Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Eretz Israel - From Perakim B’machshevet Yisrael, pp. 401-402
There are two elements behind the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael and the special status it has within Jewish life- the revealed and the hidden.
The revealed element of Eretz Yisrael’s special standing finds expression in halacha (the Land-linked mitzvot) within set, defined, practical rules. The sanctity that brings on these halachot can exist and cease to exist, depending on different factors (primarily, Jewish control).
The hidden element of Eretz Yisrael’s sanctity is not directly expressed in halacha. Rather, Eretz Yisrael has certain innate qualities, which make it the setting for spiritual heights such as prophecy and special Divine Providence. It does not require the conditions that are needed for Land-linked mitzvot but is eternal and uninterrupted. Not all classical sources stress this element of the Land’s sanctity. Characteristic are the words of Tosafot (Ketubot 110b), weighing the pros and cons of fulfilling the mitzva to inhabit the Land in terms of the likelihood one will properly fulfill the active mitzvot. In contrast, the Kaftor Vaferach dedicated an entire section to prove that the Land’s basic sanctity and value is in its special, Divine nature, beyond the mitzvot related to it.
R. Yehuda Halevi deals at length with the mysterious value of Eretz Yisrael. This is in line with his stress of the innate qualities of the Jewish nation, which give it a special standing among the nations of the world and are responsible for the specific historical occurrences that arose. In the same way, R. Yehuda Halevi sees Eretz Yisrael as possessing special qualities from the beginning of creation, as a result of which, it stands out in regard to specific mitzvot as well.
Eretz Yisrael’s special qualities make it the natural setting for reaching spiritual heights, enabling people who live there to achieve unique, spiritual attainments. Only in Eretz Yisrael, and for it, is it possible for the maximum connection between man and his Maker to be fully revealed. The Land’s sanctity is not just a halachic concept. Rather it is an actual, spiritual reality that pervades the Land, even in its physical landscape. Its rocks, soil, air, plants and fruit all contain elements of its spiritual quality. It is specifically from here that the special mitzvot that pertain to its fruit and its soil stem. The secret of Eretz Yisrael is that its spirituality dwells within its physicality in a much stronger bond than exists anywhere else. This spirituality certainly dwells within its inhabitants. Even as the inhabitant deals with things that would normally cause a person to become more enveloped in a physical existence, he is enveloped in spirituality. Thus, dealing with matters of this world is a matter of inestimably higher, positive value in Eretz Yisrael than in the Diaspora.
Eretz Yisrael also brings spiritual blessing or, Heaven forbid, lacking, from a spiritual perspective, on Bnei Yisrael. According to R. Yehuda Halevi, we are to attribute the cessation of prophecy at the time of the Second Temple to the fact that there was a reluctance to return to the Land when the opportunity arose at that time. He also foresaw that the future redemption would follow an awakening of the desire to return to Zion, its soil and its stones. Only in Eretz Yisrael would the nation be capable of returning to its strength and be healed.
In this light, there were great rabbis of our time who saw the awakening to return to Zion not just in its apparently secular approach or as a result of persecution in their lands of origin, as historians did. Rather, it can be seen as the work of Divine Providence, to return the nation to its place so that it could gradually connect to the Land and thereby be enveloped with a sanctity that will ultimately bring them to full repentance.
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