Having just spent five weeks in Israel, there are many verses in these sedrot that speak to me. “And they shall stumble, one upon another” (26:37). The Midrash Rabba translates this verse “And they shall stumble, one man by his brother” and comments that this means that “one man will stumble because of the sins of his brother and from this we can deduce that every Israelite is surety for every other”.
No matter the protests on the streets and the political division in the Knesset, it was profoundly sad but strangely reassuring to hear the sirens wailing out and to see the unity of the people as they stood together in the streets to remember the six million men, women and children who died in the Holocaust. And a few days later more sirens, sadness and grief at the Memorial Ceremonies for soldiers who have died in action and for the victims of terrorism. And again, at the joint Memorial Day Ceremony where over 15,000 Israelis and Palestinians gathered in-person to choose peace rather than revenge, and reconciliation instead of violence. Swiftly followed by the many celebrations to mark Israel’s 75th birthday. Certainly, despite strongly held different opinions within families and the wider society, when there are security issues, commemoration or celebration – we – the Jewish People come together – “every Israelite is surety for every other”.
The other verses that resonate in view of our visit to Israel are about the Land. “And I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember: and I will remember the land” (26.42). Right from the beginning, the Jewish People are inextricably linked with the land of Israel. The instructions about shemittah – the law that the land of Israel must lie fallow in the seventh year – were given on Mount Sinai. ‘Or ha-Hayyim’ (Light of Life) written by Hayyim ben Moshe Ibn Attar in 18th century Morocco asserts that Mount Sinai is mentioned to remind us that we merit the land of Israel because of the covenant we made with God on Mount Sinai. Our connection to the land is attached to our faith and our relationship with God. The land belongs to God. We are not the owners of the land and we are reminded of this by the shemittah year. “And God told Moses on Mount Sinai saying: Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: ‘When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord” (25:1-2).