“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 are raised with an 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 its value also goes beyond 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 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 view that practically, Israel was a safe haven for the Jewish People, and any other land could serve this function, 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. 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 Sh’siyah (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 (Holy of Holies) in the Beis HaMikdash. 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 space in 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 (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 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 R’galim (Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos) the Jewish People gathered in Yerushalayim to celebrate. The Mishnah in Avos (5:5) 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 HaMikdash. The Jewish People gathered in this area to daven on the Shalosh R’galim, standing crowded together in the small courtyard. However, the Mishnah in Avos (5:5) 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 HaMikdash, 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 k’dushah is the Kodesh HaKodashim, 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 and the Aron had the same measurements, and yet there was space on either side between the Aron and the walls of the Kodesh HaKodashim. To explain this paradox, the Gemara explains that there are no measurements in the Kodesh HaKodashim, so this paradox poses no problem.
This principle, that the Kodesh HaKodashim exists in a realm far beyond 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 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, 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.
Levels of Spirituality
We can now understand the sin of the M’raglim on a much deeper level. The spies did not only speak lashon ha’ra, 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.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy ( www.ShmuelReichman.com ), the transformative online course that is revolutionizing how we engage in self-development. You can find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.