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Parashat Be-har: We are but Residents

by Adam Greenwald | Published on May 15, 2009

The land must never be sold beyond redemp­tion, for the Earth is mine and indeed you are but strangers resi­dent with Me.” (Lev 25:23)

This verse contains within it one of the most revo­lu­tionary social justice concepts artic­u­lated in the Torah. We are taught that all that we think is ours — our stuff, our prop­erty, our land — is only on lease to us, because every­thing ulti­mately only has one Owner, and that is the Holy Blessed One. Our rule over it is only ever temporary.

The Talmud beau­ti­fully illus­trates this teaching with a parable:

Our sages teach: One may not throw stones from his own land into the public domain.

Once a certain person was throwing stones into the public domain, and a pious man found him doing so and said: “Fool, why are you throwing stones from land which is not yours into land which is yours?”

The man only laughed at him.

Some days later, the man had to sell his field and he was out walking in that same public area, when he tripped over one of the stones!

He said: “Now I see what that pious man was trying to teach me, when he said: “Why are you throwing stones from land that is not yours into land that is yours?” (Bava Kamma 50b)

The point is this: We may draw lines and seal ourselves off from each other, saying: “This is mine, that is yours, stay on your side!” but in the end, we are only fooling ourselves. Borders, lines, and walls, at best, can only be tempo­rary measures — we are destined to realize that we have no choice but to live together, since we all have One Parent and we are all Her children.

May the day come soon when we will all dwell together, without retreating behind walls or barriers, acknowl­edging that we are brothers and sisters and “but strangers resi­dent with Him.” Then we will live to see the fulfill­ment of the promise made in this week’s parashah:

I will grant peace to the Land and you shall lie down untrou­bled by anyone, I will give the Land respite from wild beasts, and no sword shall ever cross your Land.” (Lev 26:6)

Adam is a rabbinical student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, CA. Adam emails occa­sional divrei torah to a far-flung following of friends and family in a series he calls Torat Adam.

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