Torah Weekly

For the week ending 24 May 2008 / 19 Iyyar 5768

Parshat Bechukotai

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah promises prosperity for the Jewish People if they follow G-d's commandments. However, if they fail to live up to the responsibility of being the Chosen People, then chilling punishments will result. The Torah details the harsh historical process that will fall upon them when Divine protection is removed. These punishments, whose purpose is to bring the Jewish People to repent, will be in seven stages, each more severe than the last. Sefer Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, concludes with the details of erachin the process by which someone vows to give the Beit Hamikdash the equivalent monetary value of a person, an animal or property.


Day Of The Land

“I will make the Land desolate and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate... Then will the Land be appeased for its Sabbaticals during all the years of desolation, while you are in the land of your foes; then the Land will rest and it will appease for its Sabbaticals...”(26:32/35)

This year is a Shmitta (Sabbatical) year. Just as the People of Israel have their Shabbat, the Land of Israel has its Shabbat

When the Jewish People failed to keep the Land of Israel’s years of rest they were sent into exile. If they did not let the Land rest during their presence, it rested during their absence. Seventy violated Sabbatical years before and during the period of the First Beit Hamikdash resulted in a Babylonian exile of seventy years.

Before the Roman exile, Josephus Flavius testified to the abundance of Eretz Yisrael: “...for it is an extremely fertile land, a land of pastures and many varieties of trees... The entire land is planted by her inhabitants and not one stretch of earth is left uncared for.Because the land is blessed with such goodness, the cities of the Galil and numerous villages are densely populated. Even the smallest of villages boasts of at least 15,000 inhabitants.”

In 1260, the Ramban (Nachmanides), writing to his son from Eretz Yisrael, gave a very different picture: “What shall I tell you concerning the condition of the Land... She is greatly forsaken and her desolation is great... That which is of greater holiness is more desolate than that which is of lesser holiness. Yerushalyim is most desolate and destroyed.”

Six centuries later, in 1867, Mark Twain found the Land in a similar condition: “A desolate land whose soil, though more than sufficiently rich, produces only thorn bush and thistle — a silent mourning expanse. There exists here a state of neglect that even the imagination is incapable of granting it the possibility of beauty, of life and productivity. We arrived in peace to Mount Tabor... we did not see a soul during the entire journey... everywhere we went there was no tree of shrub.” “The Land of Israel dwells in sackcloth and ashes. The spell of a curse hovers over her, which has blighted her fields and imprisoned the might of her power with shackles.” “The Land of Israel is a wasteland... The Land of Israel is no longer to be considered part of the actual world...”

Compare this quasi-post-nuclear scene with the Torah’s dire warning:

“...and the foreigner who will come from a distant land — when they will see the plagues of the Land and theillnesses with which G-d has inflicted it; sulfur and salt, a conflagration of the entire Land, it cannot be sown and it cannot sprout, and no grass shall rise up on it... And all the nations will say ‘For what reason did G-d do so to this Land?” (Devarim 29:21)

For centuries, the Christian church tried to make mileage out of the above verse, claiming that the desolation of the Land of Israel was proof that G-d had rejected the Jewish People. However, the Ramban points out that the desolation of the Land of Israel is really a blessing in disguise. In this week’s Torah portion it states, “I will make the Land desolate and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate...” During all our exiles, our Land will not accept our enemies. It will refuse to be fertile so that no other nation may settle in the Land. An army may conquer territory, but to establish a permanent settlement requires the cooperation of the Land.

The Maharsha writes, “As long as Yisrael does not dwell on its Land, the Land does not give her fruits as she is accustomed. When she will begin to flower again, however, and give of her fruits, this is a clear sign that the end — the time of the Redemption — is approaching when all of Yisrael will return to its Land.”

Eretz Yisrael is like a faithful wife who is told that her husband languishes in a foreign jail from which he will never return. Nevertheless, she waits for him, accepting no suitor in his place, convinced that one day, he will return.

  • Sources: Talmud Shabbat 33a, Josephus Flavius - ‘The Jewish Wars’; Ramban, ‘Letter to his Son’ 1260; Mark Twain ‘The Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim’s Progress’ 1867;

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