The Land is in Us

Parshat Behukotai

Leviticus 26:1 -27:34

This week’s Torah portion is the last one in the book of Leviticus. Parshat Behukotai expresses a quid pro quo theology. If you obey God and follow God’s commandments you will be rewarded. If you do not obey God’s rules and you follow other gods and goddesses then you will be punished. The reward is described in idyllic terms: Rain, abundant crops, and peace.  It is a beautiful vision of harmony and joy. The reward for faithful observance of the covenant is indeed a land overflowing with milk and honey. It is a fulfillment of the promise made at Sinai.  Exactly what a tribal, agrarian society would cherish.
As beautiful the reward, the punishment for not following God’s commandments and rejecting the covenant is equally harsh.  The land, the symbol of God’s blessing, will revolt against the people.  It will be a hostile place filled with visicious beasts and violence. The land will no longer be fertile and produce good crops and God will destroy the towns and villages that the tribes worked so hard to create! “You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies but shall perish among the nations and the land of your enemies shall consume you” (Lev. 26:37-38).

The land defines the identity of the Israelites here in this portion.  The land is the symbol of the covenant and the ties to the land help define the People Israel.  That is why the punishment for rejection of God’s laws seems so overwhelming harsh. The torah tells us without ties to our covenant and obligations and certainly without ties to the Land , which is Eretz Yisrael, theLandofIsraelwe are lost as a people and we will disappear.

While I don’t believe in a theology of reward and punishment meted out by God on High, I do think that there is truth to the idea that we as a unique and distinct people, the Jewish people do need ties to thelandofEretz Yisrael.  It is our history and our present.  And that is why fighting for the soul of the modern state ofIsraelis so crucial.
There has been a lot of discussion in the American Jewish community about the best way to represent the cause of a safe and secure modern state of Israel here in the U.S.  There are two groups, AIPAC and J-Street who do so in very different ways.  AIPAC which is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (www.aipac.org) describes itself as a grassroots movement of over 10,000 members working to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.  For a long time AIPAC was the only Pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, D.C.  But a few years ago, J-Street (www.jstreet.org)  was born to challenge the politics of AIPAC.  J-Street describes itself as a pro-Israel, pro-peace.  This is from its mission statement:

The organization gives political voice to mainstream American Jews and other supporters of Israel who, informed by their Jewish values, believe that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential to Israel’s survival as the national home of the Jewish people and as a vibrant democracy.J Street’s mission is two-fold: first, to advocate for urgent American diplomatic leadership to achieve a two-state solution and a broader regional, comprehensive peace and, second, to ensure a broad debate onIsraeland theMiddle Eastin national politics and the American Jewish community.

The beauty of both organizations is that they try to reinforce the Jewish tie and importance to theLandofIsraeland bring Jewish values to the State of Israel.  AIPAC tends to support the policies of theModernStateofIsrael.  JStreet willing to challenge present policies of the government ofIsraeland pursue a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Part of the Torah portion’s message to us-is that our tie to that sacred land and how we treat it matters.  I urge you to get involved in one or both of these organizations as a way to strengthen your tie to the land and strengthen your identity as a Jew.

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