Israel and humility

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I was intrigued by what you wrote in your last column, that through the mitzvos which are tied to the Land of Israel one can attain humility beyond any other part of the Torah. You hinted that you might explain that in a future column; do you mind doing that now?


Mike K.

Dear Mike,

The Torah, in the parasha of Behar (Leviticus Ch. 25), outlines many of the mitzvos connected to the Land, which apply only in Israel.

It begins by outlining the details of Shemita, the Sabbatical year. For six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, and the seventh year should be a Sabbatical year, a complete rest for the Land. You, and all who wish, may partake of the produce which grows on its own, but you may not work the land or plant any produce.

After seven cycles of seven such years, the 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee year. As during Shemita, the Land may not be worked and the produce belongs to all. Furthermore, in that year all lands revert back to the original families who inherited that land when the Jews first entered Israel from Egypt. All indentured servants likewise go free of their bonds in the Yovel year. Hence, whenever a wealthy landowner purchases a field or servant, they never purchase them outright, rather they calculate the value of the purchase prorated on a 49-year cycle, knowing they will never own them completely, and after the 49th year, they become like everyone else!

This was the case in the largely agricultural society that existed at the time of the Torah, which punctuates the large-scale effect this had on the entire Jewish people of the time.

There are further laws outlined in that section, such as, fields and houses in particular areas can always be bought back by the seller upon him being able to afford the purchase of those holdings which he was forced to sell due to poverty. Similarly, the Jews were commanded to help out the poor with loans and the like and do their best to ensure that no Jew falls into abject poverty.

At the end of this list of laws the Torah ends by saying, “I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to be G-d unto you” (Leviticus 25:38). Rashi explains this verse to mean that if we reside in Israel, He will be to us our G-d; if we leave it for the diaspora, He will not be our G-d. This is a shocking statement and needs explanation.

My understanding is based on the Talmudic statement that G-d resides among those who exercise humility but stays away from those who are haughty. He says to the haughty one, “There isn’t room for you and I to reside in the same place!”

This is G-d’s summary of the laws which pertain to the Land. They are a type of check system to guarantee the Jews of Israel never get too much wealthier — and haughtier — than the others through their land and holdings, rather ensuring that, on the whole, the Jewish nation remains humble.

That’s why Israel is called, throughout the Torah, “Canaan” rather than the more modern name of Israel. Canaan, from the root “hachna’a,” means humility. The humility borne through the observance of these laws opens our hearts and minds to become vessels worthy of receiving G-d’s presence, the Shechina, in our lives.

Someone who “leaves Israel for the diaspora,” as Rashi says, who gives that up to exile for the sake of amassing riches in a place where he is not bound by these laws, will surely become haughty and for him, “I will not be for him his G-d”; there’s no room for G-d in his haughtiness.

This is what is unique about the laws of the Holy Land. This is why Moses, “the humblest man on the face of the earth,” so desired to enter that Land and fulfill its laws.

May we all merit to do so very soon!

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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