Parashat B'har Torah Reading: Leviticus 25:1-26:2 As we approach the end of the book of Vayikra/Leviticus, we read a thought-provoking verse:
"I am Adonay Your God. It is I who brought you out of the Land of Egypt to give you the Land of Canaan to be your God." (25:38)
We are not often given a glimpse into God's intent. We are invited to ponder the motivation behind God's act of creation in the first place; we can only guess at the reason God reached out to Avram to seal the first covenant/brit; and the questions only multiply as we witness the stories of the Genesis/B'reishit families and ultimately the saga of Israelite slavery in Egypt.
There are other verses that offer similar insights into God's intent. Perhaps the most familiar is the verse we read twice a day in the liturgical unit of biblical excerpts of the Sh'ma and the following paragraphs: "I am Adonay your God. It is I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am Adonay your God."
But it is in this Leviticus verse that God includes the gift of the Land of Canaan to the Israelites in this statement of motivation. These verses indicate that God redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery in order to "be" the God of the Israelites and their descendents (us!).
What does this mean? For centuries, since God first tapped Avram on the shoulder and instructed him to leave home, God has been "the God of the Israelites.? Right?
Well, yes and no. Avram, who would be transformed into Avraham . . . the father of a multitude . . . would ultimately serve as the patriarch for Jews, Christians and Muslims. So the God to whom Avraham was devoted was the God of several faiths.
During the centuries of Israelite slavery (that is the servitude of the descents of Israel/Jacob) it seems as though God was not "shochein" not dwelling among the people. It is through God's messenger, Moses, that God will, in effect, reintroduce the relationship with the Israelites.
As Israel leaves Egypt they are lead by the God who had seemingly abandoned them for generations, but then crossed all borders and broke all conventions to redeem them from slavery.
And the first major event of their journey back to their geographic home in Canaan is the only collective revelation of the Torah at Sinai. It is there that the unique relationship between God and Israel is forged. It is at Sinai that Adonay becomes the God of Israel irrevocably. "It is I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God."
And in Leviticus, in the verse we read in this week's parashah, we learn that God also wanted to bring together the people of Adonay and the land of Adonay: the land of Israel and the people of Israel. It is with this statement that we learn how central this love triangle of God, people and land is to the core identity of our people.
In the past week, we celebrated Yom Ha'atzma'ut, Israel Independence Day, and we will soon be celebrating Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day (celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem after the 6 Day War). This is a propitious time for each of us to address the issue of Land and People and God for ourselves. Some of us, of course, visit Israel. Some of us make "aliyah" and choose to settle in Israel. Some of us don't feel drawn to make that "pilgrimage" visit. Some of us are knowledgeable about Israel and some of us don't know much more than what we absorb through our usual news sources.
This week's Torah reading challenges us to try to complete the sentence: "As a Jew, Israel means ______________________________ to me."
I'd love to hear what you come up with!
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.