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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

32. Earth Needs A Break, Too

Parshah Behor

TL;DR of the Text

Laws regarding private property, property transfer, and land rights. 

Major Themes

  • The Earth deserves a nap, too

  • Indigenous connection to the land

  • Zionism is defeated by its own logic

  • Can we even own land? What is ownership, really?

  • Racism, racism, racism

  • Who cares about religion when slavery still exists?

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Leviticus 25:2-4*

“The land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard; and you may gather in its crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem.” 

The concept of the Sabbath is one of the only uncomplicatedly good things in Judaism. It encompasses so many positive aspects of being human: quality time with community, food and drink, rest, and contemplation. Just as the Sabbath day is rest for humans, the Sabbath year is Earth’s rest day.

The hardest part about observing a concept like the sabbatical year is the fear of scarcity. Today’s food systems are so regimented! They’re full of technology, statistics, and economies of scale. We bend over backward to try to control the output - to make sure we have enough food. 

What the sabbatical year proposed was actually quite radical. The ancient Israelites trusted God to provide for them, but we have another option: we can trust the Earth directly. 

We give her a nap; she gives us sustenance. Don’t we all feel refreshed and energized after a nap or a nice vacation? It must be the same for a planet. Instead of planning, optimizing, and industrializing our food systems, maybe we should just give ourselves and the Earth a freaking break. We could spend one year simply trusting the Earth to provide enough for us to live off of. 

If you’re sitting here chastising me because, well, we have lots of people without enough food, the reality is more depressing, because there’s more than enough food for everyone. Food insecurity isn’t a supply issue. It's a distribution, accessibility, and economics issue. As always, it boils down to capitalism. 

But we know how to live in harmony with the Earth, and the Earth knows how to provide enough food for each community. If we stop thinking of food as a profitable commodity and start thinking of it as a means of subsistence (and a gift), we already have everything we need to bring ourselves back in harmony with food cycles. 

Leviticus 25: 8-11*

“You shall count for yourself seven cycles of sabbatical years, seven years seven times; the years of the seven cycles of sabbatical years shall be for you forty-nine years… you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the Land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee Year for you, you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage and you shall return each man to his family. 

It shall be a Jubilee Year for you - this fiftieth year - you shall not sow, you shall not harvest its aftergrowth and you shall not pick what was set aside of it for yourself.”  

This is morbidly ironic. The Jews initially took possession of the Land of Israel by slaughtering all of the Philistines - a people who are today called the Palestinians. Yet every fifty years, the Torah designates an entire year for the purpose of “returning to ancestral heritage.” 

Land purchases were actually only land rentals because the land automatically returned to its ancestral owner during the Jubilee year. 

There’s so much to unpack here. First, the Torah believes people have an innate connection to land - not just to Earth as a whole but to specific parcels of land. This is where the Torah as an anthropological study comes into play. We’re currently in the middle of an enormous, fundamental transition in consciousness. We used to be people tied to regions, and now we are becoming people tied to a planet. 

However, some people still have rooted connections to certain parts of Earth. Their histories span generations, and with their history comes eons of intimate knowledge of natural cycles and how to care for a specific part of the planet. Their relationship with the Earth should be respected and honored. 

It doesn’t mean they have a mystical, biological connection to a set square mileage - it means they have a cultural and familial connection to it and have formed a connection by proximity. They’ve cultivated a relationship with their ancestral land. It’s not intrinsic, but it is of the utmost importance. 

As far as Zionism goes, it fails even by its own logic. If Zionists elevate ancestral heritage above all else, they run into the sticky problem that the Palestinians were there first, both in 1948 and thousands of years ago. The only way to square this circle is through blatant racism. 

Leviticus 25: 23*

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine.”

Even thousands of years ago, humanity still had an innate sense that the land itself was not ours. To be clear, I’m not advocating against private property; I want a house to call my own one day. But I own the house, not the land. The land isn’t ownable. 

What does it even mean to own a house, anyway? Ultimately, it means autonomy: I can do what I want with it. I can decorate it how I want, change its structure, or add rooms and apartments for my children and their children. 

However, regarding the land itself, I shouldn’t be able to do whatever I want with it. I must respect the land’s rules. For example, I shouldn’t plant a tropical flowering vine in a desert. If I wanted to plant a tropical flowering vine, I should live in the tropics. I’m responsible for the land’s health.

