Parashat Behar-Bechukotai 5777: Giving redemption to the Land
One of the biggest particularities about the People of Israel is that for the most of its history, we didn’t have a Land of our own and we still managed to maintain a national identity when living between other nations. Even without a Land we kept an emotional bond with “our” land, maybe because usually we were not allowed to own lands in the places where we lived and the discrimination against us reminded us continuously that we were not at home. This love between the People of Israel and their ancestral land was reflected in many prayers, holy books and poetry. Our Parashah occupies itself much with the centrality of the Land of Israel in our culture, including a verse rather strange: “And in all the Land of your property, redemption you will give to the Land”. How do you give redemption to the Land? We can care for it, water it, plant it, keep it healthy, all these things understandable especially in an agricultural society, but how do we give redemption to it? According to most commentaries, the verse request from us to be present in the Land of Israel. Our tradition sees the Land as part of our covenant with God. Our ancestors agreed to serve God, to accept His commandments and ethics and God agreed to keep a special relationship with our People. This relationship is articulated in the legal system of the Torah and the Talmud, as a way to develop and cultivate the mutual obligations between God and the People. Some of these commandments can only be kept in the Land of Israel, like Shmita, the sabbatical year, or all the laws of tithes. Beyond this, for a Jew there is a special feeling when being in Israel. Sometimes we cannot put into words, and it might stem from history, holiness and love. In the words of the Talmud: Said Rabbi Zeira: Learn from this, the air of the Land of Israel makes you smarter. Our generation has been so blessed. Most of our families in this Shul have their roots in Eastern Europe. Can you imagine a Jew a 100, 200, 500 years ago praying in direction to Jerusalem, but knowing he will never see it? Our ancestors could only dream about the Land, little more of a myth. Today we are a short flight away from Israel, from being there, from breathing its air. We can choose to live there if we want to. So we are commanded to give redemption to the Land. How can we understand this commandment in our days? Maybe to care about the environment, everywhere and particularly in Israel. Maybe to relate to what happens there, to care, to visit as often as we can. To learn about the issues on social justice or religious freedom that are in the news. To defend its democracy when it is under attack. Next year, the State of Israel will celebrate its 70th Independence. And we in the Shul want to organize a trip to participate in the celebrations. We are just starting to plan it, but I want to invite everyone that is interested to be in Israel for the next Yom Haatzmaut to let us know their interest and if you want to be part of the committee that will organize it, so please talk to me or with a member of the Exec. To give redemption to the land, we can still do it, let’s be thankful for the possibility of being part of its history.