Shiur #18: Eretz Yisrael
Now that we have finished analyzing the issue of the unique essence of Israel and the Divine influence that expresses this essence, we must now move on to the next level in the structure that R. Yehuda Halevi erects, the climax of which, as noted in previous lectures, is the attainment of prophecy.
The next link in the chain, as we shall see in this lecture, is connected to the place of the people of Israel, namely, Eretz Yisrael.
EretzYisrael is not a superficial matter
EretzYisrael is not a superficial matter, a superficial asset of the nation, merely a means to achieve the objective of overall unity and material, or even spiritual, survival. Eretz Yisrael is an essential element connected with a living connection to the people, attached by its inner essence to the people's existence. It is, therefore, impossible to understand the substance of the unique sanctity of Eretz Yisrael… by way of rational, human thought, but only by way of the spirit of God that rests upon the nation as a whole… The idea that Eretz Yisrael is merely a superficial value to hold the people together, even when it is taught to fortify the Jewish idea in the Diaspora and in order to preserve its character and strengthen the faith and fear and fortify the practical mitzvot in a fitting manner, can not survive, for this foundation is shaky… The true adoption of the idea of Judaism in the Diaspora will only come from its deep implantation in Eretz Yisrael…. Waiting for salvation is what sustains Judaism in the Diaspora; the Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the salvation itself (Rav Kook, Orot, Eretz Yisrael 1).
As is evident from the opening words of this passage, Rav Kook challenges a view that had begun to take hold in various circles in his day. At the heart of the disagreement stands the issue of the role of Eretz Yisrael in the framework of the redemption of the Jewish people.
Rav Kook attacks the view that sees Eretz Yisrael, in the words of Rav Kook, as "a superficial matter," "a superficial asset of the nation." These terms, as he immediately explains, reflect two levels.
The first: "a means to achieve the objective of overall unity and material … survival" of the nation. In contemporary terms: "a political haven."
According to this understanding, the people of Israel, like any other nation, is entitled to a territory upon which it can establish a state that will serve as a haven for all the Jews in the world and protect them from any regime or dictator who wishes to abuse them. In this territory, the Jewish people must enjoy sovereignty and independence, which will allow them to control their destiny.
The precise location of this territory is of little consequence, provided that it fulfills the objective for the sake of which it was given to the Jewish people – a safe political haven. While it stands to reason that this territory should be located in Eretz Yisrael – the land from which the Jewish people were sent into exile and which had been its land from its earliest beginnings – this is not an essential condition for fulfilling the desired objective.
The second level to which Rav Kook alludes at the beginning of the passage and explains at the end is: "overall unity and… even spiritual survival" of the nation.
This outlook reflects the opinion of various Jewish thinkers and even rabbinic authorities. It assumes that the Jewish people bear a unique spiritual idea, characteristic of it alone, which they must crystallize, develop, and realize. The Jewish people living in the Diaspora under foreign rule, who are not free to determine their own agenda, to invest the appropriate resources in their spiritual development, or to run their lives in accordance with their own outlook, can not fully realize their unique spiritual essence.
This outlook, in its religious form, maintains that only when the people of Israel live in their land and are masters of their destiny can the Torah flourish and illuminate in the desired manner. This finds expression even on the practical level of the mitzvot that are dependent upon the land. In order to fulfill all 613 mitzvot, the Jewish people must live in their land, and therefore, the spiritual perfection that follows from the ability to fulfill the entire Torah can only be reached in Eretz Yisrael.
This outlook, as well, argues Rav Kook, sees Israel as "a superficial asset of the nation," a means to fortify the Jewish idea, but only because it provides the conditions necessary for its fortification and development - nothing more than that. According to this outlook, the reason that we are dealing specifically with Eretz Yisrael is not historical, as we saw according to the secular outlook, but the ancient promise of the Creator to the people of Israel to give them this particular piece of land.
Rav Kook objects to both outlooks. He creates a connection and even an identification between the uniqueness of the people of Israel and the uniqueness of the land of Israel. These two uniquenesses are intertwined and cannot be separated. It is impossible to speak about the people of Israel without the land of Israel, and so it is likewise impossible to speak of the land of Israel without the people of Israel. Hence, the redemption of the people is directly dependent on their return to Eretz Yisrael, and specifically to Israel, and not to another country. The promise, the right, and the historical argument are all results of the correspondence and connection between the people and the land.
