Light from the Sidra

Behar ('On Mount [Sinai]'). 8 May 2014. 10 Iyyar 5774.

Torah: Leviticus 25:1-26:2; Jeremiah 32:6-27.

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)


A few years ago, a listener phoned Radio 4’s Any Answers programme to ‘remind the programme’s listeners that in 1948 Jews from Western Europe invaded Palestine and forcibly expelled two million Arabs from their homes. Israel, said the caller, was established with the help of ‘a bunch of terrorists’ and it was not enough to say the Palestinians could have ‘their own little state’; they should be given the entire land!

The caller’s summary of the last sixty years of Middle East history was almost entirely wrong and when asked if he thought there should be any place for the Jews in the land, the gentleman replied that he had no answer to the question.

Others would have no hesitation in saying that the land we call ‘Israel’ belongs to the Jewish people. Some would go so far as to say that Israel should have no compunction about expelling its Arab citizens.

How should we view Israel and the land?

First of all, with its teaching on the Yuval (Jubilee) and slavery, Leviticus 25 makes it clear that the land does not belong to Israel; it belongs to God. ‘The land [Hebrew: eretz] shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for you are sojourners and residents with Me’ (verse 23).

When King David wrote in Psalm 24:1, ‘HASHEM’s is the earth, and its fulness; the inhabited land, and those who dwell in it.’ The earth [ha eretz] David was referring to was probably eretz Y’Isroel, the land of Israel.

Secondly, no Israelite owned another Israelite. An Israelite who had fallen on hard times might sell himself into servitude but when the Yuval came he was free to leave the service of his master. Israel’s ethical code was rooted in the fact that HASHEM was real, that he was Melech Olam, the King of the Universe, and therefore the land of Israel as well as the rest of the world belonged to him. He had the right to determine how his people should live in his land.

Third, contrary to the opinion of the Prince of Wales, the Bible is a ‘green’ book. But the ecology of the Bible is built not on the pagan concept the divinity of the land but on the sovereignty of the Creator. The people of Israel were to keep every seventh day holy to God. Every seventh year was to be holy to God also and the land was to lie fallow. The benefit derived from allowing the land to rest retarded the rate of salinization of the soil caused by irrigation. Due to exhaustion of the soil and high salt content, large areas of arable land in ancient Mesopotamia had to be abandoned. But HASHEM revealed to Moses that the land belonged to him, and he knew what was best for the land and what was best for the people. So every seven years all the farmers had a year’s holiday!

But there is far more to Leviticus 25 than ‘green issues.’

God created the world in six days and “rested” on the seventh day. The children of Abraham, being called to reflect the image of God and therefore, after six days of work, on the seventh day they were also to rest. In addition, every seventh year was to be a year of rest. And finally, after seven sevens of years, freedom was to be proclaimed for the land, for property and for slaves.

The fiftieth year was the year after the seventh Sabbath year, which meant it was a new beginning for the nation. They were beginning a fresh cycle of seven years.

The Haftarah is interesting in this respect because Jeremiah is to redeem property on the eve of Judah’s destruction. The enemy was at the gates of Jerusalem and Jeremiah was to redeem his family property as a token of his trust that the people, in spite of their sins, would by God’s grace return to the land possess it after seventy years. Ten times seven years will serve as full punishment enough for the people. The incident follows the promise of the Brit Hadashah (New Covenant) in Jeremiah 31, which guarantees Israel’s perpetual possession of the land.

Another interesting and relevant passage is Daniel 9 in which seventy sevens of years are determined for the Jews and for the holy city to finish transgression. This is Israel’s ultimate Jubilee, when the people will be liberated from sin and transgression through the Messiah who will be ‘cut off’ by death, after which Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed. After Messiah was cut off for sins there was no more need for the sacrifices, and so God removed the Temple.

Liberty from sin? Now that is something to celebrate. That is a jubilee!

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