Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger

Living with the Landlord

The apartment they recently rented was much like the first floor of the house from which they had just moved. Yet in the apartment, they could shuffle around at any hour, and the children could play as they pleased, and the lateness of the phone calls did not seem to bother anyone. The neighbors simply cold-shouldered each other in the elevator. Living in the house was very different and it was not easy. You see, the landlord lived above them.

That experience made a deep impression on Harav Arye Leib Baksht zt"l, one of the leading students of The Mirrer Yeshiva, who came to America via Shanghai to become an inspiring and dedicated Rosh Yeshiva in Detroit. "Living with the landlord" would be the vignette through which Harav Baksht would illuminate a remarkable comment of the Seforno on this week's parsha (Kol Aryeh, Vol. 2, page 160.)

The many restrictions that the Torah places on landowners and land speculators in Israel brought the Seforno to a startling conclusion. Rulings restricting the sale to those in need, and forcing the resale within two years of the sale, capping all sales with yovel and fixing the prices accordingly must diminish any sense of autonomy for the Israeli land developer.

Thus the Seforno (25:23) comments that Dovid Hamelech's summary of all of human endeavor, "The heavens are Hashem's heavens and the earth He gave to humans" does not apply to the land of Israel. Hashem generously "retracted" into the heavens and placed the opportunity and responsibility to develop the world, as we know it, in our hands. Not so when it comes to the land of Israel, suggests Seforno. Here Hashem did not retract nor hand over so generously.

Rav Bakst explains that living in Israel is, "living with the landlord". True, the leaky roof and the faulty plumbing and some of the poor circuitry will be fixed much sooner, but you can never be in mindless relax mode with the landlord upstairs. Knowing his proximity becomes part of the routine.

Accordingly, the halachos mirror the message of the climate and topography of Israel that create our dependence on the country's rainfall. Consequently, every farmer lives with his prayers close to his heart and his head forging a palpable sense of Hashem's proximity, His concern that we live up to the privileges, and His regard for our prayers (see Devarim 11:10 -12 with Rashi and Ramban.)

In similar fashion, the halachos mirror the historic realty that we have come to learn through the interpretations of Rashi and Ramban (26:32). Both see blessing and blessed history in Hashem's promise that the land will be desolate and uninhabitable. Both note the miracle to which we bear witness that it was not cultivated with any measure of success by any other nation, and it flourished only under Jewish governance.

In perfect synchrony, the halachic requirements of land ownership in Israel, Israel's topography and climate, and the agricultural and social history all coalesce to help the sensitized Jew in Israel fully realize the privilege and the responsibilities of "life with the landlord."

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