This outlook is rooted, as we shall see in this lecture, in the thought of R.YehudaHalevi, who defines, perhaps for the first time, the relationship between the people and the land of Israel.
Passing down and preserving the unique essence
We already saw in lecture no. 12 that the unique essence of Israel that passed down from Adam to the sons of Ya'akov was comprised of three elements:
1) Heredity – "the seed of the father or the blood of the mother."
2) Education and raising - "nutrition or education during the years of childhood and growth."
3) Climate and environment – "the influence of climate, water, or soil."
If one of these elements is missing, the unique essence and the potential to receive the Divine influence – the climax of which is that the individual and the nation that bear it merit prophecy – will be impaired and might even cease. Rihal also determines the place and region most appropriate for providing the conditions necessary to pass on the unique essence:
Their lives fix the chronology from Adam to Noach, as well as from Noach to Avraham… Avraham represented the essence of Ever, being his disciple, and for this reason he was called Ivri. Ever represented the essence of Shem, the latter that of Noach. He inherited the temperate zone, the center and principal part of which is Eretz Yisrael, the land of prophecy. Yefet turned towards north, and Cham towards south. The essence of Avraham passed over to Yitzchak, to the exclusion of the other sons who were all removed from the land, the special inheritance of Yitzchak. The prerogative of Yitzchak descended on Ya'akov, while Esav was sent from the land which belonged to Ya'akov. (I, 95)
The distancing of those sent away from Eretz Yisrael in the book of Bereishit is not a punishment, according to Rihal, but rather the result of incompatibility. Eretz Yisrael is not a sufficient condition, but it is a necessary condition, for passing down the unique essence of Israel from one generation to the next.
According to this, Rihal also sees Eretz Yisrael as a means, but already at the first stage (and as we shall immediately see, at the next stage as well), it is not a "superficial asset." Rihal does not define the nature of the unique essence of Eretz Yisrael, but he certainly emphasizes that we are dealing with a unique essence, a special climate, a special nature that is a fundamental condition for preserving and nurturing the unique human essence that was given to the select of mankind.
With these words, Rihal lays the foundation for the idea of selection and uniqueness not only with respect to a nation, but also with respect to a land. He is attempting to deal with the question that arises regarding the selection of Eretz Yisrael. How is it possible to speak of a "chosen land?" A chosen people might have a unique character or destiny, but how does the choosing of a land find expression? In its resources? In its water?
Rihal makes use of an example from the natural world in order to illustrate this idea:
The Rabbi: You will have no difficulty in perceiving that one country may have higher qualifications than others. There are places in which particular plants, metals, or animals are found, or where the inhabitants are distinguished by their form and character, since perfection or deficiency of the soul are produced by the mingling of the elements. (II, 10)
Rihal puts forward two assumptions:
1) A certain harmony exists in the natural world between a particular country and the crops that grow there.
2) A certain connection exists between the climate and geographical conditions of a country and the physical and personality traits of the people who live there. That is to say, a certain connection exists between geophysical and other conditions and the character of those who come into contact with them.
These two assumptions suffice for Rihal to assert that Eretz Yisrael serves as one of the conditions for the nurturing and development of the spiritual trait that bestowed the unique essence upon the chosen among mankind from Adam to the sons of Ya'akov.
From this perspective, the promise regarding the land is not the reason for the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael and for the nation's connection to it, as we saw in the earlier outlooks, but rather a result of that connection.
The sons of the latter were all worthy of the Divine influence, and therefore also of the country distinguished by the Divine spirit. (I, 95)
Inasmuch as all of the sons of Ya'akov were worthy of the Divine essence, the moment that this essence became the permanent and unchanging inheritance of the descendants of the twelve tribes, Eretz Yisrael was given to them as a permanent inheritance. This inheritance guaranteed that the unique essence would be preserved and passed down from father to son.
