Beshalach: Mitzva of Dwelling in Eretz Yisrael

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14 Jan 2007

The previous two columns were devoted to the special laws relating to the seven species which the Torah recounts as the special praise of the Land of Israel. Rav Natan of Breslav explains how the laws of blessings in general, and the special characteristics of these seven species in particular, connect us to the land of Israel. In particular, he explains how the land of Israel is the place which exemplifies God’s sovereignty, since through His status as Creator and master of creation He granted it to the Jewish people. In addition, the land of Israel exemplifies God’s Providence; His supervision of the world is particularly exercised in this land, and particularly evident here.

From here Rav Natan goes on to emphasize the enormous importance of dwelling in the land of Israel. He speaks of “the magnitude of the travails which must be suffered before one can come to the land of Israel, and the innumerable multitude of obstacles which need to be smashed before coming to the Land of Israel.” Yet he explains that ultimately these travails and obstacles are illusory, merely psychological obstacles: “For if a person believed in the sanctity of the land of Israel as it truly is, there would certainly be no obstacle in the world which could keep him away”.

While the Land of Israel is often used in Chasidic thought as a kind of metaphor for a state of higher perception of God’s presence, Rav Natan leaves no doubt that he is talking about the actual land of Israel. He compares the amount of effort and time needed for business trips to Marseille, London or America with those needed for a trip to Istanbul and from there to Acco, and the expense of a modest dowry with that needed to reach the land of Israel. He continues, “if a person would believe in the sanctity of the land of Israel [even] one thousandth of what it truly is, he would certainly run and [even] fly to the land of Israel. (Flying was considerably more difficult in Rav Natan’s day, before the invention of the airplane.)

Rav Natan goes on to liken the obstacles that prevent a person from coming to Israel with the hostile nations which the people of Israel fought when they first entered the land. “All of the obstacles to the Land of Israel which need to be shattered, all are included in the aspect of the seven nations, the Canaanite, the Hittite, etc. For the land was in their hands, and they cover the holiness of the Land of Israel, and occlude and hide the taste of the holiness of the Land of Israel.”

He then continues the identity he has drawn all along between the land of Israel and the seven species: “Thus there are seven nations corresponding to the seven species which are the praise of the Land of Israel… And this is what is written, “And to elevate them from that land to a good and broad land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Emorite and the Perizzite and the Hivvite and the Yebusite” (Sh’mot 3:8). For one is dependent on the other, for in order to conquer and subdue the seven nations considered in the verse… this is by believing in the praise of the land, that it is a land flowing with milk and honey, meaning that it is overflowing the supernal pleasant joy, from which comes the sweetness of the seven species, which enable us to subdue and conquer all the seven nations, which represent all of the obstacles For the primary obstacle is that they confuse our perception and keep us from perceiving the holiness of the Land of Israel.

But one who overcomes them and believes in Moshe Rabbenu and all the true saints who exceeded in their praise of the land of Israel, will certainly overcome all the obstacles included in the seven nations, which are drawn from the destructive spiritual forces, and will come to the Land of Israel. To the land flowing with milk and honey, where are found the seven species which are the essence of pleasant joy.”

(Likutei Halakoht Blessings on Fruit 4. Usually I cite briefly from Rav Natan and interpret at length, but this chapter is so explicit, articulate and timely that I am left with nothing to add.)

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.