Inch by Inch – Parshat Ki Tavo 5772

Since Duncan and I have now lived in Dallas for just over two years, I’ve grown accustomed to Dallas life.  Most of the transition was easy to accept; our Jewish community is thriving, Tex-Mex food is delicious, and a two-mile round trip commute is fantastic.  The biggest difference coming from Los Angeles to Dallas is the idea of land ownership.  Owning a piece of land in LA is a dream, in Dallas it’s a reality.
Now that we are able to own a home, our dream is of starting a garden with our favorite vegetables.  At the moment, we’re proud of ourselves if we remember to water our backyard once a month.  But owning land is about more than having a house.  When you own land, it’s yours to take care of, whether it’s the land your house is on, the community garden you might be working in, or simply enjoying the gift of our earth.  We have a responsibility to the future generations to take care of it.
Parshat Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion, teaches the laws of bringing offerings to God, specifications for fruits and animals, blessings and curses that come into the land, and the mitzvahof giving tochechah, rebuke.   But before all of these laws, it teaches us the lesson of land ownership and responsibility.  In the first verse of the Parshah it states:  “And it shall be, when you come in to the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it;” teaching us what our duty to the land is for our entire lives. 
First, the text teaches that the land is an inheritance, meaning that it comes to us from earlier generations and goes from us to the next generation.  While the text is speaking directly about the land of Israel, let’s broaden the conversation to our earth.  This means we should leave our land better than when we found it, creating a space that is inhabitable and enjoyable to the next generation. 
Next, the text tells us to possess the land.  Possession means making something your own.  Dogs mark their territory to show others that this space is taken.  Humans acquire lots, maintain lawns, and build structures.  Perhaps the Torah is also reminding us that we must take ownership over what happens to the land.  We must treat it with love and respect as we do our other possessions. 
Finally the text tells us to live in the land.  To live in the land means to enjoy it, to use it and to make the best of it.  Backyard gardens and community gardens are a growing trend (pun intended) because of benefits like cost savings and knowing where your food comes from.  People are focusing more on the distance between farm to table and whether the energy gained from the crop is greater than the energy used to grow it.  More than sustainability, there’s also the joy of cultivating something from seed to flower.
Judaism is all about inheritance in every sense.  We inherit the Torah from our parents and grandparents just as the Israelites did when they first received it.  We inherit traditions, from the smell of latkes frying to those favorite seats in the sanctuary.  And we inherit possessions, whether it’s money, land, or Zadie’s old Haggadah that still has his notes and dog-eared pages.  Just as the earth’s rich, vibrant land must be cherished and protected, Judaism’s rich, vibrant tradition must be passed on to survive.  The question is will you leave our land and our religion better than how you found it?
THIS TOO IS TORAH: I recently read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which details the ins and outs of our current food system.  As I read the verse from this week’s parshah, Pollan’s words came to mind.  He posits that the dilemma we’re facing is one that we’ve made for ourselves by industrializing a food system to offer the same foods year-round and ultimately reducing sustainability.  He doesn’t offer easy answers to solving these problems, but he does remind us that we have a responsibility to do our part to sustain our earth, to take care of our land while it is in our possession so that it can be inherited and lived on by many generations in the future.
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