Parashat B'har

Our Love For The Land Of Israel

The commandment to bring the redemption of the Land of Israel reminds us of the inextricable link between Judaism and Israel.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University.

One of the central paradoxes of Jewish history is that the Jewish people were landless through most of our history. Yet, we were always profoundly aware of our link to the Land of Israel, perhaps because we did not live in a place we could call our own. The intense love between the Jews and their homeland permeated our prayers, our Torah and our hearts. Today's Torah portion speaks directly to the centrality of the Land of Israel in Jewish thought and deed. God instructs the Jewish People, "You must provide for the ge'ulah (redemption) of the land."

love for israelWhat does it mean, to bring redemption to a land? It might make sense to use tangible terms--"irrigate" the land, "fertilize" the land, even "cultivate" the land. Those are terms upon which a farmer would act and recognize. But how does one "redeem" a land?

According to most biblical commentators, this verse is understood as mandating a loving Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. Thus, Hizkuni (France, 13th century) interprets our verse to mean that "there can be no [permanent] selling, only [temporary] dwelling."

Jews do not have the right to sever their connection to the Land of Israel. That claim--our inextricable link to the Land of Israel--is at the very core of biblical and rabbinic religion. The Land is referred to as an "ahuzzah," a holding--given to the Jewish People as God's part of our brit, our covenantal relationship. Our ancestors agreed to serve only God, and God agreed to maintain a unique relationship with the Jewish People.

That relationship was given form in the detailed legislation of the Torah and the Talmud as a way of shaping and cultivating the reciprocal obligations between God and the Jews. And the one place in the world where the Jewish People could act on every part of our 'brit' was within the Land of Israel. Only there could all the laws and practices of Judaism receive their full articulation, because, in the words of Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (Italy, 16th century), "Outside of the Land [of Israel], there is no Sabbatical Year, nor a Jubilee Year."

The many agricultural mitzvot (commandments)--of leaving gleanings for the poor, of offering first fruits and others--were operative only within the Land of Israel. There, in the Land, the Jew could most directly encounter God and sanctity.  What was true in the past is true today as well. There is a special quality to the Land of Israel that exists nowhere else in the world. In the words of the Talmud, "the air of the Land of Israel makes one wise."

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.