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Vayikra/Leviticus 25:18 And you shall perform My statutes and My judgments you shall observe, and you shall do them; and you shall live on the land securely.
Coming as a motivational break in the regulations for the sabbatical year and the year of jubilee that take up the first 34 verses of this parasha (and chapter), this is the first of two verses acting as a back-to-back couplet encouraging the Israelites to understand the benefits of observing these laws. Speaking to the most pressing needs of the people, home and food, the first offers locational security, "you will live securely on the land" (Vayikra 25:18); the second - "you will eat until you have enough" (v. 19, CJB) - addresses financial security.
What are the statutes and judgements that are mentioned? Is this an injunction to obey all the commandments, or is a smaller set in view here? Working from the positioning - in the middle of this block of commandments, theSforno explains that "perform My statutes" refers to "the matter of the sabbatical years", while "keep My ordinances" addresses "the matter of buying and selling according to the number of years until the Jubilee." In his opinion, the last phrase, "dwell in safety", means "so that you won't be exiled from it." The Sforno is supported by Rashi, who adds that, "for through the sin of [not observing] shemittah Israel goes into exile, for it says 'then shall the land make up for its sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years' (Vayikra 26:34, NJPS)." Based on the writings of the Chronicler, he suggests that "the seventy years of the Babylonian Exile correspond to the seventy shemittah years that they neglected: 'in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, until the land paid back its sabbaths; as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, till seventy years were completed'(2 Chronicles 36:21, NJPS)." Bekhor Shor urges the people not to "begrudge the rules about the sabbatical year and the jubilee, for that is what enables you to dwell in security." Walter Kaiser muses that "the promise is that if Israel will live as if all transactions take place under the eyes of G-d, they will fund security and a reward for living obedient and G-d-fearing lives."1
Not all the commentators agree that exile is the opposite of dwelling securely. Baruch Levine says that "this describes a situation in which a people is safe from attack and need not fear invasion. It is customarily a feature of the covenant promises to Israel." John Hartley agrees, pointing to the ever-present threat of raiders: "Yahweh promises that He will protect His people from marauding bands that frequently present a thread to raid the countryside during harvest. Such raids impoverish the inhabitants, for in minutes raiders take away the fruit of months of labour. The experience of such raids demoralises the people, causing them to hide what little they have in an attempt to survive; such was the state of affairs in the days of Gideon. By contrast, trust in G-d's promise of protection develops confidence."2
The last word in the verse is , an adverb meaning "confidently, securely, safely", from the root , "to cling to, to trust in, to rely upon" (Davidson). Immediately before it is the phrase , "on the land". Commenting on the word order, Avigdor Bonchek notes that "'land' comes before 'security'. This emphasises the point that the people will remain 'on the land', therefore 'land' comes first. Land is the point of emphasis."3 It is not that the people are promised to dwell securely, wherever they might happen to be. No, they have been promised quite specifically to dwell securely in their covenant given place: on the land. Perhaps to underline that,Targum Onkelos changes the Hebrew to the Aramaic , "safety, reliance, security, faith", from the root , "to lean on, trust, be safe" (Jastrow). The people will know security and safety in the place of faith. Rabbi Hirsch explains: "The Word of G-d knows only one means of acknowledging G-d, and that is, faithfully carrying out His Will. And so, too, only at one price is His Land ours, and that is by faithfully carrying out His Torah. If we pay this tribute then we have done all we have to do to keep the land for us and us in the land. The recognition and fulfillment of this Torah is our rampart and our wall, our science and our art, our policy and economy."
We know from modern psychological studies that the idea of 'place' is very important. We need to have a place to call home, a place that is ours, where we have at least the illusion of being in control. For many people that need is met by owning or renting a house; inside the house is their space, their domain. Migrant or nomadic people have a van - a home on wheels - or a tent which is erected as their 'place' for however long they stay in a given location. The Romany people and modern day travellers do the same: their caravan or mobile home is their 'place' that is simply moved from one location to another as they travel. Inside, unpacked on arrival and repacked for travel, is what makes home 'home' - bedding, cooking equipment, a few books and decorations, mementos and perhaps a musical instrument. Research shows that pronounced trauma is generated if people are forced to leave their 'place' against their will, particularly if the material significators of home are destroyed or lost. Even people whose home remains, but whose markers of home are stolen or damaged - if, for example, a house is burgled and the contents stripped and stolen - experience considerable trauma described by some in such emotive language as 'violation' or even 'rape'. Groups of people also form attachments of place and experience similar trauma if community buildings, such a churches or synagogues are vandalised or destroyed.
As followers of Messiah Yeshua where is our 'place' and what does it look like? Although Yeshua lived "at home" in Nazareth for most of His life and during the years of His Galilee ministry had a house in Capernaum (see Mark 2:1), He told a would-be disciple that "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9:58, ESV), implying that He and His followers are not to put place above the call of the kingdom of G-d. The writer to the Hebrews records that Avraham obeyed G-d's calling "to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance" (Hebrews 11:8, ESV) without knowing where it was; "by faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Yitz'khak and Ya'akov, heirs with him of the same promise" (v. 9, ESV). Like generations of nomads before and after him, Avraham's 'place' was his tent and the household that travelled with him. He had no fixed place, for "he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is G-d" (v. 10, ESV), but took his 'place' from one physical location to the next as he obeyed G-d's instructions to "walk through the length and the breadth of the land" (B'resheet 13:17).
Rav Sha'ul had a tough life as the apostle to the Gentiles, "on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2 Corinthians 11:26-27, ESV), but spent longer periods of time in Galatia, Ephesus and Corinth, working at his craft of tent-making for periods of time while developing and growing the early communities of believers. Writing towards the end of his life to Timothy, probably from prison or house arrest in Rome, he asks him to "bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:13, ESV. ) He has somewhere to keep these few possessions, a place to study and write: his 'place', even if he would rather have been free.
Writing to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah passed on to them the instructions of the L-rd for their lives there: "Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there, do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the L-RD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper" (Jeremiah 29:5-7, NJPS). Rather than live day to day from a suitcase, not really calling anywhere 'home', the people were to settle and make the houses and land they had been given their 'place', because only by having a place and being part of a community could the people prosper and thrive so that there would be a remnant to bring back to the Land when the time came.
This, then, is the tension in which we live. There is a temptation in some circles to claim to be nothing more than a pilgrim, "just passing through." Such people have no place of reference, of accountability and origin; they are blown around by the wind and struggle to build anything of value. Others can be so tied to the earth and bricks and mortar, that they have no flexibility and cannot respond to the call of the kingdom for change or movement. We are to be "found in Messiah" (Philippians 3:9) as our primary place of identification, but we must put down roots and be part of the community where the L-rd plants us in order to grow and flourish and contribute to the Body of Messiah, and - at the same time - hold that place lightly and be ready to leave at a moment's notice when called on or home as the case may be.
1. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 645.
2. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 437.
3. - Avigdor Bonchek, What's Bothering Rashi - Vayikra, (Jerusalem, Feldheim, 2000), page 175.
Further Study: Ezekiel 34:25-31; Hebrews 13:12-16; 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Application: We must live and produce fruit in our 'place', always listening for the upward call of Spirit but living now where placed - location and community - by the L-rd. Whether in a phase of settlement or a phase of change, seek the L-rd's peace for each day and His wisdom to know the difference.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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