We’re in the month of Elul, the last in the Jewish calendar. It’s a month set aside for reflection, prayer and hope for the coming New Year. During Elul, typically September, farmers harvest the last of their bounty in the fields. Wheat is collected and delivered to the mills. Bunches of grapes are picked off the vines and crushed into wine. Almonds dry in the sun. Olives will soon release their virgin oil.
This coming Jewish New Year is particularly special. It’s the Year of the Sabbatical. (שנת שמיטה).
According to the bible, in the Book of Leviticus, man is to cultivate the land for six years and give it a rest on the seventh. It sounds like a noble idea. Think of yourself. You go to work, fight traffic, fight your boss, earn a paycheck, drive home. Once you’re home, you deserve a rest. Pour yourself a drink, have dinner, go out with friends, then fight the world tomorrow all over again. What’s not to like?
Somehow, with land, it’s more complicated. Could it be because the world is 70% water and only 30% land? Could it be complicated because God is not making more land, at least not in our lifetime? Which is why we choose to ignore God’s command and continue to till and work the land until it is exhausted. Some believe that after the destruction on the First Temple, the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon for 70 years because they failed to honor the Sabbatical every 7 years.
Somehow, man thinks he owns the land. Colonialism, Zionism, Capitalism, Imperialism, Terrorism, Islam with its sword, Christianity on horseback. This is all ridiculous, at least according to Leviticus, chapter 25, verse 23: “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.”
In other words, the land belongs to God. Not us.
I’m not a religious man, but how did man become so dominant, excluding and eliminating other species? Man is not much more than an ape with a larger computer in the skull. And man continues to eat the banana all by himself.
In Leviticus we’re told that if we tend to the land lovingly, and let it rest on the seventh year, He will provide us with bounty; our bellies will be full, and we would settle the land safely and without worry.
Israeli writer and poet, Michal Govrin, in her novel “Snapshots” (הבזקים) writes about an Israeli woman architect, married to a holocaust investigator, who has an affair with a Palestinian dance director. The woman in the story, Ilana, questions the idea that land will give us happiness. Armies and nations came and went and we died by sword and canon. She says: “The land doesn’t belong to anybody! It was given as a promise to the nation that came to it from far away, and the promise is ‘on condition.’ It will be kept only if the nation is at an ethical level that will justify it. Otherwise, the nation will be sent to exile. Every seven years, in the Year of the Sabbatical, the fences around the property have to be torn down.”
The poor, the humble, the unfortunate can enter the land and pick its produce without consequence. No borders.
Hmmm. Utopia indeed.
Next month it’s the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. It’s a holiday to remind us of days Jews spent in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. In the desert, they set up Sukkot — makeshift huts. Every year, Jews around the world build a Sukkah and sit in it for a week. A reminder that we’re wandering in the wilderness even today. That land can shift beneath our feet without notice. And our constant preoccupation with land, property, possession had brought on slavery — the very thing Jews had tried to escape.
In an excerpt in the book “Snapshots,” Ilana says of the Arabs and Jews: “It’s not us or them; it’s beyond ownership; give up the passion to conquer, to own…”
The war between Israel and Hamas ended last month. I hope both people realize that land is sustenance to our bodies and a shackle to our feet.
We fight to claim land until the end of time. As guests on this land, we’ll never get to see the end of time.
Former President Bill Clinton might agree. It’s the land, stupid.
Let go. Just let go.
Happy New Year