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Behar-Behukotai. The Loyalty of the Land

Parashat Behar discusses the Shemitta (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Jubilee) years when farmers are meant to let the land rest, to abandon their control of the land. Although the people of Israel are granted sovereignty over the land, in a sense they remain “strangers resident with Me;”(Lev 25:23) in other words, ultimately the land is God’s and we are merely its guardians, not its master.

And yet, the land is directly and inexorably connected to the People of Israel. Behukotai describes how the land will give its extraordinary bounty, grant peace and security, and a sense of the divine presence (see Lev 26:1-10) if Israel observe God’s law. But an abandonment of the path of mitzvot will result in national ruin and exile. The land is spiritually sensitive and will not abide sin (see Lev 18:25, 20:22-4). Moreover Behukotai describes how the Jewish people may be exiled, but will always return. And Jewish history has shown that whereas the Jewish people have spent more of its history outside the land than residing in it, Israel has never had another land and never abandoned loyalty to the Land of Israel.


But the land has also been loyal to Israel. The verses that depict the national exile and ruin, state that:

“I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it.” (26:32)

This translation indicates that conquering nations will be shocked at the extent of national ruin. But Rashi adopts a different reading. He suggests not that “your enemies will be appalled by it” but “your enemies will be desolate upon it”: