SALT - Tuesday, 16 Iyar 5778 - May 1, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Thursday 18 Iyar, May 3
            We read in Parashat Behar of the limits established by the Torah over property sales in the Land of Israel, requiring that agricultural lands return to their original owners on the yoveil (the jubilee year).  The Torah commands, “The land shall not be sold for perpetuity, for the land is Mine, for you are but foreigners and residents with Me” (25:23).
            The common interpretation of the term “geirim ve-toshavim” (“foreigners and residents”) is that both words denote inferiority and subservience.  God prevents us from permanently selling land in Eretz Yisrael in order that we always remember that the land belongs to Him and we reside on the land only through His grace.  Indeed, Avraham describes himself with this very term – “ger ve-toshav” – in humbly submitting his request to the Chittites that they sell him property as a burial site (Bereishit 23:4), and thus here, too, this phrase refers to our “foreigner” status vis-à-vis the Almighty in Eretz Yisrael.
            Some, however, have suggested that the words “geirim” and “toshavim” actually connote two opposite statuses (similar to the Midrashic interpretation of “ger ve-toshav” cited by Rashi there in Bereishit).  Whereas “geirim” refers to alien residents, the word “toshavim” could be understood as a reference to permanent citizens – the very opposite of “geirim.”
            This discrepancy between the two words led Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta (the “Oheiv Yisrael”) to offer a novel reading of this phrase – “for you are foreigners and residents with Me.”  The Rebbe of Apta finds in this verse an allusion to the paradoxical experience of Am Yisrael in their state of exile, as they live as both “geirim” and “toshavim.”  On the one hand, as Rashi famously cites from the Midrash in his opening comments to the Torah, the world was created for Am Yisrael, in the sense that we are given the mission of representing God to the world.  Our unique role and responsibility makes our status as “citizens” on earth as stable, secure and distinguished as anyone else’s.  At the same time, however, the reality is that we live as “geirim,” as an infinitesimal minority that has frequently been shunned and mistreated.  When God tells us that we are “foreigners and residents with Me,” the Apter Rebbe writes, He assures us that His condition in this world, so-to-speak, is no different from ours in this sense.  He is, of course, as much a “toshav” – a legal resident on earth – as anyone else.  He created the universe and continues to sustain it at every moment.  Nobody has “earned” greater rights and privileges as a “toshav” than the Almighty.  And yet, it so often seems that He is but a “ger,” a “foreigner” among inhospitable and resentful “natives” who deny His rightful place among them.  As though to comfort us in our uneasy state of exile, we are told that we are foreigners and residents “with Me” – just like God is, that we and Him find ourselves in the same paradoxical condition here on earth, existing as both “residents” and “foreigners.”
            The broader message conveyed by this Chassidic reading of the verse is that we must not be deterred or discouraged from fulfilling our roles by the feelings of discomfort and “foreignness” that they sometimes entail.  Occasionally we are thrust into an unfamiliar situation, or given a challenge for which we find ourselves ill-suited, essentially turning us into “geirim,” alien residents forced to manage and find our way in hostile and foreign surroundings.  At times we feel like an employee without the training and experience needed for the job, who needs to struggle to adapt and grow comfortable with the new demands.  We must remember that even in situations where we feel like “geirim,” we are also “toshavim” if we devote ourselves to doing what we need to do.  If we embrace the challenge and commit ourselves to doing the best job we can under the undesirable circumstances, then our sense of “geirim” can be combined with a sense of “toshavim,” and we can then approach the task at hand with confidence and determination no matter the difficulty entailed.