Sedra of the Week: Behar-Bechukkotai

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Sedra of the Week: Behar-Bechukkotai

Rabbi Yoni Birnbaum previews the forthcoming portion of the Torah

The first of this week’s sedrot contains a requirement to leave the entire land of Israel fallow every seventh year, or Shmita.

During Shmita, a farmer must demonstrate complete trust in God, without intervention in crop production. Emphasising the importance of this commandment, the Torah states: “You shall perform My statutes, keep My ordinances and perform them, and you will live on the land securely” (Leviticus 26:3).

This mitzvah exemplifies the essence of the relationship
between the Jewish people, the Torah and the land of Israel.

The Zionist poet Naftali Hertz Imber is renowned as the author of the beautiful words of the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. The modern version of the Hatikvah, however, is based on the first two stanzas of an earlier, longer, poem written by Imber in 1877, called Tikvateinu, meaning “our hope”.

The song’s second stanza reads: “Our hope is not yet lost, the ancient hope, to return to the land of our fathers, the city in which David dwelt.” This line captures the essence of the eternal relationship between the Israel and the Jewish people.

Israel is so much more than a country. It is even more than the “land of our fathers”, a place with which we have a historical connection. It is the land in which people such as King David lived, people who embodied what it meant to live as the People of the Book in the Land of the Book.

The land is not just a land. It is inseparably connected to the mitzvot, as epitomised by Shmita, and to a constant awareness of the fact that it is, in Imber’s beautiful words, “the land of our fathers, the city in which David dwelt”.

ω Yoni is rabbi of Hadley Wood Jewish community

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