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What's So Special About the Land of Eretz Yisrael? (Parshas Eikev)

parsha sefer devarim Jul 29, 2021



Back in the day, when a dollar could get you a lot more, a ten-year-old boy walked into a café and sat at a table. A waiter set down a glass of water and asked him what he wanted.

"50 cents," the waiter replied.

The little boy pulled some coins from his pocket and began slowly studying them. The waiter watched him, becoming increasingly impatient as other customers began walking into the store. The boy was rudely taking his sweet time.

"How much is a dish of plain ice cream?" the young boy inquired, oblivious to how much time he was taking.

"35 cents," the waiter answered brusquely.

The little boy counted his coins again, before finally ordering, "I’ll have the plain ice cream please."

The waiter brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and quickly walked away, happy to finally move on to the next customer. The boy finished his ice cream, paid the cashier and skipped out of the shop.

When the waiter began wiping down the boy’s table, he couldn't believe what he saw.

There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, was a 15-cent tip.


The Very Best


"I want the very best." That's what we tell ourselves, isn't it? As human beings, we understand that there is a spectrum of quality for everything, and we want only the best. We desire the best relationships, teachers, friends, food, clothing, experiences, the best of everything.But what makes something the best? Sometimes, it's the quantity; this brand supplies more of its product for the same price. But often, it's the quality that makes the difference. When you pay an increased rate for a service, experience, or luxury, you do so with the assumption that you are receiving a higher quality product, one that is fundamentally improved from the basic, standard package. With this in mind, let us explore a unique idea connected to Parshas Eikev.


Parshas Eikev is replete with mention of Eretz Yisrael's greatness and uniqueness. While we often hear about Eretz Yisrael's unique kedushah (holiness), we must ask: what is the nature of this holiness, uniqueness, and greatness? While one can suggest that the land itself is of better quality and more inhabitable, there is something more at hand. Eretz Yisrael is the home of the Jewish People, but its value goes far beyond that. There are a number of mitzvos that can be performed only in Eretz Yisrael. The Beis Ha’Mikdash, the spiritual center of the universe, was located at the center of Eretz Yisrael. Hashem promised Avraham the land of Israel as a sign of their eternal covenant.


Our question, then, is twofold. What is the underlying uniqueness of this special land, and why does the land of Eretz Yisrael possess this unique quality?


The Land of Eretz Yisrael


At a surface level, the land of Israel is no more than that: a land for the Jewish People to inhabit. There is nothing unique or fundamentally different about Eretz Yisrael, it simply serves as the homeland of the Jewish People. This was the argument made in the 20th century when some proposed that Uganda should be given to the Jewish people as a homeland. This stems from the pragmatic view that Israel was a safe haven for the Jewish People, and any other land could serve this function just as well. This line of thinking diminishes, if not eliminates, any inherent spiritual uniqueness that the land of Israel might possess. According to this view, the Beis Ha’Mikdash's location in Eretz Yisrael is of no intrinsic significance - and evidence of this would be the fact that the Jewish People had the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, and that sufficed. However, such a view overlooks the true nature and depth of the Jewish homeland. Eretz Yisrael is not special simply because it is the homeland of the Jewish People; it is the homeland of the Jewish People because it is special. Let us explore this topic.


The Center of the Universe


When Hashem created the world, He created its accompanying dimensions of time and space as well. This occurred through a process that emanated from one point of inception: the even shesiyah (rock of formation). This rock of formation, from which the entire physical world expanded, is located at the heart and center of Eretz Yisrael, under the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim (Holy of Holies) in the Beis Ha’Mikdash. It is from this point that all of time and space comes into existence; as such, the rules of time and space as we know them begin to bend as one approaches this holy spot. And in this focal point itself, the rules of time and space cease to exist. Let us explore this in more depth.


Concentric Layers of Time and Space


There are several identifiable layers of time and spacein the world, organized in concentric circles. The outermost area is the majority of the world, governed by what we consider to be the normative laws of physics. However, once one enters Eretz Yisrael, these rules begin to bend. In sefer Daniel [1], Israel is referred to as "Eretz Ha’tzvi" - the land of the deer. The Gemara [2] explains this comparison between Eretz Yisrael and a deer. The skin of a deer, once removed from its body, appears far too small to ever have fit over the deer. A deer's skin stretches on its body, a trait it shares with Eretz Yisrael. The land of Israel stretches to fit its people; as such, there will always be room for all the Jewish People to come home.


The second concentric circle is Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), which lies at the center of Eretz Yisrael. On each of the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos) the Jewish People gathered in Yerushalayim to celebrate. The Mishna in Avos [3] states that nobody ever complained that they could not find lodging in Yerushalayim. The city of Yerushalayim, an area far smaller than the land of Israel, miraculously made room for its people.


The third concentric circle is the Azarah- the courtyard within the Beis Ha'Mikdash. The Jewish People gathered in this area to daven on the Shalosh Regalim, standing crowded together in the small courtyard. The Mishna in Avos [4] testifies to the miracle that occurred here: although everyone stood crowded together, when they bowed, they had adequate space. This is due to the unique spiritual nature of this place: when standing in the courtyard of the Beis Ha’Mikdash, in the center of Yerushalayim, in the land of Eretz Yisrael, the rules of time and space bend. However, this was only true once they bowed down- in other words, only once they negated their egos and recognized Hashem as the source of time and space, were they able to exist beyond these physical boundaries.


The last layer of kedushah is the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim, located directly above the even shisiyah. At this point, the laws of time and space break down completely. The Gemara explains that the Aron, the holy ark in the Beis Ha’Mikdash, occupied no space. This is clear from the fact that the dimensions of the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim and the Aron had the same measurements, and yet there was space on either side between the Aron and the walls of the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim. To explain this paradox, the Gemara explains that there are no measurements in the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim, so this paradox poses no problem. 


This principle, that the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim exists in a realm far beyond time and space, manifests in another unique scenario. It is forbidden for anyone to enter the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim, the Holy of Holies, at any time. As the Torah states, "no man shall enter".[5] However, the Kohen Gadol enters the Beis Ha’Mikdash on Yom Kippur. How is this possible? 


It is true that man cannot enter the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim; not as a restriction though, but by definition. The Kodesh Ha’Kodashim is completely beyond space and time; as such, it is impossible for a physical, mortal, confined human being to exist in such a place. However, the Kohen Gadol is able to enter on Yom Kippur, on a day when he is no longer human. On Yom Kippur, we transcend our physical nature and embrace our angelic root. We wear white, dressing as angels. We refrain from eating, as we loosen the hold that our physical body has on our angelic soul. We say "Baruch shem kevod malchuso l'olam va'ed" aloud, a line that only angels can say out-loud. Therefore, on this day the Kohen Gadol represents all of Klal Yisrael, not as a man but as an angelic being. In that state, he enters the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim - a place that transcends the limitations of space and time.


Mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael


This principle that we have developed, the intrinsic holiness of Eretz Yisrael, explains why there are many mitzvos that apply uniquely within its borders. This special treatment is not practical, it is indicative of the objective status of the land. Eretz Yisrael is fundamentally different, thus it warrants fundamentally different requirements. It is the physical land most potently rooted in a spiritual reality. The very earth of Eretz Yisrael is saturated with higher levels of kedushah. Every four amos one walks in Eretz Yisrael is another mitzvah. The produce is of a fundamentally different nature, filled with the nutrients of holiness and transcendence.


This also sheds light on the Ramban's unique approach to mitzvos performed in Eretz Yisrael in contrast to those outside the Land. The Ramban suggests that the mitzvos performed within the borders of the Eretz Yisrael are of a different nature entirely. This is because mitzvos are the means by which we connect ourselves to Hashem, [6] and Eretz Yisrael is the ideal and ultimate setting in which to do so. It is the center and root of this physical world's connection to the spiritual, the ideal place for us to connect our physical lives to the ultimate spirituality.


Kefitzas Ha'derech


There is another strange phenomenon in the Torah which relates to the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael. There are several instances where Chazal mention the concept of kefitzas ha'derech, literally translated as "jumping the path". This refers to the unique ability to travel at a pace quicker than the laws of nature normally allow, thereby enabling someone to travel extraordinary distances in mere seconds, or perhaps even instantaneously. How and why does this occur?


Chazal mention a few cases of kefitzas ha’derech. One is when Yaakov travels from the house of Yitzchak, narrowly escaping Esav's clutches. The second is when Eliezer embarks on a journey to find a wife for Yitzchak. There are several others as well, but what do these cases have in common? Do they share any deeper connection? When, why, and how does this strange phenomenon occur?


Transcending Time and Space


There are several options regarding the nature of kefitzas ha'derech. The first is that when one experiences kefitzas ha’derech, they transcend the nature of time, moving at an extremely fast pace, close to the speed of light. One would be moving through space, at a transcendent pace. The second option is that one transcends the nature of space, gaining the ability to disappear and then reappear somewhere else.[7] The third option is that both time and space are a single connected concept, called space-time, and both of these are "bent" in order to achieve kefitzas ha'derech. While Einstein is credited for discovering space-time, the Maharal [8] discussed this topic centuries before Einstein was born, stating that time and space are not two separate concepts, but deeply and intrinsically connected.


Regardless of the specific explanation, kefitzas ha'derech enables one to transcend the laws of time and space. Why is this possible? It is due to the unique location in which kefitzas ha'derech always occurs: Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov's return from Beit El back to the makom ha'mikdash took place within Eretz Yisrael, and it was a journey to the root of creation itself. This journey completely transcended space and time.


