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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

The Song of the Land

Updated: May 24

First sentence. I am someone who loves to watch plants grow. I am an enthusiastic gardener,(if messy and not always so successful)and plant lover, so I cannot resist writing about the land when it appears front and center in the Torah. This week, during the time that many of us are planting our gardens, we read about Sh'mita in Parshat Behar. This ancient mitzvah, which orders the land to lie untouched every seventh year in Israel, has recently been restored to practice among some farmers in Israel, is also being used creatively around the world by some Jewish farmers.

When reading more about this concept of Sh'mita, I came across an article by RABBI SHAUL D. JUDELMAN, called THE SONG OF THE LAND, where he connects the connection of growing crops and song.

In the story of Joseph in Egypt,(Genesis 43:11) Jacob asks his sons to bring Joseph a gift of choice products of the land. It is the words that Torah uses that are beautiful.

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֜ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֣ל אֲבִיהֶ֗ם אִם־כֵּ֣ן ׀ אֵפוֹא֮ זֹ֣את עֲשׂוּ֒ קְח֞וּ מִזִּמְרַ֤ת הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ בִּכְלֵיכֶ֔ם וְהוֹרִ֥ידוּ לָאִ֖ישׁ מִנְחָ֑ה מְעַ֤ט צֳרִי֙ וּמְעַ֣ט דְּבַ֔שׁ נְכֹ֣את וָלֹ֔ט בּטְנִ֖ים וּשְׁקֵדִֽים׃

"The translation of Onkelos understands this phrase(M'zimrat Ha'aretz) to mean “the crops that a land is praised for.” With respect to the great scholar Onkelos, I am going to differ to go with the translation that the land is singing.

The song of the land. What a beautiful concept. Can you imagine the land singing?

If the land had a voice, what would she sing? What would those who inhabit her many layers sing to her? Sing with her?

Imagine this chorus, composed of those who dwell in and on the land, singing to her, for the land is well deserving of rest and song.

I am grateful that through Torah we are sensitized to the earth under our feet and we recognize that we are all part of a system which is much larger than our backyard gardens, even though it makes sense to start with that smallest piece of land which we are familiar with.

So in honor of Parshat Behar, and the song of the land, I challenge you to go forth and observe as small slice of land near you. Perhaps a 2' x 2 x 2' square in your yard or a nearby park. What is under the land? Scoop some up and investigate. What lives on top of the land and what lives in the thousand tiny crevices within the land? Follow this lead and use this as a way to honor the land this weekend as part of Parshat Behar. Join the chorus.

This poem is about my own 2' x 2' x 2' patch of garden soil.

May the world around us be blessed with good news.



The Song of the Land

Wake up, wild mint of the fields, sing with me.

Sing a song of spice and roots winding,

seeking a home.

Sing to me, fragrant fennel,

your feathery leaves spreading over me like a gingered horse’s tail.

Whisper your everlasting silence to me, worms round and segmented,

as you burrow and fill me with tunnels that twist and wind deeper and deeper yet.

Croak your song to me, diminutive brown toad as you hop gently over my surface,

tickling me as you search for insects.

Do you have time to sing to me, tiny ants? Do you ever take the time to rest?

Spider, I feel your dance as you weave your web through empty spaces,

connecting the here with the there.

Harmonize with me, wild onions, as your fragile stalks vie for space

between jeweled strawberries and purpled violets.

Hum with me, goldenrod, as your green hats flop sleepily in the breezes of Iyar.

I wait patiently for your Tamuz song.

Add your sweet breath to this chorus, gentle spring breeze.

Rain, that falls on me, tap out the gentle percussion,

create pools for my children to drink,

for they are always thirsty.

Sing to them, rain, for I protect those who live within my folds.


And you, fine humans, who tread none too gently on my surface, what do you see?

Can you hear my song,

the Song of the Land?

Drop to your knees and inhale my scent.

Use the eyes gifted to you to peer between the leaves of thyme,

the sharpness of sweet marjoram.

Reach out and crush the mint between your fingers.

Taste the wild onions.

Rest on me, my children, for here I lay resting beneath you.

I feel your cheek upon last season's oak leaves,

cool and brown.

You, my children, are my protectors,

so hold me in your hands.

Tread gently.

Sing with me.

Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield.

וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַיהֹוָ֑ה שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר׃

But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of יהוה: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.

Leviticus 25:3,4


Resources on Sh'mita


Other posts in Words Have Wings for Parshat Behar


מִזִּמְרַ֤ת הָאָ֙רֶץ֙

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