The Promised Country of the Bible
[YehonatanDavidiy is the son of Yair Davidiy. Yehonatan served in a special frontline unit in the IDF. He is married with children and lives in the south of Israel. He teaches Mathematics and also now works as the Headmaster of a Yeshivah. Yehonatan is qualified as an Orthodox Rabbi.]
The article below is translated from the Hebrew. It was written for Jews from a Jewish Biblical-Rabbinical perspective. Nevertheless the article offers us an insight into major Biblical Themes and contains a message that is also pertinent to the Lost Tribes of Israel.
The Land of Israel
by Yehonatan Davidiy
The Importance of the Land of Israel Throughout the Ages.
Praying to Return to the Land.
Throughout every generation the People of Israel remembered its land and were faithful to it. A religious Jew prays three times a day. Every time the Jew prays he remembers Zion and Jerusalem, "And to Jerusalem Your City with mercy return and dwell within it as YOU have promised?" He also prays for the return of the People of Israel to its Land, "and gather us together from the four corners of the earth unto our land." So too, in Grace After Meals in the Blessing where we thank God for the goodness HE has requited us we also pray to return to the Land and to Jerusalem,
"And build Jerusalem the Holy City, quickly, in our time." In the Blessing on a Light Snack (of grains or fruits native to the Land of Israel) we continue to request, "And bring us up into it [Jerusalem] and let us rejoice in its building."
Priority of the Land
Commandments connected to the Land of Israel comprise about two-thirds of all the commandments given to the Children of Israel. The purpose of the commandments is to purify a person, make one a better being, a more complete individual.
The Maharal explains that,
"the ways and means to achieve success are the commandments of the Torah. Without them we would remain with our potential alone and uncompleted. They are like the rope that raises someone out of the deepest pit (the lowest world), to the upper world and places them together with the King LORD God of Hosts. The commandments purge a person from physical restrictions" (Maharal, "Tiferet Yisrael", ch.4).
Keeping the commandments brings us closer to the Creator, enables the spirit to ascend beyond carnality, to make us more divine. An important central segment of these commandments are those connected to the Land of Israel.
The Torah tells us of the fierce desire of Moses to enter the Land of Israel:
AND I BESOUGHT THE LORD AT THAT TIME, SAYING,
O LORD GOD, THOU HAST BEGUN TO SHEW THY SERVANT THY GREATNESS, AND THY MIGHTY HAND: FOR WHAT GOD IS THERE IN HEAVEN OR IN EARTH, THAT CAN DO ACCORDING TO THY WORKS, AND ACCORDING TO THY MIGHT?
I PRAY THEE, LET ME GO OVER, AND SEE THE GOOD LAND THAT IS BEYOND JORDAN, THAT GOODLY MOUNTAIN, AND LEBANON [Deuteronomy 3:23-25].
The Midrash tells us that Moses wanted so much to enter the Land in order to obtain merit and to keep the commandments dependent on the Land:
Rabbi Simlai expounded, Why did Moses wish to enter the Land? Was it because he needed to eat its fruits? To be satiated with its benefits? Rather Moses thought, "Israel has been ordered to keep many commandments that may only be kept in the Land, I will go into the Land and keep them myself" (OtsarHaMidrashim, "Mosheh", p.381, Eizenstein).
The Lord of the Prophets and the Giver of the Torah, Moses our Teacher, wished to enter the land to fulfill the commandments connected with it.
Many Midrashim praise the Land of Israel and its superiority over other lands. Only in the Land of Israel is it possible to truly speak to God. Only here does Prophecy occur:
Before the Land of Israel was chosen every country was suited for Prophecy. Once the land of Israel was chosen all the other lands were excluded. Before Jerusalem was chosen all the Land of Israel was appropriate to set up an altar in. Once Jerusalem was chosen all the rest of the land of Israel was excluded, as it says,
TAKE HEED TO THYSELF THAT THOU OFFER NOT THY BURNT OFFERINGS IN EVERY PLACE THAT THOU SEEST:
BUT IN THE PLACE WHICH THE LORD SHALL CHOOSE IN ONE OF THY TRIBES, THERE THOU SHALT OFFER THY BURNT OFFERINGS, AND THERE THOU SHALT DO ALL THAT I COMMAND THEE [Deuteronomy 12:13-14].
