I am a firm believer in describing the Jewish people’s modern return to Israel and to sovereignty as “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption”- ‘Reishit Tzmichat Geulateinu“. In chapter 25, with the Jewish people about to begin their preparations to enter Israel, the Torah uses the word ‘redemption’ for the first time since the exodus. How do we achieve redemption? How do we redeem our land? The answer the Torah provides might surprise you.
“And the land may not be sold for perpetuity, for the land is Mine, for you are strangers and residents in the land. In all the lands of your possession, give redemption to the land.” (25:23-24)
Redeeming the land of Israel doesn’t mean conquering it or settling it, but rather, relinquishing it. It’s a counterintuitive idea, because the idea of ‘land redemption’ usually refers to taking ownership of the land. But true redemption, according to the Torah, is the recognition of the one true Owner of the land, just as we redeem people by freeing them from human control to allow them to be servants only of God.
Not only does this awareness constitute redemption for the land, it is the attitude the Torah requires in order to “dwell securely in the land”. Shemita and Yovel aren’t meant to be rare occurences which are dealt with only when they arrive every 7 and 50 years. They define every single real estate transaction made during the interim years as well. Every one of the 49 years leading up to Yovel is counted, as we count the days to Shavuot. These are halachic institutions which are meant to define our attitude towards private property, guarding us from the hubris and corruption of power that history has proven always goes hand in hand with ownership. (The yawning chasm between this idea and our current practice of Shemita is deeply troubling, and deserves its own meditation.)
Our redemption has begun to flower. But it can only truly blossom when we understand that we come here not for control, or for power, but to be strangers and residents, responsible stewards of a sacred trust for the land’s true Owner.
Follow this blog for a daily-ish short reflection on a chapter of Tanach, following the 929 project- learn more about it at 929.org.il. Soon- we begin Bamidbar!