It is fascinating how geographical location can impact on the way one reads the Torah. I have read through the Parshiot of Behar and Bechukotai more than one hundred times, but this year, from the perspective of one living in the land of Israel, they come to life in unimaginable ways. How is it possible, for example, to understand the Mitzvah of Shmita, in which the land needs to rest? Farmers anywhere in the world can describe the need to rotate the crops, yet that is not the Mitzvah of Shmita. Hiking through the lush mountains of the Galil, the dramatic hills of Judea, and the great wadis of the Negev creates a unique bond with the land; one can almost hear the land, its trees and bushes whispering, calling out to the Jewish people to return so that it can truly take its rest.
In a year of severe drought, like that experienced this year in Israel, one becomes acutely sensitive to the rush of water in a waterfall, the patches of green in the great sea of burnt brown grass, and the sheep looking far and wide for grazing. The blesses and curses of the Tochacha, the rains in their appropriate season or, God forbid, their absence, become meaningful in the immediate and the tangible, not just in the distant and theoretical. God today communicates with Man, not through prophecy or visions but through the subtlety of weather patterns.
There is a healthy, earthly sense to reconnecting with the land, with nature, with Creation in its raw unprocessed form. Urban Man is robbed of the sense of the ebb and flow of the tides, the waxing and waning of the moon, the rising and the setting of the sun - those things that remind him of where he comes from and to where he will return. It is no wonder that so many of the Mitzvot are connected to agriculture; that the blessings and curses relate to the cycles of nature, that daily halacha does not allow us to forget the rhythms embedded in the world, and that the Jewish people are linked to a land - for it is in the fragility and complexity of nature that we begin to see the handiwork of God.
Yet we are not only observers of that Creation, we are part of it. As we renew our link with the world of nature we become renewed, and through the redemption of the land the people are redeemed as well.