Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai| 5766
What Does The Land Want?
In the tocheicha (rebuke and curse for the nation’s sins) much is made about Eretz Yisrael. The Torah repeats that if Bnei Yisrael will not let the Land rest on the Shemitta year, Hashem will send them away, and it will get its “rest” (Vayikra 26:34 & 43). What does that mean? It sounds like the Land has the right to be left alone by us, as if there is some sort of adversarial relationship. The Alshich (ibid.:42) explains the pasuk that Hashem will remember the covenant with the forefathers “…and the Land I will remember” in a bizarre manner. He says that even though Hashem would like to return Bnei Yisrael from exile because of the patriarchs, He will balance that good will with the rights of the Land which we exploited and not bring us back too quickly. Does the Land not want us back?
On the other hand, we see that the Land’s lot is tied up with our welfare as well. Rashi (ibid.:32) explains the pasuk “I shall make the Land desolate” as a favor for Bnei Yisrael, that other nations would not have success with the Land in our absence, apparently in order to make our return easier. The Land, which was commanded at creation to give fruit, remains a wasteland, in deference to a nation that does not even merit staying in the Land. So what does the Land want, and what are its rights?
Perhaps the key to this issue is found in Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 36:5) on the pasuk of remembering the patriarchs and the Land. The midrash compares the situation to that of a king who has three sons who are raised by one of his maids. When the king inquires as to the welfare of the children, he inquires about the maid’s welfare as well. In other words, the Land is the nation’s responsible caregiver, but it does not have special, individual rights. Its prominence comes from its ability to “raise” the nation.
Yet the midrash refers to the maid as “one of his maids.” In other words, she was not there for the children to stomp all over. Rather, she represented the king and the extent to which they respected her authority was indicative of the respect the children showed their father, the king. Such is the relationship between Bnei Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. It is to raise us and we are to respect the boundaries Hashem put on our use of it. If we abuse it or abuse His authority in other ways, the Land will spit us out (see Vayikra 18:25). Yet, Eretz Yisrael will not flourish when the evil children are sent away. Rather, it is set aside for the time that it will be able to raise Bnei Yisrael once again. Any other use of it would be a demotion from its past and future high station.
Let us pray that the reunion between the nation and the Land continue in full force and strengthen, as we use it to better serve our and its Maker.
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