Rihal also deals with the descent of Ya'akov's sons to Egypt by arguing that during that period they merited God's special protection: "Then God tended them in Egypt, multiplied, and aggrandized them…" With these words, Rihal creates a model for all future exiles: Even when Israel will be sent out of their land, and the condition of being in Eretz Yisrael will be absent from the factors necessary to ensure that the unique essence of Israel is passed down to the next generation, God will continue to oversee His people in the exile and allow for the unique essence to be passed down from father to son.
Realization of the unique essence
Thus far, we have spoken of the first role of Eretz Yisrael – a condition for the preservation and nurturing of the Divine essence. In the next passage, Rihal takes an additional step, one that is daring and important, with respect to the role of Eretz Yisrael:
The Khazar king: Yet I never heard that the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael were better than other people.
The Rabbi: How about the hill on which you say that the vines thrive so well? If it had not been properly planted and cultivated, it would never produce grapes. Priority belongs, in the first instance, to the people which, as stated before, is the essence and kernel [of the nations]. In the second instance, it would belong to the country, on account of the religious acts connected with it, which I would compare to the cultivation of the vineyard. No other place would share the distinction of the Divine influence, just as no other mountain might be able to produce good wine. (II, 11-12)
Rihal continues with the example that he had used earlier to explain the necessity of Eretz Yisrael for the people of Israel with respect to their unique essence. Now, however, he takes the matter one step further: "No other place would share the distinction of the Divine influence, just as no other mountain might be able to produce good wine."
Eretz Yisrael's role, according to Rihal, is not merely to preserve and nurture the unique essence, but also to bring it to realization. The Divine influence that rests upon Israel, its climax being prophecy, can only rest upon Israel in Eretz Yisrael. The example that Rihal brings, and which essentially encapsulates all of Rihal's thought, is the example of the vineyard. Three conditions must be met for grapes to grow properly in a vineyard:
1) Grapes, and not something else, must be planted in the vineyard.
2) The grapes must be planted in a vineyard, and not somewhere else.
3) The labors that are necessary for the grapes' proper growth must be performed.
The grapes represent the bearers of the unique essence and the potential for attaining the Divine influence, an issue that was dealt with in the last few lectures.
The vineyard represents the place that is necessary for realizing the potential, Eretz Yisrael, which we are now discussing.The work in the vineyard – the mitzvot – will be dealt with in the coming lectures.
We see then that Eretz Yisrael is included among the three factors that allow for the creation and preservation of the unique essence of Israel, but it is also included among the three factors that allow for the realization of the unique essence and for the resting of the Divine influence on Israel in its most perfect manner through prophecy.
This sweeping assertion, that prophecy is only possible in Eretz Yisrael, must be tested against the not insignificant number of prophets who prophesied outside of Eretz Yisrael, from Avraham in Aram Naharayim, through Moshe, Aharon and Miryam, to Yechezkel, Yirmiyahu and Daniel.
Rihal asserts that all the prophets prophesied in Eretz Yisrael, and if not in it, then about it and for its sake. This is not an evasive answer, but a fundamental argument. Rihal invokes the same principle that we saw regarding the first function of Eretz Yisrael – nurturing and preserving the transition of the unique essence from one generation to the next.
Rihal argued that in the reality of exile, God "fills the role" of Eretz Yisrael in that He protects and watches over the unique essence of Israel even when the people find themselves in a foreign land. This is a special providence – a sort of hothouse in which God creates the necessary conditions for passing on the unique essence from father to son.
It seems that prophecy outside of Eretz Yisrael for the sake of Eretz Yisrael should be viewed in similar fashion. The assertion that prophecy is only possible outside of Israel when it comes to hasten the return to Eretz Yisrael fits in well with Rihal's assumption that the realization of the Divine influence is only possible in Eretz Yisrael. Prophecy in the exile has the quality of a "miracle," special intervention on the part of God for the sake of creating artificial conditions that are not ordinarily found outside the borders of Israel. This intervention has one purpose – making possible the return to the conditions that will allow "natural" prophecy (to the extent that the term can be applied to prophecy). There can no prophecy outside of Eretz Yisrael that is not for this purpose, because the realization of the Divine uniqueness of Israel and the full resting of the Divine influence on the people of Israel cannot occur in the exile; therefore, prophecy in the exile can never stand on its own.
