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    Green belts & open space – Mass’ei

    In the midst of a detailed account of Biblical borders comes an ethical gem with amazing modern relevance.

    The tribes of Israel are told where each one is to settle once they enter the Promised Land. The Levites have to have areas allocated to them as “cities to dwell in”, and there must be “open land round about the cities” (Num. 35:2).

    Rashi explains that this is to be “an area consisting of an open space round about the city, serving to beautify it” but not to be used for building houses or planting vineyards, etc.

    This is the origin of the idea of a green belt, ensuring that limits are placed on the size of cities and that our habitations do not become ugly and depressing without air to breathe and beauty to lift our sights.

    The old stories about children brought up in grey tenements with hardly a flower, a playground or a glimpse of the sun are unfortunately not all merely history.

    We are better off today with our recognition of the importance of open space, but we have not entirely eradicated the problem.

    We need to take Rashi seriously, as well as a magnificent Midrash on a verse in Kohelet (7:13), “Consider the work of God”.

    The Midrash says that God led Adam around the Garden of Eden and told him, “See how beautiful and praiseworthy are My works. They have all been created for your sake; be careful that you do not spoil or destroy My world.”

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