Parshat Ekev: Inner Souls and a Rabbis’ Day

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Red Spiral
02 Aug 2007

Parashat Ekev 5767

Part One: The Inner Soul of Israel

The Torah declares that the land of Eretz Yisrael is kadosh – sanctified.

What is the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael?

Kedusha is defined as that which is “close” to HaShem, not in spacial terms but in its essence. So how close is the land to HaShem?

Our parsha provides the answer to this formidable problem, an answer hidden away in an “innocent” verse, as are all secrets pertaining to the spiritual world.

The verse is in our parasha 8:8

“A land of wheat and barley and vine and figs and pomegranate a land of oil olive and honey dates.”

The Talmud in Eruvin 4a states that each species in this pasuk comes to teach a specific halacha.

“Wheat” comes to teach that one who enters a house which was struck with a nega (blemish) is immediately tamay (impure), but the clothing he wears becomes tamay only if he lingers there for the duration of time it takes to eat a volume equal to three eggs of bread made of wheat.

“Barley” teaches that a bone from a corpse of a Jew makes one who touches it tamay if the bone is at least the size of a grain of barley.

“Wine” teaches that the volume of wine which renders a nazir liable is a revee’it (86 grams).

“Fig” is the volume of food which makes a person liable for punishment if he carries it from the private domain to the public one, and vice versa, on shabbat.

“Pomegranate” teaches that a vessel which has a hole in it large enough for a pomegranate to pass through is no longer considered a “vessel” in terms of tuma and tahara.

“Zayit” (olive) is the standard size to become punishable for eating most prohibited foods.

“Honey Date” is the volume of food which renders one punishable for eating on Yom Kippur.

One cannot overestimate the significance of this verse and what is deduced from it.

Let me explain.

The Rashi and Tosafot commentaries explain and expound on the Talmud.

The Talmud explains and expounds the Mishna.

The Mishna explains and expounds the written Torah.

The Torah is not the ultimate stop, for it too comes to explain and expound that which is hidden. The written Torah is the instruction manual of how to live in and “use” Eretz Yisrael.

And Eretz Yisrael itself, through its topography and flora and fauna, comes to reveal the hidden secrets of Gan Eden.

Harav Chaim of Volozhin, disciple of the Vilna Gaon, authored a classic work on the relation between body and soul, called “Nefesh Ha’Chaim.”

Among other things, the sefer tells us that the total creation can be likened to a many-layered object; for example a head of cabbage or an onion, which can be peeled away layer by layer.

In God’s creation, each inner world serves as the neshama (soul) of the one more external to it. Peel away our world and you will find its’ neshama; peel that one away and you will finds its’ neshama, and so it goes until we reach the ultimate neshama of all things – HaShem.

The Talmud is the neshama or the giver of life for the Rashi and Tosafot commentaries.

The Mishna is the neshama of the Talmud. The Torah is the neshama of the Mishna. Eretz Yisrael is the neshama of the written Torah, and Gan Eden is what gives life and reality to Eretz Yisrael.

Let’s return to our parsha. The Written Torah explains why HaShem chose these seven species – wheat, barley etc. – to be indigenous to the Holy Land, so Eretz Yisrael is the inner soul of the Torah.

Another example: There is a mountain in Yerushalayim called Har Hamoriah (the Temple Mount), but we do not know its’ significance nor what it demands of us. Comes the Torah and explains that HaShem created the mountain there to be the place of the Bet Hamikdash, and then continues in the Book of Vayikra to relate the sacrificial laws which are to be carried out there.

We were given the Land of Eretz Yisrael; but we need the Torah to explain how it must be worked. The Shemita year, and in the other years, how to plow, how to plant, how to give the tithes, etc.

And so it continues with every verse in the Torah – the Land and the Halacha; for the Land is the neshama and the Torah as appears in our world is its body, its Rashi and Tosefot.

That is what the great Ramban referred to when he wrote in his commentary to Vayikra 18:25

One is required to keep the mitzvot even in the exile, such as tefilin and mezuza, so that the mitzvot will not be forgotten when we return to Eretz Yisrael; because the mizvot were given essentially for those who reside in Eretz Yisrael. It is for this reason that our rabbis stated (Sifrei Devarim chapter 80) to reside in Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the other mitzvot of the Torah.

In the bracha before learning Torah we say:

Blessed… who has chosen us above all the nations and has given us His Torah

HaShem prepared us for nationhood by promising Eretz Yisrael to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov for the future Jewish people, because the major condition for nationality is a specific land area which defines the nation. And as stated in the bracha, only after choosing the Jewish people and the land were we given the Torah.

One who studies or teaches Torah outside the Land is compared to one who reads the instructions for an appliance without having it, or learning Rashi and Tosefot without knowing the gemara or reading the commentary of the great Ha’Arie Hakadosh of Tzfat without ever seeing the Zohar.