Before the Temple was chosen all of Jerusalem was worthy for the Divine Presence to reveal itself in. Once Jerusalem was chosen all the rest of Jerusalem was excluded, as it says,
FOR THE LORD HATH CHOSEN ZION; HE HATH DESIRED IT FOR HIS HABITATION.
THIS IS MY REST FOR EVER: HERE WILL I DWELL; FOR I HAVE DESIRED IT [Psalms 132:13-14].
(Sifra, BeHar, 5).
The benefit of living in the Land of Israel is so great that the Sages said, Someone who dwells in the Land and serves the Almighty is different from someone who does not dwell in the Land.
"TO GIVE YOU THE LAND OF CANAAN, AND TO BE YOUR GOD" [Leviticus 25:38]: From this verse they deduced, Every Israelite who dwells in the Land of Israel receives upon himself the Yoke of Heaven. Anyone who goes outside the land is as if he worships idols. So too, we find that David said, CURSED BE THEY BEFORE THE LORD; FOR THEY HAVE DRIVEN ME OUT THIS DAY FROM ABIDING IN THE INHERITANCE OF THE LORD, SAYING, GO, SERVE OTHER GODS [1-Samuel 26:19]. Can we imagine David serving other gods? Rather [since David was being forced to leave the land of Israel] David expounded and said that whosoever dwells in the Land of Israel accepts upon himself the Rule of Heaven, and anyone who leaves the Land of Israel is as if they worshipped foreign gods. (Sifrei, Devorim, p. 80).
The Sages went to extremes in praise of the Commandment to live in the Land of Israel. They said that dwelling in the Land of Israel equals all the commandments of the Torah:
It happened that Rabbi ElazarbenShamua and Rabbi YochananHaSandlar were going to Netzivim [in present-day Iraq] to to learn Torah from Rabbi YehudahbenBatira. When they reached Sidon and remembered the Land of Israel their eyes filled with tears, they rent their garments, and quoted the verses,
YE SHALL POSSESS IT, AND DWELL THEREIN [Deuteronomy 11:31].
AND YE SHALL OBSERVE TO DO ALL THE STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS WHICH I SET BEFORE YOU THIS DAY [Deuteronomy 11:32]. They then said, "Dwelling in the Land of Israel is equal to all the commandments of the Torah." After that they turned in their tracks and returned to the Land of Israel (Sifrei, Devorim, p.80).
The Midrash says that there exist different levels of Holiness in this world. The Land of Israel is the most holy of all the lands (Sifrei Zuta, ch5).
Every prayer that is prayed to the Almighty is considered as if it passes through the Land of Israel, then through Jerusalem, and then to the Temple and from there to the Almighty.
"AND PRAY UNTO THEE TOWARD THEIR LAND, WHICH THOU GAVEST UNTO THEIR FATHERS, THE CITY WHICH THOU HAST CHOSEN, AND THE HOUSE WHICH I HAVE BUILT FOR THY NAME [1-Kings 8:48]. Connection to the Almighty passes through the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, HOW AWESOME IS THIS PLACE! THIS IS NONE OTHER BUT THE HOUSE OF GOD, AND THIS IS THE GATE OF HEAVEN [Genesis 28:17].
The Task of Israel in this World
Each and every people has its own unique task and destiny in this world. Every people and each person has its task to fulfill in the world. This task is special to itself and enables it to fulfill its destiny and to benefit Creation. The task of the People of Israel in the world is to serve as a connecting element between Godliness and creation, infinity and the finite: "A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS, AND AN HOLY NATION" [Exodus 19:6]; to serve as a model to the world as to how a perfected being should be. They are to be an example as to what it means to really live, what is living, what is holiness, what is a healthy family life, what is correct juridical and executive governmental order, how to relate to the needy, to build an army, and how God reveals HIMSELF in all creation, all aspects of life. Through the People of Israel all the Divine Blessings should come into the world.
The People of Israel can fulfill their task only by cleaving to the Almighty and to HIS commandments. And only in the Land of Israel. Only in the Land of Israel can the People of Israel complete their mission and bring Redemption to the whole world. Rabbi Kook explains that, "Authentic Israelite Creativity, in conceptuality as well as in meeting the demands of life and work, is impossible for Israelites to achieve unless they are in the Land of Israel" ("Orot", 11,3).
