June 4, 2024
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We all put up walls. But there are different kinds of walls.

There are walls of distrust that we put up around ourselves as protection from those beyond those walls. It is those kinds of walls that lead to our parsha’s differentiation between the walled and the open cities and fields of Eretz Yisrael. The open areas cannot be sold for the long-term because, said God (Vayikra 25:23), “The land is Mine and you are (only) My tenants in the land.” Part and parcel of living in the land of Israel is entrusting ourselves to God. This is expressed in the inherent vulnerability of day-to-day natural life in an arid climate that is dependent on rainfall from the Heavens (Devarim 11:10-12), as well as in the embrace of dependence on God implicit in the Shemitah agricultural cycle, where we allow our fields to lie fallow for a full year based on the Divine reassurance of His blessing. Living in Israel is an expression of trust as we cede control of our own lives to God in a happy and trusting surrender: The land is Yours, God, and we live here with You.

A walled city presents a completely different reality (Vayikra 25:30). The home built there can be sold forever with no return at the Yovel, the Jubilee year. The walls around that city are walls of protection, walls of distrust, walls that seek to control our fate and imply a lack of trust in anyone other than the fortifications that we ourselves can construct. The home inside those walls is not God’s because we have not trusted God enough to surrender it to Him. Without God, the land is ours to sell and therefore to lose.

There is one exception, one walled city where this rule does not apply, and that is Jerusalem (Bava Kamma 82b). The walls of Yerushalayim are not fortifications to provide us with physical security. They are not walls of distrust, but rather walls that define us and envelope us. Those walls create a relationship within as they define the perimeter for the containment of kedushat Yerushalayim, the unique sanctity of the city wherein God is more present and where we may partake in sanctified and elevated activities. They are walls that invite God in, rather than keep others out. They are walls that build our relationship with God and our faith and trust in Him, as we pray every Shabbos: Av Harachamim heytiva b’rtzoncha et Tziyon tivneh chomot Yerushalayim, “Compassionate Father, favor Zion with your goodwill, rebuild the walls of Yerushalayim for we trust in You alone….”

These are the kinds of walls that we should all be building around us, walls that create the space for our sacred and faithful relationship with God and for the trusting and intimate relationships with each other.


Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

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