This argument has two very important ramifications. The first one relates to the concepts of exile and redemption.
We suggested in the context of Eretz Yisrael's first role that the exile is not a punishment but rather a result. Similarly, in the context of its second role, we can modify the concepts of exile and redemption, this time from a system of "reward and punishment" to one of "fitness and compatibility:"
Was not Avraham also, after having been greatly exalted, brought into contact with the Divine influence, and made the heart of this essence, removed from his country to the place in which his perfection should become complete? (II, 14)
Avraham goes to Eretz Yisrael, not as part of a process of redemption, but after having completed a spiritual process, at the climax of which he was fit and appropriate for the resting of the Divine influence upon him.
The second ramification relates to the concepts of individual and collective.
We saw above that according to the religious outlook challenged by Rav Kook the fulfillment of Eretz Yisrael's purpose as the place in which the Jewish people can realize their spiritual aspirations depends on the people of Israel being a free people in its own land. The "superficial" conditions, as Rav Kook calls them, are those that will make possible the freedom and leisure for occupation in Torah and ascending the rungs of holiness. Not only does this outlook prefer life in the exile to moving to Eretz Yisrael when the former provides better conditions for Torah study, but it also puts all the weight on the national-collective dimension of the issue. For the realization of the vision of "a free nation in its own land" – which is the only way to realize the advantage of Eretz Yisrael over all other countries - depends on the entire nation, or at least a great majority of it, living in its land, exercising sovereignty, independence, and the aspiration to realize the Divine idea.
Rihal opens up an entirely different horizon. Eretz Yisrael allows for the realization of prophecy because it has the most appropriate conditions for prophecy. Realizing and attaining the Divine influence is not only the lot of the collective. Each and every individual who climbs the ladder of holiness must know that he will not be able to reach the highest rung as long as he is dwelling outside of Eretz Yisrael.
These two ramifications are expressed in the difficult and piercing dialogue between the Rabbi and the Khazar king, in which Rihal sends out the harshest arrows of criticism against the members of his own people. Despite its length, I shall cite it in its entirety:
The Khazar king: If this be so, you fall short of the duty laid down in your law, by not endeavoring to reach that place, and making it your abode in life and death, although you say: "Have mercy on Zion, for it is the house of our life," and believe that the Shekhina will return there. And had it no other preference than that the Shekhina dwelt there for five hundred years, this is sufficient reason for men's souls to retire there and find purification there, as happens near the abodes of the pious and the prophets. Is it not "the gate of heaven?" All nations agree on this point. Christians believe that the souls are gathered there and then lifted up to heaven. Islam teaches that it is the place of the ascent, and that prophets are caused to ascend from there to heaven, and, further, that it is the place of gathering on the day of Resurrection. Everybody turns to it in prayer and visits it in pilgrimage. Your bowing and kneeling in the direction of it is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship. Yet your first forefathers chose it as an abode in preference to their birthplaces, and lived there as strangers, rather than as citizens in their own country. This they did even at a time when the Shekhina was yet visible, but the country was full of unchastity, impurity, and idolatry. Your fathers, however, had no other desire than to remain in it. Neither did they leave it in times of dearth and famine except by God's permission. Finally, they directed their bones to be buried there. (II, 23)
Aspiring and striving for Eretz Yisrael, according to Rihal, is not only an aspiration for the redemption of the nation and the land, but also a personal and individual spiritual aspiration for each and every Jew. Rihal wishes to take Eretz Yisrael out of the drawer set aside for "redemption," "the end of days," "national homeland," and the like, and bring it in under the heading of "Divine service," "communion with God," and especially "prophecy." Anyone who wishes to draw near to God, to realize the Divine influence, to attain the holy spirit, must cleave to Eretz Yisrael.
Rihal mentions the patriarchs who preferred to live in Eretz Yisrael as strangers than to live as full-fledged citizens in their birthplaces. Rihal is not ready to accept the argument that it is better to live in the Diaspora in comfort that allows broad and extensive Torah life than to live in Eretz Yisrael in difficult circumstances. The unique essence of the land, according to Rihal, does not depend on sovereignty, nor even on the Temple standing and the Shekhina resting therein. The assertion that Eretz Yisrael is preferable even when it is filled with vice, lechery, and idolatry to the Diaspora, puts the entire weight of the inherent uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael and the influence of this uniqueness directly on every person living there.
