A Land That Abhors Immorality

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Torah reading, Behar-Bechukotai, concludes the Book of Vayikra. Both portions deal with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. In the seventh year, known as shmittah, Jews in Israel renounce their ownership rights to the land, which must remain fallow. 

By observing this “Sabbath of the land,” we attest to Creation. Everything belongs to G-d, and we are but strangers and sojourners to whom He has “leased His property” on the condition that we put it to good use and, especially, that we share the bounty with those who are less fortunate.

The land of Israel is unique. Its holiness expresses itself in revulsion against immoral behavior. It will not countenance our misdeeds and indecencies. In commanding us to refrain from forbidden sexual practices, the Torah warns that the land will not tolerate it, but will “vomit” us out. The use of this term is very deliberate. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained that it’s as though the land has a delicate personality that has no “stomach” for polluting behaviors.

This thought should give us pause. Staunch supporters of Israel are proud of its military and scientific accomplishments. We must be equally invested in its great spiritual attributes. Visitors to Israel should not regard it as just another vacation spot, but be cognizant that it is the land G-d chose as His “dwelling place.” We should perceive that we are “closer” to Hashem when we stroll the streets of Yerushalayim, and this should inspire us to a higher level of behavior.

Diaspora Jews are rightfully concerned about the existential dangers Israel faces from her many enemies. This includes the threat of a nuclear doomsday posed by Iran. Our parsha instructs us that there is a spiritual dimension to Israel’s security. Bechukotai spells out the “blessings and curses” that will ensue from our observance or rejection of G-d’s Torah. 

The chief reward for faithfulness to His commandments is that “I will establish peace in the land, and the sword will not pass through your territory.” Jews who truly care about Israel’s welfare should take these verses to heart. We need to recognize and affirm that allegiance to the Torah’s ethical and moral ideals is every bit as important as political and military calculations. 

Many commentators have noted that the rewards and punishments mentioned in our parsha are exclusively concerned with everyday physical matters such as health, prosperity, and security. Why, they ask, is the Torah so preoccupied with mundane material benefits, to the utter exclusion of anything else? Isn’t there great emotional satisfaction to be obtained in Divine service? Why is no mention made of the spiritual rewards reaped by the righteous?

The Rambam (Maimonides) addresses this issue. He says that the “ultimate” reward for proper Torah observance is eternal life in Olam Haba (the “World to Come”). The bliss our souls experience in this state is so profound that it is beyond our ability to contemplate. Thus, the physical rewards do not constitute ends in themselves; they are intended to provide the freedom and opportunity we need so we can devote more time and energy to study and good deeds. We thus elevate ourselves to a higher level, which is the true objective of all of Hashem’s blessings.

Reward and punishment are a vital part of the Divine covenant. Even the most religiously refined person needs “incentives” to keep him him on the proper course. G-d generously assists all who seek to know Him and serve Him, Jew and Gentile alike. He provides them with all they need to have the best life in this world and to inherit the World to Come. 

May we all be worthy to achieve the great blessings of our holy Torah.

Shabbat shalom.