The Greatness of Eretz Israel
Our Sages have said, “The land of Israel is holier than all other lands” (Kelim 1:6). This means that no one should think that if he goes outside the land, he can still infuse himself with holiness and purity. The Sages tell us that we can only discover the paths of holiness in Eretz Israel, and it is not without reason that they described other places as “the land of the nations.” Such places hold impurity, whereas in Eretz Israel holiness is everywhere. In our parsha we are told of the nature of Eretz Israel and all the good it contains, as the Torah states: “For the L-RD your G-d is bringing you to a good land, a land with streams of water…a land of wheat, barley, grape, fig and pomegranate, a land of oil olive and honey, a land where you will eat bread without poverty” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). If we were to examine these verses closely, however, we would discover something very surprising.
Why does Scripture not detail the spiritual advantages of Eretz Israel? Why does it only detail the material advantages of the land, namely one that is filled with rivers and valleys, where bread can be had without difficulty, and in which its fruit, the seven species, grow and enhance the surroundings? Would it not have been better for the verse to specify just how much holiness and purity exists in the land, how much Torah and prayer can be had in Eretz Israel? After all, spirituality is the main thing, while material things are secondary. We can all learn a great lesson from this, which is that if we go and find someone and tell him to study Torah, to pray and don tefillin every day, and to observe Shabbat in all its details, this individual is liable to respond, “How can I do all that, since I have almost nothing to live on? I have barely any bread to eat or clothes to wear, and morning, evening and noon I have to work in order to feed my family. How can I free myself from all these things to perform mitzvot?”
This is why the Torah comes and spells out the virtues and material benefits of Eretz Israel. It is telling us, “There is no Torah [learning] like the Torah of Eretz Israel” (Bereshith Rabba 16:4). There is no place other than Eretz Israel where we can perform mitzvot and study Torah so well. Why is that? It is because everything that we need to serve Hashem in peace, calm, and tranquility exists in Eretz Israel.
We can earn a living in Eretz Israel, and it is there that we can eat bread without difficulty. There are springs of water in the land, and growing in its soil are the seven fruits that have made it famous. It is therefore precisely in Eretz Israel that mitzvot are easiest to perform. It is not without reason that among the Sages there is a concept of “mitzvot that are dependent upon the land.” It is easier to perform mitzvot in Eretz Israel, for it is there that we find everything we need.
However this is not the only thing expected of us. True, it is easier to fulfill the Torah in Eretz Israel, but the demands are considerably greater there as well. Near the end of our parsha it is stated, “A land that the L-RD your G-d seeks out. The eyes of the L-RD your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end” (Deuteronomy 11:12). This is difficult to understand, for if the eyes of Hashem are upon it from the beginning of the year to year’s end, why does the verse add the word “always”? It is an apparently redundant word, since it would have been sufficient to state: “A land that the L-RD your G-d seeks out; the eyes of the L-RD your G-d are upon it from the beginning of the year to year’s end.”
The gaon Rabbi Zevulun Charlap, the Rosh Yeshiva of Beit Zevul in Jerusalem and one of the rabbis of the city, stated that from here we learn that it is completely forbidden to turn one’s thoughts away from Eretz Israel. With regards to both tefillin and the Tzitz attached to the forehead of the High Priest (which the Torah also describes using the word “always” – Exodus 28:38), our Sages explain that it is forbidden for a person to turn his thoughts away from them. The same applies with respect to Eretz Israel, since Scripture also uses the term “always” in describing the land. This means that it is forbidden, even if just once, to turn one’s thoughts away from Eretz Israel.
What is the issue here? It is precisely during this time, the days following Tisha B’Av, that people take their summer vacation. During this time, many Israelis travel abroad to spend their vacation, or they leave for purposes of health or other reasons. At the airport’s departure terminal, there’s almost no empty place to be seen, for people are leaving precisely during this time. It is a time described by the Sages in the following terms: “From then on, one who adds [hours to his daily Torah study schedule] will add [days to his life]” (Bava Batra 121b). This means that it is a mitzvah to augment one’s Torah studies during this time, yet people abandon their Gemaras to go on vacation, even traveling outside Eretz Israel to do so!
People who do this should realize and take what the Torah says to heart, namely that the eyes of Hashem are always upon Eretz Israel. It is there that holiness is found. It is not without reason that the Sages said, “Whoever lives outside the land may be regarded as one who has no G-d” (Ketubot 110b). This is because holiness is found primarily in Eretz Israel, not elsewhere. Jews who leave Eretz Israel must fully realize this and not turn their thoughts from the land. To our great regret, the reality of things is far different, for there are Jews who leave the country for good. It is true that at first they are simply “leaving,” but with time they end up “descending.” They settle elsewhere and completely forget Eretz Israel and its great virtues. Pity the generation whose offspring act in this way! Pity the generation whose children scorn the chosen land of their ancestors. Why is this happening to Eretz Israel? It is because the Jewish people want to be like all the other peoples of the world; hence the virtues of Eretz Israel no longer speak to the heart of Jews. During this time we are in the midst of the weeks of consolation, a time following Tisha B’Av. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforts us by the restoration of Jerusalem, as it is written: “By Jerusalem you will be consoled” (Isaiah 66:13). Yet are we consoled? Gentiles want to exterminate us and take over the Holy Land, and each day they try to hasten our end by their murderous attacks. We must strengthen ourselves against them. We must demonstrate our love for Eretz Israel, the Holy Land – the holiest of all lands – for only in this way will it remain ours. Amen, may it be so!