In this sense, Rihal can be considered one of the earliest proponents of Zionism, in that he does not condition the return to Zion on collective redemption and the coming of the Messiah. On the other hand, he can also be considered as one of the first Anti-Zionists in that he sees the primary relevance of Eretz Yisrael in the direct and particular influence that it has on the individual who lives there, and not necessarily on the reestablishment of the kingdom of Israel.
The Rabbi's answer to the Khazar king is no less harsh than the words of the king himself:
The Rabbi: This is a severe reproach, O king of the Khazars. It is the sin which kept the Divine promise with regard to the second Temple: "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion" (Zekharya 2:10), from being fulfilled. Divine providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, while the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs. An allusion to them might be found in the enigmatic words of Shelomo: "I sleep, but my heart is awake" (Shir ha-Shirim 5:2-4). He designates the exile by sleep, and the continuance of prophecy among them by the wakefulness of the heart. "It is the voice of my beloved that knocks" means God's call to return; "My head is filled with dew" alludes to the Shekhina which emerged from the shadow of the Temple. The words: "I have put off my coat," refer to the people's slothfulness in consenting to return. The sentence: "My beloved stretches forth his hand through the opening" may be interpreted as the urgent call of Ezra, Nechemya, and the Prophets, until a portion of the people grudgingly responded to their invitation. In accordance with their mean mind they did not receive full measure. Divine providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive; if his receptive capacity be small, he obtains little, and much if it be great. Were we prepared to meet the God of our forefathers with a pure mind, we should find the same salvation as our fathers did in Egypt. If we say: "Worship His holy hill, worship at His footstool, He who restores His glory to Zion" (Tehilim 99:9, 5), and other words, this is but as the chattering of the starling and the nightingale. We do not realize what we say by this sentence, nor others, as you rightly observe, O Prince of the Khazars. (II, 24)
As we have seen, Rihal wants to shift the vision of Eretz Yisrael to the realm of aspirations to draw near to God. He therefore asserts that the failure of the people of Israel to return to Eretz Yisrael, both during the second Temple period and in his own days, results from a lack of desire to draw close to the Creator:
Divine providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive; if his receptive capacity be small, he obtains little, and much if it be great. Were we prepared to meet the God of our forefathers with a pure mind, we should find the same salvation as our fathers did in Egypt. (ibid.)
The return to Eretz Yisrael will become possible, according to Rihal, when the Jewish people fully desire to cleave to the Creator. This is what happened to Avraham before he was taken from his place to Eretz Israel, this is what happened to the people of Israel in Egypt, and this is what will happen in the future, according to Rihal, to the Jewish people currently living in the Diaspora.
The aspiration for Eretz Yisrael, according to Rihal, is not something for the distant future. The prayer and hope for Eretz Yisrael's return to the Jewish people as a hope for the future is but "the chattering of the starling and the nightingale." Anyone who understands that Eretz Yisrael is a necessary condition for realizing his spiritual mission on the personal level as well will not be satisfied with hopes for the distant future.
We have already noted that Rihal's book, which is a defense of Judaism under attack, does not end with the conversion of the Khazar king, which, from the polemical perspective in the wake of which it was written, is the book's climax. It ends with the Rabbi's moving to Eretz Yisrael, which, from the perspective of Rihal's religious world, is the real zenith. The Rabbi, like Avraham, reaches a point that his aspiration for communion with God, his readiness for the resting of the Divine influence upon him, has reached its high point, and now nothing will prevent him from completing the process by moving to Eretz Yisrael.
Even the dangers, of which he was certainly aware, do not threaten him, and he knows that "this is better than to seek the dangers of war in order to gain fame and spoil by courage and bravery. This kind of danger is even inferior to that of those who march into war for hire" (V, 23).
As we shall see later in this series, according to Rihal, seeking communion and closeness to God in this world is the key to the world-to-come; therefore, one who endangers himself in order to move to Israel, which is an act of seeking God's closeness in this world, is greater than one who endangers himself in order to obtain a portion in the world-to-come.
