This week’s sidrah is peppered with references to the Land of Israel, and the underlying covenant between God and the Jewish people which enables Jews to live there. Firstly, we are told that we will indeed be given the land (Leviticus 25: 2); then, that living on the land is dependent on our keeping of the mitzvot (Leviticus 25: 18, 23, 38); and finally, that we must keep very specific mitzvot with regard to inhabiting the land as recognition of our understanding that God owns the Land and we merely reside there as God’s emissaries. These are the laws of shmittah, the sabbatical year, and yovel, the jubilee year.
Additionally, this week’s sidrah includes the laws of lending money justly and compassionately, and the laws of keeping slaves with dignity and care (however abhorrent the notion of slavery feels nowadays).
The relationship between these laws and our personal humanity, according to the 19th-century commentator, Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, is the demonstration of our understanding that inhabiting the land of Israel requires discipline, social justice and humility towards God’s ownership of all lands and love of all people; it is conditional.
The haftarah from Jeremiah describes the prophet’s attempts to instruct the king and the people that their behaviour warrants expulsion from the land, but he is ignored and the Chaldeans invade Jerusalem. However, amid the chaos he performs a public act of profound hope and buys a piece of worthless land.
What looks like madness is an act of faith that, although the people’s relationship with God is fractured and they have chosen to flout the law, the despair will eventually end.