The thought that Eretz Yisrael is an accessory to Judaism, and not a central pillar in itself, is a tragic distortion which was caused by the nearly 2000 year exile of the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. After years of wandering in foreign countries, scattered among the gentiles, and separated from our homeland, our orientation to the Land of Israel became distorted and confused. Instead of being a day-to-day reality integral to our lives, Eretz Yisrael became a faraway dream. In our Diaspora existence, the most important aspects of Judaism were the matters which affected our daily lives – Torah study, prayer, the Sabbath, Kashrut, and the mitzvot which we were still able to perform. Eretz Yisrael became something of secondary importance – a place to which we would one day return, but not an essential part of the Jewish experience.
This misconception results when we misunderstand the true culture of the Jewish People. The foundation of our culture is not just the holidays and the performance of precepts, but in our being the Nation which brings the word and blessing of God to the world. As we will learn, our national attachment to God can be achieved exclusively through the Land of Israel.
To help us remember the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Judaism and to the nation of Israel, let us reflect on a few teachings of our Sages regarding the special qualities of the land of Israel.
The Zohar calls the Land of Israel, the heart of all lands.
The word of God goes forth to the world only from the Land of Israel, as the prophet says, “From Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem.”
The Midrash tells us that the goodness which God grants to the Jewish people emanates from Zion: “All of the blessings and consolations, all of the good which the Holy One, Blessed Be He, brings to the Jewish People, all of them come from Zion.”
Additionally, all of the blessings which God sends to the world flow out of Eretz Yisrael: “All of the vitality of all of this world, and all of the blessings and Divine Influence to all – they all come down initially to Zion, and from there, they are proportioned to everyone on earth.”
Hashem divided the world between nations and gave each nation a land suited to it. He fashioned and formed the Nation of Israel and set it in the center of His world blueprint, in the Land particularly suited to its holiness. Eretz Yisrael enjoys a special relationship with the Almighty. It is the meeting place, the point of intersection between the Divine and the physical world. For example, when the Divine seeks written expression in the world, the result is Torah. When Hashem seeks a national, earthly, human expression, the result is Am Yisrael. So too, the manifestation of Kedusha in geographic terms appears only in Eretz Yisrael. “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place; here I will dwell” (Tehillim, 132:13-14). These Divinely designed receptacles of holiness, the Torah, Am Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael, are united in their essence.
A special Divine Providence graces Eretz Yisrael to the exclusion of all other lands. It is “The Land where the eyes of the Lord our God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year till the end” (Devarim, 11:12).
Certainly, God reigns the world over. From our point of view, however, there is a great difference in our ability to receive the Divine content. Our Sages teach us that God has placed angelic forces to rule over all other lands. Only in the Land of Israel is God’s Providence direct, without any intermediary angels (Ramban on the Torah, Vayikra, 18:25). Only in Israel is the worship of God pure without any barriers or impurities. This is how the Ramban explains the Gemara’s startling declaration that “All who live in Eretz Yisrael resemble someone who has a God, and all who live outside the land of Israel resemble someone who has no God” (Ketubot 110B). In Chutz L’Aretz, the worship of God only reaches the level of the celestial angels, whereas in Eretz Yisrael, Divine service is direct to God Himself, with no interference whatsoever.