Every day since I’ve moved to Israel almost 8 years ago I’ve counted every day I’ve been blessed to live in Israel and on many days I post that day’s number with the hashtag #Livingthedream. Living in Eretz Yisrael isn’t only my dream, but it was my ancestor’s dream as well. I’ve tried to understand Eretz Yisrael and what makes living in Israel so special.
At the very start of the Torah, God commands Abraham to leave his home and to go. Abraham didn’t know where he was going, but he obeyed God’s command. Abraham landed in what was then called Canaan and would eventually be called Eretz Yisrael. Many of the Jewish people’s most meaningful moments took place in the land of Israel. From Joshua bringing the people into the land of Israel to King Solomon building the Temple, the Jewish people have a solid historic connection to the land of Israel.
The Jewish people’s historic connection to the land of Israel is the foundation of what many Zionists use to build a legal case for the Jewish right to Israel. The Jewish historic and legal connection to Israel is well established, but while the history connects the Jewish people to the land, what made the land of Israel unique that it was chosen for the Jewish people?
Explaining the land of Israel’s uniqueness requires a philosophical approach to an area usually reserved for fact-based analysis. The Mishna in Mesechet Keilim offered a reason for Eretz Yisrael’s uniqueness, “There are ten grades of sanctity: the land of Israel is more sanctified than all other lands. What is the nature of its sanctity? That from the land of Israel, the omer, the first fruits and the two loaves are brought, which cannot be brought from any of the other lands.” According to the Mishna, it is the mitzvot that are dependent on the land that makes Eretz Yisrael so unique.
The Mishna’s explanation is consistent with a discussion quoted in the Talmud where Rabbi Samlai asked why Moses desired to enter the land of Israel. Rabbi Samlai rejected the idea that Moses desired the luscious fruits of Israel, and instead taught that of the many mitzvot commanded to the Jewish people, some of them can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. Moses wanted to enter the land of Israel to fulfill the mitzvot that can only be fulfilled in Israel. One quality that makes Israel unique is the mitzvot that can only be fulfilled in Israel.
Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, an 18th Century scholar known as the “Bach,” disagreed with the lesson of Rav Samlia and argued that Moses did want to enter the land of Israel for its luscious fruits. Rabbi Sirkis taught that the fruits of Israel are nourished from the heavenly Israel and its sanctity. That sanctity comes directly from the Divine Presence and is found in the land of Israel. In Rabbi Sirkis’s approach to the land of Israel, the land is unique because of a metaphysical quality found in the produce of the land of Israel. The Divine nourishment that feeds the fruits is the metaphysical quality that makes Israel unique.
The “Rashba,” Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Aderet, a 12th Century scholar, offered an additional quality that made Eretz Yisrael unique. The Sages taught, “Eretz Yisrael is watered by God, Himself, and the rest of the entire world is watered through an intermediary.” In his commentary to this teaching, Rashba wrote, “Since the Jewish people are the chosen people and Eretz Yisrael is the chosen land of God, He is not going to leave the people or the land to an angel as God did for the other nations of the world. Rather God’s “eyes” are on the land and all that occurs in the land occurs under God’s providence. According to the Rashba, Eretz Yisrael is made unique by God’s specific providence on the land.
In a moment of brutal honesty Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion said, “Since I invoke Torah so often, let me state that I don’t personally believe in the God it postulates … I am not religious, nor were the majority of the early builders of Israel believers. Yet their passion for this land stemmed from the Book of Books … The Bible is the single most important book in my life.” Whether Prime Minister Ben Gurion understood the land of Israel to be unique because of the mitzvot that could only be fulfilled in the land, the Divinely luscious fruit of the land, or the specific Divine providence on the land – or all three, it’s clear that the land of Israel is unique because of qualities is possess that separate from other lands.
The Jewish people have a historic, legal and national connection to the land of Israel. They have a right to self-determination in their homeland, Eretz Yisrael. They also have an appreciation of the metaphysical and philosophical qualities that make the land of Israel unique and understand that even more than just the historic connection to the land, the land is exceptional. The Jewish people are blessed to have been given this particular land as their homeland.