – Mr. So-and-so – and by the shoe. Who was this Ploni Almoni? More significantly, the words go’el – redeemer – and geula – redemption – were repeated in various grammatical forms over ten times! What redemption was being discussed? It seemed there was some transaction going on between Boaz and Ploni Almoni regarding Elimelech’s former property, but Naomi had already sold the field, as the verse (4:3) says.
The purpose of the shoe, and the seeming allusions to yibum added to the confusion, although clearly this was not yibum or chalitzah, since Boaz was not a brother of Machlon and Kilyon.
Shlomi decided that this year he would try to understand more clearly what was happening in the Megillah.
After davening, he went to wish Rabbi Dayan, who was davening in the yeshiva, a gut Yom Tov.
“I have a question,” Shlomi said:
“What is happening in Megillas Rus between Boaz and Ploni Almoni about geula?”
“At the time of Megillas Rus, the Yovel – Jubilee year – was in force,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “If a person sold a field that was his sedei achuza – ancestral heritage from when the Land of Israel was first divided – it would return to him in Yovel. The price of the field was thus dependent on the number of years until Yovel” (Vayikra 25:13-17).
“The seller also had the legal right of geula – redemption – to reclaim the heritage field before the Yovel, by returning to the buyer the proportional amount of the sales price. For example, if he sold the field 20 years before Yovel for $200,000, and wants to redeem it fifteen years later, he returns $50,000, since the cost of each year is $10,000.
“This enabled a person who sold his heritage due to financial need to reclaim it should his financial situation improve. For this reason, the Torah grants the right of geula only with assets that the seller gained later. However, he cannot redeem the field with assets that he initially had or that he borrowed now, unless the buyer willingly consents to sell the property back” (Kiddushin 21a; Hil. Shemittah V’Yovel 11:17-18).
“Moreover, the Torah extends the right of geula to the seller’s relatives, with priority given to the closest relative, as it says: “If your brother becomes impoverished and sells part of his ancestral heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him shall come and redeem his brother’s sale” (Vayikra 25:25).
“Thus, when the impoverished Naomi sold the field of Elimelech, the close relatives had the right to redeem it. Boaz told Rus that another person was a closer relative and had priority; our Sages explain that Ploni Almoni was Elimelech’s brother, whereas Boaz was a nephew. Ploni Almoni was willing to redeem the field, but balked at the “package deal” that Boaz proposed to also take Rus as his wife. He therefore transferred his right to redeem the field to Boaz through a kinyan sudar, which was then typically done with a shoe. This is what is described in the Megillah.
“I should mention,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “that the Midrash (Tanchuma Yashan #25) interprets allegorically the aforementioned verse in Vayikra to mean the redemption of Am Yisrael by Hashem, Who is the Redeemer closest to us!”
Verdict: When Yovel was in force, a person or his close relatives had the legal right to redeem an ancestral heritage by returning the proportional amount of the sale price to the buyer.