2 Sivan 5781 / Thursday, May 13, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bamidbar
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Behar: Earning Her Love    

Behar: Earning Her Love

We can never take our Land of Israel for granted. Whereas other countries belong to the nations because they were born there, the Jews must earn the right to their land…


Parshat Behar

This week’s parashah describes the special relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel and the laws of the land through which we actualize this relationship. “Hashem spoke to Moshe in mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the children of Yisrael, and say to them, when you come to the land which I give you, then the land shall keep Shabbath to Hashem” (Vayikra 25:1-2).
Why does it state “the land which I give you” in present tense? Had G-d not already promised the children of Israel the gift of the land repeatedly? The present tense alludes to the fact that we can never take our ownership of the Land of Israel for granted. Whereas other countries belong to the nations because they were born there, the children of Israel constantly have to earn the right to their land. The land can be compared to a bride whose love must be won by the worthy suitor, as she will only yield her fruits to a deserving groom. This is different from the relationship of the other nations to their land, which they call “fatherland.” Just like a child can expect the love of his parents without having to deserve it by his deeds, so is the relationship between the nations and their land automatic and often taken for granted. No special love and dedication is needed to prove the right to their land.
A man comes from his parents but leaves them in order to unite with his wife, as it states, “That is why a man leaves his father and his mother, and cleaves to his wife” (Bereishit 2:24). Likewise, Avraham was told: “Go from your country, from your birthplace, and from the house of your father, to the land...” (Bereishit 12:1) He had to leave his native country and go towards the land, which G-d would show him just as a man must leave his parents in order to live with his wife. I believe that one important reason why it is so hard to stay married in our time is because we don’t realize the difference between the relationship of children to their parents and husbands to their wives. While dating, the young suitor endeavors to sweep away his sweetheart with clever wit and gentlemanly demeanor. Once he has won her over, he no longer feels it necessary to prove his love for her. She resents being taken for granted, and withholds some of her efforts on his behalf. This starts the vicious circle of mutual withdrawal that has broken so many homes. The Torah teaches us what every gardener already knows. It is not enough to plant the seed and then expect the tree to grow by itself. Without constantly tending it by watering and weeding, one cannot expect that the tree will bear fruit.
“...Then shall the land keep a Shabbath to Hashem.” Through keeping the laws of shemittah, the children of Israel prove that they do not take their ownership of the land for granted. Every seventh year is Shabbath for the land (shemittah) when we relinquish our ownership of the land. Our recognition that the land belongs to Hashem is what imbues it with holiness. A marriage is likewise called “kidushin,” which means holiness. It is only by means of constantly recognizing the Divinity of the land and restraining the natural desire to work it during the Shabbath year that Israel earns the right to possess it. Likewise, in order for a marriage to succeed, we need to relate to the Divine spark within our partner and let go of the desire to display ownership and dominion. Rashi explains that the laws of shemittah must be kept for the honor of G-d. This implies that we let the land rest for the sake of G-d's mitzvah rather than merely in order to recharge it. Similarly, when a man and a woman get married and remain together for the sake of G-d's honor, then their holy union can endure. When we let go of the quest to work the land during shemittah, we can dedicate ourselves to improving our relationship with G-d through increased Torah learning, mitzvah observance and prayer. In our marriage, as well, we need to take time off from the tedious daily responsibilities of running the household in order to dedicate ourselves to nurture the relationship. Working on our relationship with the Divine will help improve our relationship to each other.
The laws of family purity can be compared to the laws of shemittah since both are related to a cycle of seven. A woman must count “seven clean days” after the end of her period, similar to the shemittah year that recurs every seventh year. The Shabbath year ensures that we renew our relationship with the land in the same manner that the relationship between husband and wife is constantly renewed by the separation during the period of niddah. Therefore, the main prohibition during shemittah is the prohibition against sowing. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. The excitement of once again being permitted to dig in the fertile soil of our field after a whole year of restraint can be compared to the closeness between the husband and wife when she returns from the mikvah after their period of separation.
Keeping the laws of shemittah is a lesson in emunah. It teaches us to rely on the blessing of G-d rather than on our own handiwork. Our welfare does not depend on material pursuits alone, but on our dedication to G-d, which we demonstrate through keeping the laws of shemittah. Just as we need faith in the power of the mitzvoth, so does our marriage depend on our having faith in our marriage partner. Nurturing confidence, trust and devotion within our marriage brings Divine blessing into our relationship. Focusing on our husband’s good qualities makes his seed sprout forth and take root.  
 (Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum is Director of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion. This article is an excerpt from her book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion, reviewed by The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Press, Voices Magazine, Good Reads, and Wordpress/JewishPress and more. To order this book, click here)

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