Rabbi Oury Cherki
Behar - A Visitor or a Resident?
"The land cannot be sold permanently, for the land is Mine, for you are visitors and residents with me" [Leviticus 25:23]. The law that prevents permanent sale of the land draws its basis from the essence of the status of man in the world. On one hand, man is a resident of the world as a natural creation – "For you are dust and you will return to the dust" [Genesis 3:19]. On the other hand, he is a visitor from the point of view of his soul, which is the daughter of a king who yearns to return to her father, with a metaphysical yearning that can never be fully satisfied. This is also what Abraham said to the people of Het: "I am a visitor and a resident" [23:4]. However, his attempt to cause the people of Het to recognize this fact, by telling them that he was "with" them, failed. They felt that he only spoke the way he did because he was a "minister of G-d," while they were "people of the earth." Rabbi Yehuda Halevi expressed the idea very well, as follows: "I am as a visitor and a resident on the earth, even though my final resting place will be within it."
Rabbi Yehuda Ashkenazi (Manitou) used to explain this verse in a way that is very close to the straightforward meaning: If you feel like visitors in this world you are residents as far as I am concerned, but if you feel like residents in this world you are visitors in my view. Since the Holy One, Blessed be He, sent Himself away in exile – as it were – in order to allow the Creation to continue on an autonomous path (as is known to the masters of Kabbalah as the secret of Divine restriction), He acts in this world as a visitor. In order to cling to Him, it is necessary to emulate this trait of His, and to feel like a temporary visitor in the world. This is the basis for the very common statement in the Torah that the Holy One, Blessed be He, loves a visitor – because the visitor understands the position of the Holy One, Blessed be He. That is why the Children of Israel were born as sojourners, outside their own land. And even after they conquer it they do not take full possession but rather leave behind margins on the side of every field as charity, and they sometimes avoid agricultural labor for a full year.
But in spite of all this, we are taught a special law in this week's Torah portion – that houses in a walled city can be sold permanently. This is a hint that an urban culture can create a new framework for living, one that does not have natural constraints, where man can live a full life that is based on a permanent link to the land, without this causing him to forget the existence of G-d. A city is a new way of organizing space in a way that corresponds to the dimensions of mankind, created in the image of G-d. Here life can be built up around moral values and not only based on competition within nature. This is meant as a challenge for urban society and not necessarily an overt plan for a way of life.
In our times, the existential challenge for the nation of Israel is to maintain our hold on the land, and it does not consist of the dangers of exaggerated attachment to the earth. In an era when there are some signs of a weakening of the nationalistic grip of the Land of Israel, it is our task to strengthen our link to the land. This means that the sale of land during the coming year for the purpose of bypassing the laws of Shemitta definitely corresponds to the overall goals of the Torah, by helping to maintain our connection to the land.