Weekly Davar: Behar-Bechukosai - To whom does the land belong?
17th May 2012
25th Iyyar 5772
GOOD AFTERNOON!! This portion is all about the
ownership of land – specifically, the Sabbatical year, shmita. The
concept of shmita is a year in which to remember that our sustenance
ultimately comes from God, not the material world. At a time of double
dip recession, inflation and a significant currency on the brink of
collapse, that’s a very encouraging thought.
The Torah portion begins with the laws of the Sabbatical year where the
Jewish people are commanded to desist from all agricultural activity
every seventh year. Every 50th year is the yovel, the Jubilee (a word
which clearly comes from the Hebrew) year, where agricultural activity
is also prohibited. The portion also talks about land ownership and the
buying and selling thereof. In Jewish law, there is no such thing as
selling a freehold. Land can only ever be leased.
The second portion talks firstly of the good that will befall the Jewish
people if they live up to their billing of being a light to the nations
and then it talks about what will happen if not. Unfortunately, the
latter part of the portion is much more the story of Jewish history than
To whom does the land belong?
There is a story that I heard from a colleague of mine, Rabbi Aryeh Sampson that I love to tell on the topic of land ownership.
Two wealthy Jewish men once lived in a town in Eastern Europe. They were
great friends, but one day they entered into a dispute over a small
piece of land. Each one felt that it belonged to him and slowly, over
time, the issue came between them.
For men as wealthy as they, it was such an insignificant piece of land,
but each was insistent that it belonged to him and the dispute grew more
and more unpleasant. After a while, they no longer talked to each
other; they no longer acknowledged each other and eventually they became
Although neither wished to, members of the community convinced them to
go to the local Rabbi and have him resolve the argument. Each one
presented his case and the Rabbi listened carefully.
The Rabbi asked to go and see the land in question. When they got there,
it was clear that the land was worth very little and in relation to
their portfolios, was completely meaningless. The Rabbi said to them
that he could not decide who was right and in a case like this, the best
thing was to ask the land itself. Both thought he was crazy as they
watched him put his ear to the ground and listen carefully. He stood up
‘The land has resolved this issue for us,’ he explained to them. Each
was eager to hear. ‘The land told me,’ said the Rabbi, ‘that each of you
thinks that this land belongs to you. The truth of the matter is,
however, that one day soon both of you will actually belong to it.’
Perspective is so important in life. We can so easily find ourselves
swept away on a tide of pettiness and lose all sense of what is truly
important to us. Land is never more important than friendship, in the
same way as money is never more important than a spouse, nor work more
important than children. It’s a sobering thought that one day every one
of us will ‘belong’ to the earth. With that in mind, ask yourself if
those things which are frustrating you right now are really all that
important. Business is not going well; your house is falling apart;
people aren’t respecting you….. will any of these things really matter
in 5, let alone 50 years? Life is just too precious and too fleeting to
waste on petty things.
Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
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