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 listened to God’s command. Abraham landed in what was then called Canaan, and would eventually be called Eretz Yisrael. After his landing we read God’s promise to Abraham, “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever.” What made the land of Israel so special?
In the book “The Kuzari”, the author wrote, “No other place [Eretz Yisrael] would share the distinction of the divine influence.” The Kuzari challenged the contention there is only Divine influence in Eretz Yisrael saying, “How could this be? In the time between Adam and Moses were not prophetic visions in other places granted to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldaeans, Ezekiel and Daniel at Babylon, and Jeremiah in Egypt?” The author responded, “Whosoever prophesied did so either in the Land, or concerning it.” Prophecy and Divine Influence is one factor that makes Eretz Yisrael unique?
The Mishna is Mesechet Keilim offered a different reason for Eretz Yisrael’s uniqueness, “There are ten grades of kedusha, 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 firstfruits 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.
Later in the Torah, God commanded the Jewish people, “You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess.” In his commentary to this command, Ramban wrote, “In my opinion this is a commandment, in which God is commanding the Jewish people to dwell in the Land and inherit it, because He has given it to them and they should not reject the inheritance of the Eternal.. If the thought occurs to them to go and conquer the land of Shinar or the land of Assyria or any other country and to settle therein, they transgress the commandment of God.” The land of Israel is the only place we are commanded to live in.
The Rashba offered one more reason. 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.”
I don’t know if Prime Minister Ben Gurion understood the land of Israel to be unique because of the prophecy in the land, the mitzvot done in the land, the mitzvah to live in the land, or the specific Divine providence on the land – or all four. Whichever reason one gives to explain the uniqueness of Israel, it’s clear that the land of Israel is unique because God has declared it to be unique.