Sustenance from the Source
City living can cause social fragmentation and environmental degradation.
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"And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, for these shall the land be divided as an inheritance according to the number of the names (Numbers 26:52)."
The Torah portion of Pinhas discusses apportioning the land of Israel according to preset measurements, called nahalot. These delineations are to remain forever (Rashi to Leviticus 25:15). These land apportionments are intended to provide the setting for true sustenance. As part of the great scheme of sustenance, God gave us land measures to keep as a sustainable and balanced inheritance.
The respect necessary for maintaining a sustainable relationship to the land can inform our approach, even outside of Israel. We need to strengthen our access to sustenance, both physical and spiritual, by feeling our connection to the land, even though we might live in modern cities. We can do this by making human health and well-being a goal in the architecture and scale of our cities, and making planetary health and well-being a guiding force in planning our source of nutrition.
The Torah directs us to live in faith and unity with creation; approximately half of the mitzvot involve agriculture and land apportionment. But city living distances people from the agricultural test of faith, and thus they also are deprived of the resulting closer relationship with God.
Dependence on God
In rabbinic literature, the order of the Mishnah related to agriculture is called emunah, a Hebrew word which means faith in God's blessings. Dependence on the land deepens our relationship with God through emunah.
With no emunah, land is harvested without an appreciation of the source of sustenance. Industrialized farming results in depleted soil, less nutritious food, and pollution from pesticides. This kind of farming has little regard for the natural balance of life. By working with nature, with God, organic sustainable farming produces a healthy harvest that will sustain the human immune system, as well as the environment.
In addition to compromised nutrition, the overall health of city dwellers is an ancient issue. As early as the 11th century, Rashi explained "Life is more difficult in the city, because so many live there, and they crowd their houses together, and there is no air, whereas in villages there are gardens and orchards close to the homes, and the air is good (comment to Ketubot 110b)."