Parshat Behar-Bechukotai: Chief Seattle and Rabbi Kook

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai: Chief Seattle and Rabbi Kook

In 1854, the American government sought to purchase from Chief Seattle his tribal lands. In March of that year, the chief responded in a speech to his people. As Chief Seattle chose to speak in Lushootseed, a language unknown to white men, the exact text has been lost. The gist of his talk was about the land itself being holy and being the spiritual entity that gives us life. Ultimately he concluded “the land does not belong to us, we belong to the land.”

Throughout the book of Vayikra and in particular in Parshot Behar and Bechukotai, the land of Israel appears as a living entity. Once every seven years, a year of Shabbat must be given to the land. If this is denied, the Jewish people will go into exile to allow the land to reclaim its Shabbatot and, in fact, the Tanach states the seventy years of exile in Babylon was to return to the land the 70 years of Shabbat taken from it. The book of Vayikara also teaches that sin contaminates the land and the land ultimately vomits out the transgressors. In our times, the writings of Rabbi Kook stress the sanctity of the land and express passionate love towards it.

The similarities in the relationship to the land between Chief Seattle and of the Torah sources challenge us to find the differences between the approaches as the Indian religious belief is connected to the worship of nature which is anathema to monotheistic Judaism.