The Purpose of the Land
As indicated above, for each people there is a particular land through only which that people can fulfill its mission. So too, the People of Israel has its own particular land, through only which and only in, can it fulfill its mission and enlighten the world. That land is the Land of Israel!
Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi explained this point through a beautiful allegory. He explains that just as we find that certain soils are suitable for certain crops, for instance a particular type of vineyard needs a particular type of soil that is suited to it to develop in so too the People of Israel may entirely realize itself only on the soil particular to it, the Land of Israel. It is not possible for this special national talent to reach its Divine realization without being in this place, in the same way that the vineyard will not succeed without being on the one particular hillside. ("HaKuzari", article 2,12).
As distinct from other lands that enable those who dwell within them to fulfill their task the Land of Israel not only enables the People of Israel to fulfill its destiny but pushes them to do so. The Land of Israel helps the People of Israel fulfill its mission. It does not just make it possible. Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook explains, "It is impossible for a person from the Israelite people outside of the Land of Israel to be as dedicatedly faithful in thought, contemplation, ideas, and imagination at the same level of candor that is achievable in the Land of Israel. The realizations of Holiness at whatsoever level are cleaner in the Land of Israel. Outside of the land of Israel they are contaminated with dross and numerous layers of impurity" (Orot 11,4). In the Land of Israel one is always in ascension, "The action of spiritual sanctification that is absorbed in the land of Israel is constantly at work" (Orot 11,6).
Only in the Land of Israel does the phenomenon of Prophecy appear. A basic condition for living in the Land of Israel is to life in an uplifting manner through keeping the commandments.
[Deuteronomy 11:8] THEREFORE SHALL YE KEEP ALL THE COMMANDMENTS WHICH I COMMAND YOU THIS DAY, THAT YE MAY BE STRONG, AND GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND, WHITHER YE GO TO POSSESS IT;
[Deuteronomy 11:9] AND THAT YE MAY PROLONG YOUR DAYS IN THE LAND, WHICH THE LORD SWARE UNTO YOUR FATHERS TO GIVE UNTO THEM AND TO THEIR SEED, A LAND THAT FLOWETH WITH MILK AND HONEY.
[Deuteronomy 11:10] FOR THE LAND, WHITHER THOU GOEST IN TO POSSESS IT, IS NOT AS THE LAND OF EGYPT, FROM WHENCE YE CAME OUT, WHERE THOU SOWEDST THY SEED, AND WATEREDST IT WITH THY FOOT, AS A GARDEN OF HERBS:
[Deuteronomy 11:11] BUT THE LAND, WHITHER YE GO TO POSSESS IT, IS A LAND OF HILLS AND VALLEYS, AND DRINKETH WATER OF THE RAIN OF HEAVEN:
[Deuteronomy 11:12] A LAND WHICH THE LORD THY GOD CARETH FOR: THE EYES OF THE LORD THY GOD ARE ALWAYS UPON IT, FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE YEAR.
[Deuteronomy 11:13] AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS, IF YE SHALL HEARKEN DILIGENTLY UNTO MY COMMANDMENTS WHICH I COMMAND YOU THIS DAY, TO LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND TO SERVE HIM WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL,
[Deuteronomy 11:14] THAT I WILL GIVE YOU THE RAIN OF YOUR LAND IN HIS DUE SEASON, THE FIRST RAIN AND THE LATTER RAIN, THAT THOU MAYEST GATHER IN THY CORN, AND THY WINE, AND THINE OIL.
[Deuteronomy 11:15] AND I WILL SEND GRASS IN THY FIELDS FOR THY CATTLE, THAT THOU MAYEST EAT AND BE FULL.
[Deuteronomy 11:16] TAKE HEED TO YOURSELVES, THAT YOUR HEART BE NOT DECEIVED, AND YE TURN ASIDE, AND SERVE OTHER GODS, AND WORSHIP THEM;
[Deuteronomy 11:17] AND THEN THE LORD'S WRATH BE KINDLED AGAINST YOU, AND HE SHUT UP THE HEAVEN, THAT THERE BE NO RAIN, AND THAT THE LAND YIELD NOT HER FRUIT; AND LEST YE PERISH QUICKLY FROM OFF THE GOOD LAND WHICH THE LORD GIVETH YOU.
