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Weekly Davar: Behar-Bechukosai - To whom does the land belong?

(Leviticus 25-end)

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.

Torah Portion

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 the former.

Davar Torah
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 bitter enemies.

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 nodding knowingly.

‘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.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

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