Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
What’s in a word?
The answer depends on this word, and this week we encounter an especially important one. This week’s double portion, Behar/B’Chukotai, begins with the commandments for a sabbatical year, a year of rest for the land, and those who work it every seven years and the Jubilee year, a complete reset every 50 years for the land and for people. While these commandments may seem a little strange to the contemporary reader, they are rich with meaning and wisdom.
This year, Rabbi David Greenspan inspired me to look at only one word among many:
“And the land shall not be sold irreversibly, for Mind is the land, for you are sojourning settlers with Me.” [Lev. 25:23]
This verse is about the Jubilee year, where all land sold between the last Jubilee and this one are returned to the original owners. The key word is the last one in Hebrew: imadi (translated as “with Me”). Imadi is an unusual expression in bible, and as such, carries a unique import. Immi and itti are the two most common ways to say “with me.” Imadi, in contrast, only rarely occurs. Perhaps its most famous use is in the Psalms:
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (imadi).” [Psalm 23:4]
The Psalmist chose imadi over the other options for a reason: unlike itti and imi, the word imadi shares a root with the verb omeid (ayin, mem, dalet), which means “to stand.” Imadi means more than just “with me,” it means “stand with me.” In the Psalm, David overcomes his fear by recognizing that God stands with him, even in times of desperate danger. In this week’s parasha, we find the opposite side of the same coin: we are commanded to stand with God.
Without the word imadi, the commandment for the Jubilee seems to be focused on maintaining the balance of power between the tribes of Israel (because land equaled power). However, when God connects the reason behind the commandment with imadi, a new layer of meaning is revealed. Let’s take another look at the verse from Torah, this time with a less poetic but more literal translation:
“And the land shall not be sold irreversibly, for Mind is the land, for you are sojourning settlers - stand with Me.” [Lev. 25:23]
It seems to me that the inclusion of imadi changes the focus from the balance of power through control of land to the recognition that land is not, in actuality, equivalent to power. The strength and security which comes from our relationship with the land stems from our relationship with God. The land changes. We change. God remains constant. God, even more than the land, is the source of our strength. Additionally, the Hebrew can be read to mean that God says imadi, because we are all wanderers together – even God. Theologically, the concept is enormous, because it suggests that just as we need God, God needs us.
We may be vulnerable, afraid, in danger, but when we say to each other the word imadi, we are expressing our mutual commitment: we stand with each other. In other words, imadi is the very definition of faith.
The general arc of our tradition is one of hope and realistic optimism. The faith of imadi both with God and with each other is one of the historical sources of our collective resilience. Today we carry our fears and anxieties about the many dangers we face – physical health, mental health, economic health, and spiritual health. This week let us seek the faith of imadi.
While the phrase “we are all in this together” has become so ubiquitous as to have been rendered almost meaningless, let us turn to each other and to God with the faith of imadi. Let us stand not against each other motivated by our fears, but with each other sustained by our faith.
Just remember, that for now we should stand together … … six feet apart.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras