“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 Eretz Yisrael.
The Torah is replete with mention of Eretz Yisrael’s greatness and uniqueness. While we often hear about Eretz Yisrael’s unique kedusha, we must ask: What is the nature of this holiness, uniqueness, and greatness? One can suggest that the land itself is of better quality and more inhabitable, or that Eretz Yisrael is the home of the Jewish People. But there is something more at hand; its value goes far beyond that. For instance:
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.
There are a number of mitzvos that can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael.
Our question, then, is twofold. What is the underlying uniqueness of this special land, and why does Eretz Yisrael possess this unique quality?
The Uniqueness 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 twentieth century when some proposed that Uganda should be given to the Jewish People as a homeland. This stems from the pragmatic view that Israel was a safe haven for the Jewish People, and any other land could serve this function just as well. This line of thinking diminishes, if not eliminates, any inherent spiritual uniqueness 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 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 also created its accompanying dimensions of time and space. This occurred through a process that emanated from one point of inception: the Even Shesiya (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 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 greater 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 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 explains this comparison between Eretz Yisrael and a deer. The skin of a deer, once removed from its body, appears far too small to have ever 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 (Gittin 57b); as such, there will always be room for all the Jewish People to come home.
The second concentric circle is Yerushalayim, which lies at the center of Eretz Yisrael. On each of the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos), the Jewish people gathered in Yerushalayim to celebrate. The Mishna 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 Regalim, standing crowded together in the small courtyard. The Mishna 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; 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 kedusha is the Kodesh HaKodashim, located directly above the Even Shesiya. At this point, the laws of time and space break down completely. The Gemara (Megillah 10b; Yoma 21a) explains that the Aron in the Beis HaMikdash, occupied no space. The measurments from either side of the Aron to the wall were the same as the width of the Kodesh HaKodashim itself. (Tanach lists the measurements of the Kodesh HaKodashim as twenty square amos (Melachim I 6:20). But the Gemara states that there were ten square amos on either side of the Aron. These measurements do not end up giving the Aron any dimensions at all. To explain this paradox, the Gemara explains that there are no measurements in the Kodesh HaKodashim.
This principle — that the Kodesh HaKodashim exists in a realm far beyond time and space – manifests in another unique way. It is forbidden for anyone to enter the Kodesh Hakodashim 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?
Man cannot enter the Kodesh HaKodashim – not as a restriction, but by definition. The Kodesh HaKodashim is completely beyond space and time; as such, it is impossible for a physical, mortal, limited human being to exist in such a place. However, the Kohen Gadol is able to enter 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 shem kevod malchuso l’olam va’ed – Blessed is the glorified name of His kingship forever and ever” aloud, a line that only angels can say aloud. On this special day, the Kohen Gadol represents all of Klal Yisrael – not as a man but as an angelic being. In this state, he enters the Kodesh HaKodashim, now able to exist in the place that transcends the limitations of time and space.
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 practical; it is indicative of the objective status of the land. Eretz Yisrael is fundamentally different, and thus it warrants fundamentally different obligations. It is the physical land most potently rooted in a spiritual reality. The very earth of Eretz Yisrael is saturated with higher levels of kedusha. The produce is of a fundamentally different nature, filled with the nutrients of holiness and transcendence. Every four amos one walks in Eretz Yisrael is another mitzvah. (Kesubos 111a; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Melachim 5:11. The actual wording of the Gemara is: “Anyone who walks four amos in Eretz Yisrael is ensured a share in the World to Come,” but Klal Yisrael has become accustomed to referring to this as a “mitzvah.” See Mishna Berurah 248:28.)
This also sheds light on the Ramban’s unique approach to mitzvos performed in Eretz Yisrael in contrast to those performed outside it. (See Ramban, Vayikra 18:25, Bamidbar 33:53, and Devarim 4:5. See also Kesubos 110b; Sifri, Parashas Eikev 43 (cited by Rashi, Devarim 11:18); Hasagos to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, Asei 4.) The Ramban suggests that the mitzvos performed within the borders of Eretz Yisrael are of a different nature entirely. This is because mitzvos are the means by which we connect ourselves to Hashem, and Eretz Yisrael is the ideal and ultimate setting in which to do so. It is the center and root of this physical world’s connection to the spiritual; the ideal place for us to connect our physical lives to the ultimate spirituality.
There is another unique phenomenon in the Torah that relates to the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael. There are several instances where Chazal mention the concept of kefitzas haderech, literally translated as “jumping the path.” This refers to the unique ability to travel at a pace quicker than the laws of nature would normally allow, thereby enabling someone to travel extraordinary distances in mere seconds or perhaps even instantaneously. How and why does this occur?
In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic and try to answer these questions.