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Chumash

Parasha

Shoftim

The Eternal Allocation of Land in Eretz Yisrael

Tsvi Levy

Writer:

You shall not pull back your neighbor's landmark, which the earlier ones have set as borders in your inheritance, which you will inherit in the Land that the Lord, your God gives you, to possess. 

[Devarim 21:14]

 

Background

Chazal (Our Sages) comment on our posuk (verse): “Has it not already been stated ‘You shall not rob?’  What, therefore, is the meaning of ‘You shall not pull back your neighbor’s landmark?’ [It comes to teach that one who uproots his fellow’s landmark (i.e., steals his field) violates two negative mitzvot. I may think that this is true even outside the Land; therefore the Torah says even outside the Land; therefore the posuk states “in your inheritance, which you will inherit;” within Eretz Yisrael one (who steals land) violates two negative mitzvot, while abroad there is only a single violation. The double violation pertains only within the Land which is that “which you will inherit.”

 

Question On the Elucidation of the Posuk

Why, indeed, does the Torah add an additional prohibition of taking one’s fellow’s land within Eretz Yisrael? Even abroad land owned by a Jew is his and one who takes it is stealing from its rightful owner. Whether within Eretz Yisrael or abroad, land belongs to its owner.

In answering our question, we shall present two approaches which complement each other.

 

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s Exposition

In his commentary on our posuk, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch notes that there is a great difference between stealing land in Eretz Yisrael and abroad. Eretz Yisrael was divided into tribal estates, with the division to individuals within Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) being done under Divine supervision (by means of lottery). God’s will was that the division of the Land be set for generations. The Land’s division specifically by Divine decree is intended to impress on all Am Yisrael the understanding that God Himself is the sole Master of the Land. “The Land shall not be sold permanently, for the Land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and (temporary) residents with Me” [Vayikra 25:23]. This posuk is stated in the context of the laws of shemitta and yovel, which Rabbi Hirsch notes also convey the message that God is the sole Master of the Land. In the yovel year, fields return to their original owners, even if they were sold and owned by someone else for many years. This teaches that everything one owns is from God and no one independently has absolute rights of ownership. This is certainly true of Am Yisrael’s right to the soil of Eretz Yisrael, which rests on God’s will in dividing the Land.

Stealing land in Eretz Yisrael is a direct blow to the Divine distribution of the Land. As such it contradicts the basic message that God is the Master of the entire world. The lands outside Eretz Yisrael were not divided in accordance with the Divine will. Therefore, theft of land within Eretz Yisrael is indeed a more severe offense than theft of land abroad.

 

The Exposition of Torah Temima

Torah Temima offers an additional explanation of the fundamental difference between land ownership in Eretz Yisrael and abroad. In Eretz Yisrael property rights are eternal, being passed from father to son throughout the generations, while outside the Land, the rights are temporary. The Torah added the second prohibition of land theft in Eretz Yisrael because such theft is a more serious offense, since it is the theft of an absolute right of ownership.

Combining the expositions of Rabbi Hirsch and Torah Temima indicates that the two are complementary and reveals the depth of the unique connection between Am Yisrael and its Land.

Eretz Yisrael was divided among the tribes for eternity, creating an inviolable bond between the owner and his inheritance. God directed that a particular parcel of land be given to a particular Israelite, creating a true and absolute bond, a fundamental bond of life. Rabbi Ẓadok HaKohen of Lublin writes that everything connected to a person, even one’s tangible assets, has a fundamental connection to that person’s soul. S’fat Emet writes that every Jew has a potion of Eretz Yisrael which is rooted in his soul.

Based upon the above, it is clear that the lofty connection between Am Yisrael and its soil cannot exist abroad. As Torah Temima noted, the connection to land abroad is temporary. When the ultimate redemption arrives and the nation returns to Eretz Yisrael, a Jew’s property holdings abroad will revert to gentiles.

 

Love of Eretz Yisrael

From the above comments, we understand that Am Yisrael has a deep and eternal connection to its Land. Eretz Yisrael was given to each Jew individually, each having his own inheritance within the Land, from generation to generation, indicating that the bond is rooted in the soul. As one loves himself and his family, so too he loves his Land – it is part of himself and his life, of his fate and his destiny. Thus, living in the Land is not merely another practical mitzva; it is living in the place to which we as a nation and as individuals belong, as part of our essential souls. Each Jew has his own personal and unique portion.

May we soon be privileged to have the entire nation return to our Land, each to his own portion and borders, each “under his vine and fig tree” [Micha 4:4].

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