"Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof."
38th day of the Omer
Americans will no doubt recognize the words that appears on the Liberty Bell that has sat in the city of Philadelphia for over two hundred years. The words originally appeared in this week's Torah reading of Behar-Bechukotei. It wasn't the tolling of a bell that proclaimed liberty throughout the land of Israel, but the shofar. Nor was it liberty of a political nature that the shofar announced, but liberty of a deep spiritual nature. Nor was the proclamation of liberty intended only for the human inhabitants of the land, but also, and essentially, for the land itself.
Peoples around the world attach great spiritual value to their native lands, whose beauty and bounty come to symbolize the strength and prosperity of the nation. But the spiritual nature of the land of Israel is different than that of any other land in that it doesn't emanate from the people living on it, but directly from G-d Himself. And while the land of Israel is intended by G-d, from the beginning of time, solely for the people of Israel, the land is nevertheless commanded by G-d to reject the people of Israel if they fail to fulfill the word of Torah, especially as it applies to the land itself.
In turn, Israel is commanded to respect and honor the spiritual integrity of the land by letting her fields and vineyards and orchards lie fallow every seven years, and again on the fiftieth Yovel, (Jubilee), year, which follows every cycle of seven sets of seven years. On this fiftieth Yovel year the land of Israel is liberated from the toiling hands of man, and reverts to its true and only owner, HaShem.
There are among us those who claim that the land of Israel is nothing more than a patch of dirt, a parcel of real estate, with no value other that what it can reasonably be exploited for, and when its cost, as it were, is greater that its return, it should be forthwith jettisoned. And while these same detractors might even admit the historical connection between the people of Israel and the land of Israel, they will nevertheless deny that it was or is anything more than a stomping ground, convenient or otherwise.
While in the desert, G-d prepared carefully the children of Israel for their eventual entry into the land, not by revealing to them the land's hidden mineral or energy resources, or its strategic depth, vital as these features may be to both ancient and modern states. G-d first and foremost revealed the land's autonomous spiritual identity as embodied by the commandments concerning Shmitta and Yovel.
The land of Israel, like the Shabbat stands alone and independent. The land of Israel, bereft of its people for two thousand years became a vast wasteland, of no use to anyone, but it never lost, not for a moment, its sanctity. Likewise, the Shabbat retains its holiness whether or not a particular person or persons observe and honor it. And just as one would not consider compromising their allegience to the holy Shabbat in order to gain favor in the eyes of others, it is likewise unthinkable to compromise in any way the integrity of the land of Israel for the sake of currying political good will from even the most powerful of earthly potentates.
The relationship between the people of Israel and the land of Israel is that of husband and wife, in which mutual love and respect creates a home in which G-d's presence, the Divine Shechina, dwells. Torah states unequivocally the relationship between true Torah observance and Israel's security in the land:
"You shall perform My statutes, keep My ordinances and perform them then you will live on the land securely. And the land will then yield its fruit and you will eat to satiety, and live upon it securely. And if you should say, "What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!" [Know then, that] I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while [still] eating from the old crops until the ninth year; until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old [crop]. The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me. Therefore, throughout the land of your possession, you shall give redemption for the land." (ibid 25:19-24)
Every seven years the modern nation of Israel observes the Shmitta - sabbatical - year by allowing her fields to lie fallow. No doubt in the near future Israel will take upon itself the renewed observation of the Yovel commandment to liberate the land. This process of return and resumption of Torah law as it applies to the land of Israel, from the Shmitta and the Yovel to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, is the only true process that will bring lasting peace and blessing, both to the people of Israel and to the hallowed land of Israel.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven reflect upon the timeliness and the Heavenly-ordained message of each week's Torah portion. What messages are being broadcast to us this week? And what is the true meaning of the "admonitions" found in parashat Bechukotei?
As we continue counting the days of the Omer and prepare for the upcoming month of Sivan and the giving of the Torah anew, all roads lead to the Holy Temple, where Israel - and the world - experience the constant renewal of the Sinai Revelation.
Everybody knows that during the Omer days, we recall the death of Rabbi Akiva's students. But there is an alternative opinion regarding these students... one that shed's light on Rabbi Akiva's views regarding the Messiah of Israel and what sort of a man he should be.