Thursday, 14 May 2020

Shmita and the Sanctity of the Land

I have always claimed that Jews and Am Yisrael have an indispensable bond with our ancestral Homeland Land, with Eretz Yisrael. We are first introduced to it in G-d’s promise to Avraham “To your offspring, I will give that Land” in Bresheet (Genesis 12:7). This special linkage was later validated on Mount Sinai when we were given the Torah.

One of the first commandments aimed at upholding and anchoring that connection is mentioned in Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:23, where G-d instructs us to “plant any kind of fruit tree” as soon as we “enter the Land.”

Admittedly, since the dawn of history, planting trees has been an important practice in various ancient cultures towards sustaining their connection to their soil. None, however, had, I believe, the same allegiance between the two as our People and Eretz Yisrael have had.

We have all read and learned about the ecological and nourishing benefits of trees. To many, it boils down to a choice. Not so with Am Yisrael, though. For us, unlike others, it is a commandment to plant trees and for a reason. In the case of our People, it is the essence of the infinite ties with our Land which gave birth to such a directive. For Am Yisrael, the union between the two is the nexus of our covenant with G-d.

The obligation to plant trees, for Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, symbolizes the replanting of our People in its native territory. It is the renewal of that ancient covenant through performing the Mitzvah of inheriting the Land, settling it and never forsaking it (Ramban, Book of Mitzvot, D).

It is not only settling in the Land that the Torah commands us. It also charges us with the duty of taking care of it, treat it kindly and protect it. And this is one of the themes of this week’s Parasha, Behar.

I am specifically referring to Shmita. This is the Mitzvah which requires us to halt any cultivation of the land every seventh year, abandon everything that grows on it and treating its leftovers or any new sprouts with great sanctity and reverence.

Though Shmita is relevant to other important issues such as the treatment of slaves, (which I elaborated upon in an article entitled, “Judaism and Slavery” which I wrote a few years ago), I chose to address only its bearing vis-à-vis the subject of the Land.

Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Yisrael, together with G-d and Am Yisrael, constitute the backbone that defines our Jewish essence. It is the “Three Stranded Thread,” which has kept our People unified and alive over a few millennia, despite ongoing efforts to destroy it. These three are the fabric of our Jewish existence. They are interlocked, interconnected, and cemented in an unbreakable knot, which as the wise writer of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) affirms “cannot be easily severed.”

Just as our omnipotent G-d rested on the Seventh Day after completing the act of Creation and just as Am Yisrael are commanded to cease all work on the Shabbat, so that we can refresh and replenish our body and soul after the sometimes very energy depleting chores of weekdays, so does the Land need a pause. Shmita, like Shabbat or other holidays in which we are required to take a break from the mundane and busy world, rest, heal and recover has a balancing and liberating intent. It, also, serves as a constant reminder that just as we belong to G-d so does the Land that He has given us. We need to treat it with reverence just as we would G-d and our fellow Jews.

 Let us face it,  whenever a culture, a tradition respects its Land and sanctifies it, in the end, it is more likely to also venerate its own People and safeguard the dignity of Man.

That my heritage, this is our Jewish legacy. How much more blessed can one be?

Shabbat Shalom

No comments:

Post a Comment