“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 to everything, and we want only the best. We desire the best relationships, teachers, friends, food, clothing, appliances, etc. What makes something the best? Sometimes, it’s about 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 different from the basic, standard package. With this in mind, we can explore a unique idea connected to this week’s parshah, Parshas Eikev.
Parshas Eikev is replete with mention of Eretz Yisrael’s greatness and uniqueness. While every Jew is raised with the awareness of Eretz Yisrael’s unique k’dushah (holiness), we must still ask: What is the nature of this holiness, uniqueness, and greatness? While one can suggest that the Land of Israel itself is of better quality and more inhabitable, we know there is something more at hand. Eretz Yisrael is the home of the Jewish People, but it is also so much more than that. There are a number of mitzvos that can be performed only in Eretz Yisrael. The Beis HaMikdash, 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 surface level, the land of Eretz Yisrael is no more than the practical home of the Jewish People. There is nothing unique or fundamentally different about it. This was the argument made in the 20th century when some proposed that Uganda should become the new home of the Jewish People. According to these people, Israel was a practical safe haven for the Jewish People, and any other land could have sufficed as well. This line of thinking diminishes, if not eliminates, any inherent uniqueness or spirituality that the land of Israel might possess. According to this view, the Beis HaMikdash’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. Israel 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 Sh’siyah, the 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 HaKodashim – the Holy of Holies in the Beis HaMikdash. It is from this place that all of time and space comes into existence; as such, the rules of time and space that we know begin to bend as one approaches this holy spot. As one reaches the spot 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 recognizable layers of time and space in the world, organized in concentric circles. The outermost area is the world itself, governed by what we consider to be the normative laws of physics. However, once one enters into Eretz Yisrael, these rules begin to break down. In sefer Daniel (11:41), Israel is referred to as “Eretz HaTzvi” - the Land of the Deer. The Gemara (Gittin 57b) 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 the entire Jewish People to come home.
The second concentric circle is Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), which lies closer to the center of Eretz Yisrael. For each of the Shalosh R’galim – the Three Festivals – the Jewish People gathered in Yerushalayim to celebrate. The Mishnah (Avos 5:5) states that nobody every complained that they could not find a 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 HaMikdash itself. The Jewish People gathered in this area to daven on the Shalosh R’galim, standing crowded together in the small courtyard. However, the Mishnah (Avos 5:5) records the miracle that took place here: Although they 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 HaMikdash itself, 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, once they negated their egos and recognized Hashem as the source of time and space, they were able to exist beyond these physical boundaries.
The last layer is the Kodesh HaKodashim itself, located directly above the Even Sh’siyah. At this point, the laws of time and space break down completely. The Gemara explains that the Aron, the Holy Ark in the Beis HaMikdash, occupied no space. This is clear from the fact that the dimensions of the Kodesh HaKodashim, as specified in M’lachim I 6:20, were 20 amos by 20 amos, and yet the Aron had the same measurements! To explain this paradox, the Gemara states that there are no measurements in the Kodesh HaKodashim; therefore, this paradox poses no problem.
This principle, that the Kodesh HaKodashim exists in a realm far above time and space, manifests in another unique scenario. It is forbidden for anyone to enter the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Holy of Holies, at any time. As the Torah states, “No man shall enter” (Vayikra 16:17). However, the Kohen Gadol enters the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur. How is this possible?
It is true that man cannot enter the Kodesh HaKodashim – not as a restriction though, but by definition. The Kodesh HaKodashim 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 enters on Yom Kippur, on a day when he is no longer a 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 sheim k’vod malchuso l’olam va’ed” aloud, as it is 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 HaKodashim – 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 simply practical, it is indicative of the objective status of the land. Eretz Yisrael is fundamentally different; thus, it possesses a fundamentally different nature. It is the physical land most potently rooted in a spiritual reality. The very earth of Eretz Yisrael is saturated with higher levels of k’dushah. Every four amos one walks in Eretz Yisrael is another mitzvah. The produce is of a different nature entirely, filled with the nutrients of holiness and transcendence.
This also sheds light on the Ramban’s unique approach to mitzvos performed in Eretz Yisrael versus those done 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 meant to connect ourselves to Hashem, and Eretz Yisrael provides the ideal setting in which to do so. It is the very center and root of this physical world’s connection to the spiritual, and it is the ideal place for us to connect our physical lives to the ultimate spirituality.
The Sin of the M’raglim
We can now understand the sin of the M’raglim on an even deeper level. The spies did not only speak lashon ha’ra, they rejected the uniqueness, the holiness, of Eretz Yisrael. They failed to appreciate how special Eretz Yisrael is, and therefore lost hold of its importance. It is most definitely true that the entire world is spiritual, and we can connect deeply with Hashem outside of Eretz Yisrael. However, if one does not understand distinctions within holiness and spirituality, one is doomed to mediocrity. Greatness comes from understanding that although everything is spiritual, there are levels and gradations. Not everything is equal, not everything is the same. Eretz Yisrael has no equal; there is nothing else like it. May we be inspired to continuously deepen our connection with Hashem and Eretz Yisrael and become the ultimate vessels for Hashem in this world.