Without keeping the commandments we will have no grasp on the Land of Israel. It is as if this land has a different atmosphere from the rest of the world, "The air of the Land of Israel makes wise" (Baba Batra 158;b). The Land does not tolerate that they who rebel against the Almighty should dwell in it. The Land pressures and obligates the People of Israel who dwell within it to draw closer to the Almighty and to fulfill their mission.
YE SHALL THEREFORE KEEP ALL MY STATUTES, AND ALL MY JUDGMENTS, AND DO THEM: THAT THE LAND, WHITHER I BRING YOU TO DWELL THEREIN, SPUE YOU NOT OUT [Leviticus 20:22].
"The Land of Israel is not like the rest of the earth. It does not tolerate transgressors. Take as a parable the allegory of the son of a king who is fed something coarse that he cannot stomach but is forced to vomit it out. Likewise the Land of Israel cannot maintain transgressors. It therefore says, THAT THE LAND SPUE NOT YOU OUT ALSO, WHEN YE DEFILE IT, AS IT SPUED OUT THE NATIONS THAT WERE BEFORE YOU [Leviticus 18:28]" (Sifra, Kedoshim, 10).
Within the Land itself there are different levels of holiness and varying regions that influence their inhabitants in different ways. For this reason the Almighty made each of the Tribal Inheritances to be specifically compatible to the Tribal Characteristics of the Tribe that would possess it.
The writer continues this theme below quoting from the Book of Numbers an expression according to acceptable Rabbinical Exegesis but rendering it differently from how it appears in our translations.
[Numbers 26:54] TO MANY THOU SHALT GIVE THE MORE INHERITANCE, AND TO FEW THOU SHALT GIVE THE LESS INHERITANCE: TO EVERY ONE SHALL HIS INHERITANCE BE GIVEN ACCORDING TO THOSE THAT WERE NUMBERED OF HIM.
"THAT WERE NUMBERED OF HIM". In Hebrew "pekudav" which can also connote "according to his needs."
"ACCORDING TO HIS NEEDS": From this we learn that the Land of Israel was only divided to each and every Tribe according to the nature of the Tribe, by the voice of the Almighty. The Land of Israel was only divided through Divine Inspiration as directed by the Almighty. (Sifrei, Bamidbar, p. 132).
God HIMSELF decided therefore where in the Land of Israel each Tribe should dwell to enable it to develop its unique potential to the maximum possible, for its own good and for the good of the People of Israel and the Entire World.
The very act of just being in the Land of Israel is an enormous merit. It purifies they who dwell within it and brings them closer to God.
Rabbi Mair would say, Whoever dwells in the Land of Israel, the land of Israel atones for, as it says, THE PEOPLE THAT DWELL THEREIN SHALL BE FORGIVEN THEIR INIQUITY [Isaiah 33:24]. Rabbi Mair also said, Whoever dwells in the Land of Israel and says [daily the prayer] "HEAR O ISRAEL THE LORD IS ONE" (Deuteronomy 6:4) in the evening and morning and speaks in the Holy Tongue [Hebrew] is destined for the World to Come (Sifrei, Devorim, p.333).
The writer quotes below from a Midrash which in turn cites a verse indicating a different meaning from that by which it is interpreted.
In the verse,
[Deuteronomy 32:43] REJOICE, O YE NATIONS, WITH HIS PEOPLE: FOR HE WILL AVENGE THE BLOOD OF HIS SERVANTS, AND WILL RENDER VENGEANCE TO HIS ADVERSARIES, AND WILL BE MERCIFUL UNTO HIS LAND.
"AND WILL BE MERCIFUL UNTO HIS LAND. " The Hebrew says, "ve-kiper admat amo." This could be understood in Hebrew to say, THE LAND SHALL ATONE FOR ITS PEOPLE.
THE LAND SHALL ATONE FOR ITS PEOPLE: From here we learn that whoever dwells in the Land of Israel, the land of Israel atones for them, as it says,
THE PEOPLE THAT DWELL THEREIN SHALL BE FORGIVEN THEIR INIQUITY [Isaiah 33:24] (MidrashTanaim, Devorim 32).
We learn also that even the Gentile Peoples of the World who would visit the Land of Israel when it was built up by Israel would merit being spiritually uplifted from their previous level.
[Concerning Issachar it was said, THEY SHALL CALL THE PEOPLES UNTO THE MOUNTAIN [Deuteronomy 33:19]. The Sages commented that when due to his mercantile activities foreigners came to trade with Issachar they would complete their journey by paying a visit to Jerusalem and be impressed by the holiness of the place and level of devotion of the people.]
