וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃
But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.
I don’t know about you, but the text here seems pretty clear. We don’t own the land, G”d owns the land.
To be fair, let’s place it in its context – a discussion of the Jubilee year. Every fifty years, land is returned to its original owner – debts are forgiven.
The presupposition here is that G”d has assigned lands to all the tribes (except the Levites) and the Jubilee allows for all lands of each tribe to return in their custody, even when given in pledge.
Many of today’s social activists see the Jubilee year as a biblically mandated from of wealth distribution. (You’ll find just as many writers taking that notion apart piece by piece.) Though I’m most often from the camp of dissectors when it comes to Torah (and especially to rabbinic interpretation of it) in this case my heart wants to be with the social activists. I want the whole notion of regular equitable distribution of wealth to be a biblically-mandated idea. Alas, wanting won’t make it so.
Then there’s my next want – my want about Leviticus 25:23. If all land belongs not to us, but to G”d, then all our territorial squabbles are meaningless. Yet how like the G”d of the Jewish tradition giving us obviously competing mandates. G”d promises a particular swath of land to Abraham and his descendants, simply in exchange for a promise of righteous behavior (a requirement that gets slowly refined over the course of the biblical story until it is a covenant in the style of a Suzerain-Vassal treaty.) However, before G”d prepares to make good on that promise, G”d reminds Abraham’s descendants to not forget that ultimately, the land belongs to G”d. Huh?
In a covenantal sense, perhaps it is just a form of the “I gave it to you and I can take it away just as easy” model of parenting. That fits in sort of nicely with our history – or at least, as we explain/rationalize our history of losing tenancy, regaining it after a brief exile, losing it again, and then regaining it again thousands of years later.
Why, I ask, do we stubbornly refuse to see these words in a starker context – that land ownership itself is but a mere chimera for humanity G”d simply tolerates our presence. We, as a species might retort “well hey there, G”d, You created us, therefore you are obligated to provide a place for us.” Who says that place is this amazing planet, stuck in such a Goldilocks zone of habitability (at least for our form of life.)
The Abrahamic faiths all have a complicated relationship with land ownership and rights. I wondered about other cultures, and soon discovered a rabbit hole so huge that I barely trusted myself to explore the very edges. Even the notion of native American culture that eschewed private land ownership has far greater nuance to it that you might imagine. Just coming to terms with Judaism’s, Christianity’s, and Islam’s history with land rights and land ownership reveals its share of surprises. I poked my head into the religions of ancient India and ancient China and came out barely able to breadth and range of the history. Religions ultimately reshape to accommodate the basic ethics and beliefs of their cultures. Perhaps it’s more of a dance, with the religions helping to shape as much as being shaped by, but it is complicated.
Yet here is one place where perhaps uncomplicating things could be so very helpful. Accepting that ultimately, all of the earth does not belong to us could go a long way to teaching us to care for it. On the other hand, it could also turn us into lazy tenants who don’t care – let the landlord fix it, we don’t own it.
Darn. I thought I had this and then I blew a hole in my own theory. I haven’t seen G”d stepping up to solve global warming. Oh wait, that wasn’t where I was going with this initially. Maybe I can yet redeem my thesis.
Yes, G”d promised that land to Abraham’s descendants. Yes, a small remnant has remained (relatively) faithful to that covenant (but only within the confines of their jury-rigged Rube Goldberg-esque twisted-like-a-pretzel understanding – aka oral Torah and rabbinic law.) Might not be enough for G”d to consider it valid (and maybe that’s why we haven’t heard from G”d in so long?) So does G”d really recognize this third instance of Jewish semi-sovereignty over the promised land? Or is G”d invoking the “all land is G”d’s” clause? In which case, Israel, the Palestinians, and indeed all the neighboring states need to get over this “our land” thing. None of it is anybody’s land. Learn to live on it together as neighbors, in peace. That is what G”d would want.
That, of course, leads down another rabbit hole, one around whose edge I also danced this week – reviewing old readings and finding new ones on the topic of “do Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same G”d?” My personal answer to that is a resounding yes, but because I am who I am, I feel compelled to learn about all sides of that question. Not all are in agreement on this point, and I must accept that some of those who do not agree with me on this are still people of good faith.
My fall-back stance, when this sort of question comes up, is always that only a G”d who understands that within all of its creation, the beings inhabiting that creation might all need differing paths of understanding and connection with G”d. G”d, even One G”d, can still be many different things to many different people. That is the true nature, the true glory, the true awesomeness of G”d.
So, even though Il;ve lots more rabbit-hole exploring to do, and there’s always the possibility that my mind might be changed by those explorations, here’s where I stand right now on Leviticus 25:23.
1. (If G”d exists and created this creation then)All land, and I mean all land in this creation, belongs to G”d.
2. Therefore, no human culture, religious group, tribe, nation, etc. has any greater claim to any land than anyone else. (That is, on a religious basis. Secularly, it’s a whole other ball game.)
3. Israel and the Palestinians just need to cut this nonsense out right now and learn to live together. Your religious claims are all abrogated by G”d’s ownership of the land.
3a. We all share the same G”d.
There see. I’ve solved the problem.
©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
B'har-B'khukotai 5778 - Row, Row, Row Your Boat
B'har-B'khukotai 5777 - Keri Is So Very... (Revisited 5763)
B'har B'khukotai 5773 - In Smite Of It All
B'har-B'khukotai 5772 - Scared of Leaves (Redux & Revised 5769)
B'har-B'khukotai 5770 - Bad Parenting 301
Behar-Bekhukotai 5769- Scared of Leaves?
Behar-Bekhukotai 5767-A Partridge in a Tree of Life
Behar-Bekhukotai 5766-Only An Instant
Behar-Bekhukotai 5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)