Labor, Not Commerce

My dvar torah this week, Parshat VaYishlach, at the table of Sophie Simons:

In his words seeking to convince Yaakov to be absorbed and dwell together in full integration with the Shchemites after the rape of Dina, Hamor states

ח  וַיְדַבֵּר חֲמוֹר, אִתָּם לֵאמֹר:  שְׁכֶם בְּנִי, חָשְׁקָה נַפְשׁוֹ בְּבִתְּכֶם–תְּנוּ נָא אֹתָהּ לוֹ, לְאִשָּׁה. ט  וְהִתְחַתְּנוּ, אֹתָנוּ:  בְּנֹתֵיכֶם, תִּתְּנוּ-לָנוּ, וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵינוּ, תִּקְחוּ לָכֶם. י  וְאִתָּנוּ, תֵּשֵׁבוּ; וְהָאָרֶץ, תִּהְיֶה לִפְנֵיכֶם–שְׁבוּ וּסְחָרוּהָ, וְהֵאָחֲזוּ בָּהּ.

8 And Hamor spoke with them, saying ‘The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter. I pray you give her unto him to wife. 9 And make ye marriages with us; give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. 10 And ye shall dwell with us; and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein.’

And further on, in turn, appealing to his fellow town-dwellers, Hamor, as well as his rapist son, speak so:

כא  הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה שְׁלֵמִים הֵם אִתָּנוּ, וְיֵשְׁבוּ בָאָרֶץ וְיִסְחֲרוּ אֹתָהּ, וְהָאָרֶץ הִנֵּה רַחֲבַת-יָדַיִם, לִפְנֵיהֶם; אֶת-בְּנֹתָם נִקַּח-לָנוּ לְנָשִׁים, וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵינוּ נִתֵּן לָהֶם.

21 ‘These men are peaceable with us; therefore let them dwell in the land, and trade therein; for, behold, the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters.

The use of the word to trade or, to engage in commerce, in the relationship with the land indicates a purely materialistic attitude, looking at the physical and fiscal benefit that the land can provide.

The land is a tool for growing food for man and beast but little more.

Judaism seeks to apply to the land a more spiritual value, to raise it above the mundane and materialistic and, in doing so, to uplift man.  The land not only provides sustenance but, as per the paradigm of commandments dependent on the land, as explained here, there is a:

category of mitzvot that can only be observed in a specific place is Mitzvot ha-Teluyot ba’Aretz, commandments that are dependent on the Land of Israel. These are mitzvot that can only be observed if you are in the
Land of Israel. Out of the 613 mitzvot, there are approximately twenty-five that are dependent on being in the Land of Israel.  These mitzvot can generally be divided up into two categories. There are mitzvot that play a social role within society, and there are mitzvot whose purpose is to either accentuate, or perhaps to create, the sanctity of the Land of Israel.

Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook added that

the primary holiness of the Land is reflected in the mitzvah to settle it, and the obligation of mitzvot ha-teluyot ba’aretz is an expression of this special holiness.

These mitzvot are a major social tool which even a secularist like Ze’ev Jabotinsky recognized when he based his social-economic approach for the future state of Israel on the Bible.  As observed:

Jabotinsky viewed economy as a huge game of monopoly: The players can buy and sell assets, some get rich and some get poor, but once in 50 years, the game is over. Just like in the game, the “rich” willfuly return their “property” to the game box in order to start a new game, so it should be in economy: the rich should understand that it’s only a game, and return all their wealth to the public once in 50 years.

To simply exploit the Land of Israel for its commercial value is not Judaism.  We are commanded to work the land — לעֲבֹד, אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה, and the inference of ‘work’ is also a religious intimation.

The land is more than earth; it is a base for heaven.




About yisraelmedad

I am a revenant, that is, a Jew who has returned to his historical homeland. I live in Shiloh, the pre-monarchy capital of the Israel tribal federation where I have lived with my family since 1981. I have been in Israel since 1970. Previously, I have worked in the Knesset, as a parliamentary aide, in Government, as an advisor to a Minister and Deputy-Minister, as director of Israel’s Media Watch, and now retired Director of Information Resources at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center after 17 years. I have now been appointed Deputy Editor to the critical anthology edition of Jabotinsky's Writings in English.
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