We Are All Strangers Here

“But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.” (Leviticus 25:23)

In this verse, which comes from this week’s Torah portion Behar, God makes it clear to the Israelites that the land they are about to enter is not to be sold in the conventional manner. God is the ultimate “owner” of the land – thus the Israelites are cautioned they cannot treat it as private property. The Israelite residents are akin to resident aliens who are entrusted with the use of the land; however, since land was going to be “bought” and “sold,” this verse prohibits any purchase or sale to the exclusion of a claim of ownership

The land in Mine and you are but resident aliens…  The land, this earth, the very ground upon which we make our homes, does not ultimately belong to us. We are but strangers upon it – or at best we’re merely “leasing” it temporarily from God.  In just about every respect, this is truly a radical teaching. Indeed, if we broaden our understanding of this commandment beyond the milieu of Ancient Israel, it certainly carries a myriad of powerful economic, political and environmental implications.

It also has profound spiritual significance as well. In the words of Madeleine L’Engle:

We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes.