The Torah prohibits normal farming of the Land of Israel every seven years. This "Shabbat" for the Land is called "shemita". After every seventh shemita, the fiftieth year, yovel (jubilee), is announced with the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur. This was also a year for the Land to lie fallow. G-d promises to provide a bumper crop prior to the shemita and yovel years. During yovel, all land is returned to its original division from the time of Joshua, and all Jewish indentured servants are freed, even if they have not completed their six years of work. A Jewish indentured servant may not be given any demeaning, unnecessary or excessively difficult work, and may not be sold in the public market. The price of his labor must be calculated according to the amount of time remaining until he will automatically become free. The price of land is similarly calculated. Should anyone sell his ancestral land, he has the right to redeem it after two years. If a house in a walled city is sold, the right of redemption is limited to the first year after the sale. The Levites' cities belong to them forever. The Jewish People are forbidden to take advantage of one another by lending or borrowing with interest. Family members should redeem any relative who was sold as an indentured servant as a result of impoverishment.
“When you come to the Land” (13:17)
One of the recurring problems of Chol HaMoed is where to take the children for a ‘tiyul’ – a family holiday outing.
This Pesach we traveled Derech HaAvot — the Path of the Fathers — a section of what used to be the Roman Road linking Jerusalem and Hebron. Along its route are mikva’ot – ritual baths — that historians surmise were used by the olei regel pilgrims on their way to the Holy Temple.
This part of Eretz Yisrael, the Gush Etzion bloc, however, has historical echoes from the more recent past as well.
On May 13, 1948, while attacking the settlements of the Etzion bloc, Arabs massacred the entire population of the Kfar Etzion settlement. They murdered 127 souls in cold blood. Only three men and one woman survived.
For the next 19 years the survivors and their children would gather every year on a hilltop in Jerusalem to gaze out towards Gush Etzion. The most identifiable landmark was a huge 700 year-old oak tree that pierced the skyline. That tree was once the meeting point of the four kibbutzim of the bloc. The tree became a symbol of what was and what might be again.
And so it did. Today, the population of the Etzion bloc numbers more than 65,000. And the Lone Tree is a tourist attraction that symbolizes its strength, its rootedness and its permanence.
Or it should.
On our trip, however, the oak tree was showing distinct signs of its age and needed the support of several sturdy steel beams together with concrete filling in the branches themselves. Not exactly the symbol of vigorous strength and permanence that it is intended to symbolize.
As I looked at the Oak and gazed at the neat beautiful houses in this picture-perfect spot, I felt uneasy. There’s a sense of isolation here; a kind of “never-never world” unreality.
The settler community in Eretz Yisrael finds itself increasingly marginalized, in a State more and more isolated in the world community.
Those perfectly manicured lawns looked no more permanent to me than those of Yamit in the Sinai Peninsula or Gush Katif in Gaza. The garden sprinklers in those ghost-towns are now ripped out and rusting, while the desert sands have long-since reclaimed their turf.
What will become of the Lone Tree?
In this week’s portion the Torah uses the phrase, “When you come to the Land” (25:2).
More accurately it seems that the Torah should have said, “When you go to the Land”. Why does the Torah say coming as opposed to going?
The true home of the Jewish People is — and only ever will be — Eretz Yisrael, because it is the root of their souls.
Any journey to Eretz Yisrael is always a ‘homecoming.’
I came into the world in London but I was born in Eretz Yisrael.
No one knows the date of the fulfilment of that promise of our eventual homecoming. But that homecoming will inevitably arrive, whether or not the Lone Tree is around to greet it.