We learn that people from different nations and kingdoms would gather together and come up to trade with the Land of Israel. They would then say to themselves, "We have gone to so much trouble already to get here let us go and see what the nature of Jewish Merchandise is". They would then immediately go up to Jerusalem and see Israel worshipping one God and eating one type of food [i.e. food that is Kosher and therefore acceptable to all]. This would have been in contrast to the heathen where the god of one nation is not the deity of the other, and the food of one is not acceptable to the other. They would then say, "It is a good thing to cleave to this nation". They then would not move from there until they had converted and offered sacrficies and whole offerings, as it says,
THERE THEY SHALL OFFER SACRIFICES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS [Deuteronomy 33:19] (SifreiDevorim p.354).
In Conclusion, we may say that the settlement of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel is a necessary factor for the Redemption of the World. Without this the Divine Outpouring of Bounty into the world will diminish and the People of Israel will be unable to fulfill their mission. When the People of Israel do not dwell in the Land of Israel, "The Spring of Bounty ceases to flow and gradually becomes closed up" ("Orot", 11, 3).
Land of Israel
The very name "Land of Israel" is a declaration of the ownership of the People of Israel over it. By "Land of Israel" we mean the Land of the Children of Israel, the Land of the People of Israel.
[Joshua 11:22] THERE WAS NONE OF THE ANAKIMS LEFT IN THE LAND OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL: ONLY IN GAZA, IN GATH, AND IN ASHDOD, THERE REMAINED.
[Ezekiel 27:17] JUDAH, AND THE LAND OF ISRAEL, THEY WERE THY MERCHANTS: THEY TRADED IN THY MARKET WHEAT OF MINNITH, AND PANNAG, AND HONEY, AND OIL, AND BALM.
Different Levels of Holiness
There exist ten levels of Holiness. The Land of Israel is more holy than all the other lands. What is its special Holiness? The following offerings can only come from it: The Omer [first barley offering]; the two loaves; and the firstfruits. These offerings cannot be brought from other countries. The Land of Canaan [west of the Jordan] is more holy than the Land east of the Jordan since the Land of Canaan is suited for a Temple to serve the Divine Presence whereas East of the Jordan is not suitable. Walled Cities are Holier than the rest of the Land since lepers may travel throughout the Land but they cannot enter the Walled Cities. Jerusalem is holier than the Walled Cities since foods Sanctified to a mild degree and the Second Tithe are eaten within Jerusalem and they cannot be eaten in the Walled Cities. The Temple Mounts is holier than the rest of Jerusalem since they who have an impure discharge enter Jerusalem but they cannot enter the Temple Mount. The Outer Section [Chail] of the Temple Mount is Holier than the rest of the Temple Mount since Aramaeans (Heathens) and they who are impure from touching a corpse may enter the Temple Mount but they cannot enter the Outer Section. The Womens Courtyard is holier than the Outer Section since someone who has had a nocturnal emission may enter the Outer section but they cannot enter the Womens Courtyard. The Israel Courtyard is holier than the Womens Courtyard since they who have not completed their purification may enter the Womens Courtyard but they cannot enter the Israel Courtyard. etc, etc
Each and every people has its own unique task and destiny in this world.
"The Creatures created by God in HIS world act out their existence in the world they were created in, every one according to its own level and the importance of its work", Maharal, "Tiferet Yisrael".
The Direction to Pray In
Those who are outside the Land of Israel turn towards the Land of Israel to pray, as it says, "AND PRAY UNTO THEE TOWARD THEIR LAND [1-Kings 8:48]. Those who are in the Land of Israel turn towards Jerusalem and pray as it says, AND THEY PRAY UNTO THEE TOWARD THIS CITY WHICH THOU HAST CHOSEN [2-Chronicles 6:34], Those who are in Jerusalem turn their faces towards the Temple and pray as it says AND THE HOUSE WHICH I HAVE BUILT FOR THY NAME (ibid). They who are in the Temple direct their heart towards the Holy of Holies and pray as it says, IF THEY PRAY TOWARD THIS PLACE [2-Chronicles 6:26]. As a result of all this those who are in the North turn their faces to the south, those in the south to the north, those in the east to the west, and those in the west to the east. Consequently all Israel pray to the one place. (Sifrei, Devorim, p.29).