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The Sanctity of the land

Parshat Behar/Yom Haatzmaut

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

Parshat Behar teaches us about the cycles of the land. Specifically it teaches about the sabbatical year and the Jubilee year.  These are cycles of land rest every seventh year and every fiftieth year.  Just like Shabbat each week, the seventh day, when human beings and work animals are to rest, every seventh year the land is to have its own Sabbath.   It cannot be worked to produce grain or vegetables or fruit and must lie fallow.

Every fiftieth year, or Jubilee year the ultimate land redistribution plan is put in place and holdings revert back to original owners, according to the Biblical text.  “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me “(Lev. 25:23). We are not to get caught up in what we own because ultimately it will revert back to original owners of the land and every seventh year we won’t be able to even till the land gaining wealth from what it produces.

The Torah is trying to teach us that the land ultimately belongs not to human beings even the original owners but to God.  The Torah is dismissive of the idea of private ownership!  This even extends to the notion of slavery in the Bible.  For every Jubilee year all slaves were released! We are lent our property according to the Bible.  We cannot measure ourselves, or define our identity through our holdings of property.

The land of Eretz Yisrael is sacred in its own right.  The holiness of the land of Israel and our connection to it has always remained an important part of Judaism.  Our focus on the land of Zion as the fulfillment of God’s promise to our ancestors is actualized in Israel reborn.  This connection of our identity to God’s holy land was never lost. It was part of our prayers, our theology and our focus as a people to return to the land.

This week we observe the modern State of Israel’s 63rd birthday.  Israel and its people are at an important crossroads in its own young life.  Israel is still threatened by hostile neighbors, like Iran and Syria.  Yet, despite these threats Israel and Israelis thrive. It is a vibrant democratic Jewish state unlike any other place in the world.

The forces within Israel on the left and the right of the political spectrum exert great pressure. Israel is trying to define itself in the face of both outer threats and inner ones. There are policies of the government that seem so difficult to understand when we live in the relative safety of America. And in a country like the United States where there is a separation of synagogue and state.  It is hard to understand that Reform and Conservative Judaism don’t have full equality in Israel.  Even as many Israelis are completely secular.

But the identity of Israel is more than just an idea. It is tied to this sacred holy land.  And our Jewish identities are tied to this holy land. That makes all of us Zionists.  And while we might disagree with a particular policy of a standing government in Israel (Just as we might here in the U.S. disagree with the Congress or the President) our connection to the Land of Israel must remain strong.

So Happy Birthday Israel.