“Buy or Sell, God’s Land Remains the Same”
Almost the entire parsha of Be’har talks about the rules and regulations for the Yovel year. Basically, everything returns to its original status – slaves return to their families, lands return to their original owners. The subsequent laws in the parsha enumerate the details governing the returning of the lands, i.e. whether it is a hereditary land, a purchased land, property of the Leviim, etc. Even upon purchasing land from another, the years left in until the Yovel year are specifically taken into account as to the price the land is ultimately sold for. Easily recognizable is that the theme of almost this entire parsha is the returning of bought lands, making sure no one has eternal ownership over any property in Eretz Yisrael.
The haftarah for Be’har (not read this year because of the double-parsha), read from Yirmiyahu 32, tells the story of God’s command to the prophet, immediately before the exile from Eretz Yisrael, to buy land from his cousin in front of all the citizens, making sure they are all witness to the exchange. He is then told to place this deed of sale in an earthenware jar so that it will be ‘protected from the elements for a long time’. Yirmiyahu then challenged God’s command: how could it be that the very God Who has brought the destruction of the Land due to the sins of His children also demands a complete and eternal record of a purchase of a territory within that same land? Yirmiyahu questions the seeming inconsistency of a God Who on the one hand wrought an exile from the very same land of which He then also subsequently demanded an acquiring! In response, God opens by saying, “is there anything too wondrous for God?” and continues by explaining to Yirmiyahu that the command to buy of the land and secure an eternal record of said purchase is to serve as the perfect proof of God’s promise to return His people to their Home. He refutes Yirmiyahu’s claim of inconsistency by illustrating that it in fact had to be the very same God Who catalyzed both seemingly contradictory actions: the God Who punished with exile is the also the God Who guarantees that exile’s end! It is only because of the power to enact the former which provides for the complete faith in His ultimate bringing of the latter.
However, strangely, Chazal decided to end the haftarah before God’s dramatic rebuttal to Yirmiyahu, choosing instead to conclude the reading with God’s rhetorical quandary: “is there anything too wondrous for God?” Why not include the powerful lesson of God’s promise of geulah? What is gained from ending mid-conversation, cutting out what is arguably one of the greatest testaments of God’s unwavering love for His children? The only other time in TaNaKH where this rhetorical expression is used by God is when Sarah laughs aloud, upon hearing of His promise of a son, despite the couple’s old age. There, God conveys a very clear rebuke to any non-believer: the natural system of things has no bearing on Divine will – when it comes to God’s word, there is nothing in man’s world that will limit the carrying through of that promise.
By dramatically interrupting the conversation in our haftarah, Chazal created a brilliant focus on this phrase, assuring that we, the readers, appreciate its message, by removing any of the subsequent, focus-shifting (albeit significant) conversation. By concluding the reading of the haftarah where they did, Chazal left us with one specific idea: no matter what we may think, no matter how much our natural world seems to defy the logic of God’s commands, there is nothing beyond God’s ability. We must trust, as Avraham and Sarah were ultimately shown, that despite any seeming hindrance to His Divine plans, “nothing is too wondrous for God”.
Be’har is all about the returning of Land while the chosen haftarah’s theme is exactly the opposite – the buying of the Land. Usually, the haftarah is chosen to specifically parallel the parsha so as to recall, understand and/or appreciate the lesson of the parsha more deeply – but this haftarah has the complete opposite theme? The haftarah’s concluding line assuages this quandary: there is something much greater being taught than the mere seeming contradictory messages of the parsha and haftarah. God has a more dynamic lesson for us to glean, above and beyond, but still founded upon, the technical details of returning and purchasing the Land.
Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish nation, unlike any other national homeland, is not a land that we live in, which then serves to define us, labeling us ‘Israelis’; rather, it is we who define the Land – it was called Eretz Yisrael (previously named Cannan) once we became Am Yisrael. It is very easy to see Eretz Yisrael as the place where Jews live (like any other ‘homeland’), but, in truth, for us Jews, it is much more than that: it is an essential component of our lives. Included in the message to Bnei Yisrael before leaving Mitzrayim, the event that defined us as a nation, were three essential steps: taking us out of Mitzrayim (creating us as a nation), giving us the Torah (signing the ‘national contract’) and inheriting and settling Eretz Yisrael – the final component of our national character (which is certainly why Rav Kook and so many others state that our truest connection to God is in Eretz Yisrael – because that’s where we are the most complete)! And the seemingly contrasting lessons of the parsha and haftarah clarify this very understanding. For us, it’s not about whether we return the Land or buy it, rather, it’s what we are expressing when we do so. For whether it’s the demonstration of our awareness of God’s complete ownership of ‘our world’ (as exhibited when we return the land after a designated time because it’s not truly ours) or a demonstration of faith in God’s promises (as exhibited when we are told to buy the Land for our future return) it’s not what actions we are performing with the Land, but what we are expressing for ourselves when we complete those actions using the Land. It is not the Land itself that defines us, but our connection to and relationship with it, which truly completes us as God’s chosen nation.
Rav Jonathan Bailey