It’s easy to dismiss this as splitting hairs: if you own the house, you own the land by default. But laws aren’t meant to simply define action; they’re also intended to create a shared morality and social code. If our laws distinguish between owning a house versus owning the land it’s built on, the law will eventually create a different mindset toward the land. 

Leviticus 25: 24-25*

“In the entire land of your ancestral heritage you shall provide redemption for the land. If your brother becomes impoverished and sells part of his ancestral heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him shall come and redeem his brother’s sale.” 

Perhaps I was wrong earlier in this article when I said Indigenous connection with the land is meaningful but probably not intrinsic. Instead of editing these thoughts, I keep them so I have a record of how my opinions have grown over time. 

Anyway, maybe a mystical connection with the land becomes intrinsic. Maybe the phenomena we see in Indigenous populations are the result of thousands of instances of epigenetic evolution that have literally, either biologically or in an electromagnetic sense, tied them to the land. If so, then being separated from such land would significantly damage both the humans and the land.

Even if it becomes an intrinsic quality, I don’t believe it’s universal. Some humans follow this path but it isn’t humanity’s only option. Some of us, myself included, can appreciate the land in its entirety without having a deep rootedness and intimacy, and that’s okay. 

Non-Indigenous people can still live on land and be connected to it; Earth is still our planet. It just means we aren’t necessarily chosen to be Earth’s shepherds. We have a different purpose. 

Leviticus 25:29-31*

“If a man shall sell a residence house in a walled city, its redemption can take place until the end of the year of its sale; its period of redemption shall be a year. But if it is not redeemed until its full year has elapsed, then the house that is in a city that has a wall shall pass in perpetuity to the one who purchased it… 

But houses in the open towns, which have no surrounding wall, shall be considered like the land’s open field; it shall have redemption.”

This city-country distinction is interesting, especially because it’s still a current problem. There are so many false dichotomies, many of which were created, or at least codified, by this book! 

I suppose this rule kind of makes sense in a land ownership system: if you have an apartment block inhabited by 100 people and built on “ancestral land” in a city, how do you return it to its ancestral owners? 

This problem is solved by separating land ownership from housing ownership. The land belongs to itself. Someone can sell an apartment block without an issue because it is a mass of construction materials, while the land has distinct and independent rights. 

If you wanted to protect Indigenous rights in this system, you’d probably have to match regions with groups of people who are the land’s designated caretakers and representatives. Representative government for the Earth. 

Leviticus 25:35-36*

“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him - proselyte or resident - so that he can live with you. Do not take from him interest and increase.” 

The horrors of capitalism have proven that we should be doing this for everyone on Earth, not just those who are racially similar to us. 

Leviticus 25: 44-46*

“Your slave or your maidservant whom you may own, from the gentiles who surround you, from among them you may purchase a slave or a maidservant. Also from among the children of the residents who live with you, from them you may purchase, from their family that is with you, whom they begot in your Land; and they shall remain yours as an ancestral heritage. 

You shall hold them as a heritage for your children after you to inherit as a possession, you shall work with them forever; but with your brethren, the Children of Israel - a man with his brother - you shall not subjugate him through hard labor.” 

I’m not exaggerating when I say that racism is baked into the very fabric of Judaism. The Torah isn’t even trying to deny the horrors of slavery; it’s just saying you can’t visit these horrors upon Jews.

Leviticus 26:1-2*

“You shall not make idols for yourselves, and you shall not erect for yourselves a statue or a pillar, and in your Land you shall not emplace a flooring stone upon which to prostrate oneself - for I am Hashem, your God. My Sabbaths shall you observe and My Sanctuary shall you revere - I am Hashem.”

A seemingly random set of two verses right after what has to be one of the longest chapters in the Torah. The dichotomy provides an insight. 

Why should we care about something as comparatively small as idol worship when faced with the enormity of “you’re allowed to buy slaves and their children as long as they aren’t of your race?” 

Fuck that. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but the juxtaposition of the chapters emphasizes how absurd it is to adhere to religious rules if we don’t adhere to human rules. One hundred percent of moral knowledge can already be found within humanity! 

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


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