The final chapters of Leviticus concentrate on God’s requirements of Israel when they enter the land, namely, to treat the land and one another with care and respect. Living in partnership with God requires Israel recognise not only is the land a gift but that they have a solemn obligation to take care of the gift God is giving them.
Failure to do so will result in exile from the land and loss of the gifts the land affords the people to thrive in peace and prosperity. The land is not being given as a permanent inheritance but instead its possession is contingent on our willingness to fulfil our obligation to steward and care for it.
God requires that the land be fully rested every seventh year. It is to be the shmittah year, “a sabbath of complete rest” (25:4). Just as we observe a day of complete rest from work once every seven days, so too are we obliged to extend the same opportunity for restoration and renewal to the land.
Of the many painful and distressing restrictions we have borne over the last seven weeks of lockdown, the enforced reduction in our human footprint on the land, while perhaps uncomfortable for us, has nonetheless afforded nature the space to breathe.
Social media is replete with stories and videos of animals rarely seen in urban settings, from mountain goats in the streets of Llandudno, to wild boar in Haifa. We are hearing the full melody of birdsong as traffic diminishes and, levels of air pollution have fallen precipitously as we have stayed at home. We have been given a glimpse of how life could be.
Many now call for us to commit to stepping upon the earth more gently. We are witnessing first-hand what is possible if we take our relationship of mutual dependence with the earth seriously. The land is not ours to exploit and despoil at will. We share this planet with all of God’s creatures. We are commanded to treat it with care.