August 8, 2022

Ketubot 25

Today’s daf (Ketubot 25a) references the mitzvah of חלה (challah) – which is the portion of dough given to Kohanim as a ‘terumah’ (donation) to support them provide their spiritual leadership for the Jewish people (see Bemidbar 15:17-21).
However, what is significant – as noted in our Gemara on the basis of the phrase בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ, ‘when you come to the land’ (15:18) – is that this mitzvah is only biblically obligated of Jews living in Israel at a time when all, or at least the majority, of the Jewish people are living in the land of Israel.
Reflecting on this rule, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halacha: Kashrut 1 p. 185) writes that ‘we learn a great principle from here: that the capability of revealing the inherent sanctity of nature is dependent the Jewish people – who have been tasked to reveal the word of God – living in the land of Israel which has been designated as the place from where holiness will be revealed’.
Today, absent of a Temple, when Kohanim are presumed to be in a state of impurity, and when the majority of the Jewish people don’t yet live in the land, rabbinic law requires that we separate a small piece of dough as חלה which is then either burnt or put aside. Moreover, even when the majority of the Jewish people are living in the land (nb. currently 45.3% of Jews live in Israel and this is rising every year – see at which stage this mitzvah will return to becoming biblically obligated, the Kohanim will not yet be privileged to eat חלה until the restoration of the spiritual purification process.
Still, as I study this daf, I think of all those who read these same pages over the centuries while pondering the significance of the words בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ who may have wondered whether there will ever be a time, before the Messianic Era, when even a significant minority – let alone a majority – of Jews live in the land.
Yet here I sit, in my home, with the window of my office looking out onto trees that are growing without intervention due to Shmitta, living alongside families who have journeyed to Israel from Yemen, Morocco, Ethiopia, America, Canada, France, Russia, England & South Africa, facing my neighbors’ house which is currently occupied by a family who are here in Israel for a pilot trip, while knowing that, at some point in my lifetime בע”ה, the majority of Jews will live here in the land of Israel.
And while there is still so much for us to do in terms of knowing how to live together as Jews, in terms of fulfilling our mission as Jews, and in terms of considering how to ensure that we – and our children and grandchildren – remain connected to Judaism at a time of rising assimilation, we are nevertheless seeing – before our very eyes – the fulfilment of the literal and halachic definition of the words of בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ. And notwithstanding the challenges and troubles that exist in the world, this fact is a source of great comfort in the present, and a source of great hope for the future.
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