Laws of the Land of Israel

Dear Friends,

I thought I would share with you a thought I had from the holy city of Tzefat (Safed), sitting with a group of former students from Dallas, now living in that special city. 

The Torah, in this week’s parasha reading of Behar, enumerates the mitzvos which are unique to the Land of Israel. It commands us to allow the land to “rest” during the Sabbatical year (Shemita, which is currently being observed by many farmers in Israel all this year). 

The 49th year, also a Sabbatical year, is followed by the Yovel, or Jubilee year. During this year, not only does the land lie fallow, also all purchased lands over the past 49 years go back to their original owners. This includes the families of those who inherited those lands when the Jews first entered Israel after leaving Egypt. Also, indentured slaves, who sold themselves into perpetual slavery, go free that year as well. This affects the value of a field being sold, always taking into account how many years are left for the purchaser to use it until it is returned at the Jubilee year.

The Torah then discusses that homes in certain cities which were sold due to financial troubles can be redeemed up to a certain time, depending on the location. 

Many of these laws preclude the possibility of one becoming too powerful of a land or slave owner, as most purchases eventually go back to their original owners.

This section ends with the verse, “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt to give you the Land of Canaan, to be to you as a G-d” (Leviticus 25:28). Rashi, the classical commentary, explains the meaning of this verse. “One who lives in Israel is one who has a G-d; one who leaves it to go to the diaspora is like one who doesn’t have a G-d.” This obviously needs explanation; what about all the righteous Jews throughout the diaspora’s history? Did they not have a G-d?!

My understanding of Rashi is predicated on the words of the verse, which refer to Israel as “eretz Cana’an,” the land of Canaan, as Israel is called throughout the Torah. What does this name mean?

Early sources explain this with the root word “hachna’ah,” or humility. Israel, in which G-d’s presence is so strongly felt, is a place which brings one to humility. The Talmud teaches that G-d rests only upon those who are humble, hence He rests in Israel. The laws enumerated above are a “check system” to ensure that the Jews of Israel do not become too controlling and haughty, ensuring the continuity of G-d’s closeness and presence felt there. 

I thought of this sitting with former students from Dallas, all living, working and learning in Israel in the city of Safed, a city known for its holiness. It’s a place Jews come from around the world to pray. G-d’s presence is strongly felt there, especially with the holy lives these special students are living. My wife and I felt greatly humbled to be in their presence.

May we all merit to share this soon, when we all return to the Land of Israel!

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.

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