This is the end of Rihal's book and this is also the end of a chapter in his life. When he wrote his book, Rihal was outlining his own life. Legend relates about Rihal's final stop on his journey to Eretz Yisrael; when he was already walking on the longed for soil and already clinging to its stones and reciting his lamentation, "Zion halo tish'ali," he was trampled by an Arab horseman (Shalshelet Ha-Kabbalah of GedalyaIbn Yachya).
Rihal, in contrast to most of his coreligionists, remained true to his word. His prayers, his songs, his lamentations about Zion were not "as the chattering of the starling and the nightingale," but rather a compass and a driving force that brought him to attempt to realize his vision, as he expresses it in the final words of the Rabbi:
This means that Jerusalem can only be rebuilt when Israel yearns for it to such an extent that they embrace her stones and dust. (V, 27)
(Translated by DavidStrauss)
 This approach led to the "Uganda plan," which considered the possibility of establishing a national home for the Jewish people on foreign soil.
 The Uganda plan could not have developed out of this approach, for Uganda had never been promised to the Jewish people. But there are those who argue that when the conditions for Torah observance outside of Eretz Yisrael are better than the conditions in Eretz Yisrael, preference should be given to the Diaspora; they certainly belong to this school of thought.
 Rihal might derive this approach from the rabbinic dictum that he cites in the framework of his survey of Chazal's statements in praise of Eretz Yisrael (II, 22): "The atmosphere of the Holy Land makes wise."
For this reason, Rihal also tries to prove the centrality of Eretz Yisrael for establishing the festivals on the geographical level, for we are dealing with centrality relating to the spiritual level based on physical reality.
 See at length lectures 12-13.
 Later, we will see that this providence is limited and does not fill in all that is missing on account of not living in the Holy Land.
 Perhaps this is the foundation of Rav Kook's daring assertion that there cannot be an aspiration for or an actual return to Eretz Yisrael without a clear aspiration to draw near to the Creator. This is true even when to the eye of the outsider, and sometimes even to the eye of the person with the aspiration himself, this seems very far-fetched.
 Rihal emphasizes this idea once again at the end of the book, in the Khazar king's words to the Rabbi, who had just revealed his plan to move to Eretz Yisrael: "The king was loath to let him go, and spoke to him in this sense as follows: What can be sought in Eretz Yisrael nowadays, since the Divine reflex is absent from it, while, with a pure mind and desire, one can approach God in any place? Why will you run into danger, on land and water and among various peoples?"
The Rabbi answers: "The visible Shekhina has, indeed, disappeared, because it does not reveal itself except to a prophet or a favored community, and in a distinguished place. This is what we look for in the passage: 'Let our eyes behold when You return to Zion.' As regards the invisible and spiritual Shekhina, it is with every born Israelite of virtuous life, pure heart, and upright mind before the Lord of Israel. Eretz Yisrael is especially distinguished by the Lord of Israel, and no function can be perfect except there. Many of the laws of Israel do not concern those who do not live there; heart and soul are only perfectly pure and immaculate in the place which is believed to be specially selected by God" (V, 23).
 This requires qualification, for in various places Rihal describes the institutional systems of the kingdom of Israel, namely, the Temple and its service, the Sanhedrin and the courts, as an important basis for the resting of the Shekhina and the realization of the Divine influence in the fullest manner on the collective as well.
 Once again, this idea finds expression in a rabbinic statement cited by Rihal: "They say concerning him who could live there, but did not do so, and only ordered his body to be carried there after his death: While you lived you made My inheritance an abomination, but in death 'you come and contaminate My country' (Yirmiyahu 2:1). It is told that Rabbi Chananya, when asked whether it was lawful for a person to go abroad in order to marry the widow of his brother, said: 'His brother married a pagan woman; praised be God who caused him to die; now this one follows him?'" (II, 22).
 Once again, the deeds of the Rabbis serve Rihal as a model: "They expressed their love of the land as follows: 'He who walks four yards in the land is assured of happiness in the world-to-come.' RavZera said to a heathen who criticized his foolhardiness in crossing a river without waiting to reach a ford in his eagerness to enter the land: 'How can the place that Moshe and Aharon could not reach, be reached by me?'" (II, 22).