Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai: But tenants of the Lord

0 Comments 16 May 2017

To whom does the land belong to? Is living here a natural right of practicing a specific religion or belonging to a group, or must it be earned through merit? In his dvar Torah to Parashat Behar-Bechukotai, rabbinical student Raanan Mallek questions the nature of ownership of the Holy Land, and explores how  such can be a force of unity and justice.

“And the Land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the Land is Mine; for you are strangers and temporary residents with Me." Photo :User:י.ש. - The Hebrew Wikipedia[1], CC BY-SA 3.0

“And the Land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the Land is Mine; for you are strangers and temporary residents with Me.” Photo :User:י.ש. – The Hebrew Wikipedia[1], CC BY-SA 3.0

By Raanan Mallek

In Parashat Behar we learn about an ideal of returning the land to its original owners at the end of a fifty year cycle.  As we approach fifty years since the Six Day War, many of us are asking the question of what such an ideal would look like.  Intrinsic to answering this is an understanding of who the original owners are in the land.  Do we go back fifty years, seventy years or perhaps two thousand years?  What establishes “ownership” over the Holy Land?

Leviticus 25:23 says, “And the Land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the Land is Mine; for you are strangers and temporary residents with Me.”  A general principle can be established that the Holy Land is not owned by anyone but the Lord and that we are all but “temporary residents.” What is the halachic definition of a “temporary resident” or a Ger Toshav?

The Babylonian Talmud in Avodah Zara 64b relates Rabbi Meir saying that a Ger Toshav is a non-Jew who takes upon him/herself in the presence of three witnesses not to worship idols.  The Sages, on the other hand, declare that a Ger Toshav is a non-Jew who takes upon him/herself the seven Noahide Laws.  What relevance does this have for us today?  In a different part of the Babylonian Talmud (Arachin 29a), Rabbi Simeon b. Eleazar says that without a Jubilee Year, there can be no status of a Ger Toshav.

I would like to suggest that there is a greater principle coming from the verse in Leviticus.  Even the Israelites themselves are but tenants of the Lord; they are also resident aliens when it comes to how the Lord sees Himself alongside us in the Land.  Only when we live up to the terms of the covenant do we merit the rights and the responsibilities of living in the Land.  The root of the word ‘federal’ is the Latin foedis which means covenant.  Federalism is thus a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by a covenant with a governing representative head.  Could the idea of a covenant, an idea which belongs to the culture of all peoples of this Land, be the vehicle through which we can reconnect with one another in a time of seeming hopelessness?

The Holy Land is not intended to solely belong to one religion whether that religion is Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. All residents have responsibilities while residing in this Land. These responsibilities call on us to act in a just way so as to bring about a peace at whose core is a vision of equality and justice for all. Shabbat Shalom.

Raanan Mallek, M.Ed., is now serving his second year on the board of Rabbis for Human Rights.  He is a third year rabbinical seminary student at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary focusing on how the halachic status of non-Jews in the State of Israel can contribute to better relations and meaningful interreligious dialogue. Raanan is also the events coordinator for the Tantur Ecumenical Institute where he organizes Praying Together in Jerusalem, Tuesdays at Tantur and other interreligious gatherings.  He can be contacted at [email protected]

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