When Yaakov awoke the next morning, he states: "Mah nora ha'makom ha'zeh." “Nora,” spelled backwards, is “aron” - the vessel which would later be housed in that very same spot, the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim, a place beyond space and time. Yaakov traveled to a place beyond place, a time beyond time. As such, he was able to transcend space and time through kefitzas ha'derech.


The same is true for Eliezer, when he traveled to find Yitzchak a wife. After the Akeidah, Yitzchak became a paradoxical being, living both beyond and within this world. The midrash states that Yitzchak's ashes lie on the mountain, at the spot of the Akeidah. This is because Yitzchak was sacrificed. He then returned to life, becoming the first person to experience techiyas ha'meisim (resuscitation of the dead). This is why the second bracha of shemonah esrai, which is connected to Yitzchak, mentions techiyas ha'meisim: Yitzchak brought this concept to the world. Chazal note that the letters of Yitzchak's name spell “keitz chai”- he who lives (chai) while [paradoxically] existing beyond life (keitz). Yitzchak is rooted beyond space and time, and yet, paradoxically, lives within it. And where did he take on this unique nature? On Har Hamoriyah- the very same spot where Yaakov slept, the very same spot as the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim- the meeting place between the physical world and its transcendent spiritual source. The journey to find a wife for Yitzchak occurred just after this episode, and it was a journey beyond space and time to find a wife for Yitzchak, who himself was beyond space and time.


Wandering vs. Set Mikdash


It's interesting to note that there were two forms of mikdash within Jewish history. The first is a moving, wandering mikdash- the Mishkan in the midbar. The second is a static, set mikdash- the Beis Ha'Mikdash in Eretz Yisrael. What is the meaning of this? Why are there two, what are the differences between them, and what can we learn from this?


While we generally think of the Mishkan as the predecessor to the Beis Ha’Mikdash, the Beis Ha’Mikdash actually predates the Mishkan, in a sense. The root of Beis Ha’Mikdash appears at the beginning of Sefer Bereishis, by Akeidas Yitzchak and when Yaakov slept at the makom ha’mikdash. This was the root of our connection to the transcendent, of our ability to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite. This unique ability is most powerful in the makom ha'mikdash, at the heart and center of Eretz Yisrael, above the even shisiyah.


However, as we have explained many times, [9] every process has three stages:

  • The first stage is the high, the inspiration, an experience of perfection and clarity.
  • Next comes the second stage: a complete fall, a loss of everything that was experienced in the first stage.
  • Following this is the third stage, a return to the perfection of the first stage. However, this third stage is fundamentally different than the first. It is the same perfection, the same clarity, but this time it's a perfection and clarity that has been earned. The first time it was given to you, now you have worked to build it for yourself.


Our foundation was the makom ha'mikdash- the gift our Avos gave to us. We then had to rebuild towards that ideal- through the Mishkan in the midbar. Then, we were finally able to reconnect to that original perfection through the Beis Ha'Mikdash in Eretz Yisrael.


Now that we lost the Beis Ha'Mikdash, it is our job to rebuild it, beginning within ourselves. This is the meaning of the term "bilvavi mishkan evneh," within myself, I will build a mishkan for Hashem. Not a Beis Ha'Mikdash, but a Mishkan! This is because when the Beis Ha'Mikdash is gone, when we have lost that ideal, we are called upon to recreate that light within ourselves. We transform ourselves and our lives into a vessel that connects us to Hashem, receives His light, and projects it into this world. We thereby connect the physical to the spiritual, the finite to the infinite, the limited to the transcendent. In transforming our lives into a Mishkan, we work our way back to the perfection of the Beis Ha’Mikdash.


Levels of Spirituality


We can now understand the sin of the Meraglim on a much deeper level. The spies did not only speak lashon hara, they rejected the uniqueness, holiness, and transcendence of Eretz Yisrael.While the entire world is infinitely spiritual, Eretz Yisrael possesses a fundamentally higher spiritual quality. Eretz Yisrael has no equal, there is nothing that can be compared to it. May we be inspired to continuously deepen our connection with Hashem and Eretz Yisrael, and may we become the ultimate vessels for Hashem in this world, fully fulfilling the words of bilvavi mishkan evneh.


[1] Daniel 11:41.

[2] Gittin 57b.

[3] Avos 5:5.

[4] Avos 5:5.

[5] Vayikra 16:17.

[6] For more on the purpose of mitzvos, see chapter on Parshas Shemini, sections: “Limited vs. Infinite” and “Hashem as the Makom of the World”.

[7] In this second option, it is most probable that no time passes between the disappearance and reappearance. One could suggest that this works as a worm-hole within time and space: one would enter at one end of time and space and instantaneously exit from the other side at a different point in space, but with no (or little) time having passed. See Ramchal- Derech Hashem.

[8] Tiferes Yisrael 26.

[9] See chapter on Parshas Mishpatim.


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