I said above that Eretz Yisrael is the commentary and explanation of Gan Eden, which is more internal and closer to HaShem.

This is what Ibn Ezra meant when he wrote in his commentary to the verse in Bereshit 33:19 which informs us that Ya’akov Aveinu purchased land near the city of Shechem.

The Torah records (the purchase) in order to inform us of the virtue of Eretz Yisrael, that whoever owns a part of it is considered to own a part of the next world

Were we able to decipher the external topography of the Land, we would have an understanding of the heavenly Gan Eden. An example of this is the startling fact that seen from a plane or a good topographic map, the hills and valleys near the city of Bet El, north of Yerushalayim, form the four letters of HaShem’s name Yud – Hai – Vav – Hai

The Jews who are now protecting Eretz Yisrael by battling the present-day Amalek, are fulfilling all the mitzvot of the Torah. And those who give their lives for the people in the Land ascend to a place of glory in the neshama of Eretz Yisrael.

Let us all pray for peace in Eretz Yisrael. For the awakening of our religious leaders in the galut to the centrality of Eretz Yisrael in HaShem’s world, and that these religious leaders should be blessed with at least one percent of the courage of our sons and brothers in Zahal and lead their followers home to the land called by David Hamelech in Tehilim 142:6 when he had to flee Eretz Yisrael:

I cried out to you HaShem my protector to return me to the Land of Life (Eretz Yisrael).­

Part Two: Rabbis’ Day

In the United States, as in other places, specific days are dedicated for paying homage to outstanding events or people. There is Fathers’ Day and Mothers’s Day, Presidents’ Day etc. I would humbly suggest adding one more such day to be called Rabbis’ Day.

It would be a time when congregations show their gratitude to their dedicated, hard working rabbis and rebbetzins, and also a time for rabbinic conventions to discuss issues of mutual interest for the advancement of their rabbinic duties.

I even have a date for this annual event – Tu Be’Av, the 15th of Av, the day when I am writing this message. Two reasons have led me to suggest this date:

1)The number 15 in Jewish life is ionic in nature (a term used to describe a radical atom or molecule which aspires for stability by attaching itself to another radical atom or molecule) for the number 15 seeks to connect to another 15 in order to maintain stability and balance.

For example:

Leading from the area in the Bet Hamikdash known as the Ezrat Nashim to the area called Ezrat Yisrael, where the sacrificial rites commenced, there were 15 steps. On the holiday of Succot, during the simchat bet hashoeva ceremony, the Leviim stood on these 15 steps and sang the 15 chapters of Tehilim, each one beginning with the words Shir Ha’ma’alot – the songs of the steps(ascent).

Pessach falls out on the 15th of Nisan and matches with Succot exactly six months later on the 15th of Tishrei.

The 15th of Shevat (tu beshvat), yom hadin (day of judgment) for the trees of the world (which will thrive and which will fall) matches six months later with the 15th of Menachem Av which marks the final day of the year when firewood could be collected for the altar.

But the 15th of Shevat is also one of the days between the first of Shevat until the 7th of Adar, which was the period of the Book of Devarim, when Moshe, the rabbi and leader voiced his farewell address to the people. And since every rabbi after Moshe Rabbeinu should see himself as continuing Moshe’s life’s work, it would be appropriate to dedicate the 15th of Av as Rabbis’ Day.

2) The Mishna in Mesechet Ta’anit states: “There were no happier days (yamim tovim) than Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av”.

The Yerushalmi in Ta’anit states that the reason Yom Kippur is a “yom tov” is obvious. For on this day our sins are eradicated. However, what transpired on the 15th of Av to elevate it to the level of happiness of Yom Kippur?

And the Gemara explains that on this day Hoshea ben Ela, King of the Northern tribes of Israel, rescinded the edict prohibiting the Jews of the northern tribes to go up to Yerushalayim. In order to fully appreciate what this meant, we have to go back 300 years prior to the time of Hoshea ben Ela.

The arch-evil, Yeravam ben Nevat, incited the people of the northern tribes to secede from the union that had begun with King Shaul, followed by King David, King Shlomo and the then king Rechav’am, son of Shlomo Ha’melech.

In order to complete the secession, Yeravam began interpreting the Torah in his own way and thereby created the first reform movement; but the formal act of secession was accomplished by closing the roads to Yerushalayim. He created two substitute spiritual centers – Bet El and Dan in the north – knowing that as long as the connection to Yerushalayim existed, his breakaway nation would not endure. Yeravam imposed a harsh prohibition on going to Yerushalayim, and placed police along the entire border .

This situation continued for over three hundred years, during which time the Jews of the north were severed from Yerushalayim and the Bet Hamikdash. Upon ascending the throne, Hoshea ben Ela withdrew the border guards and opened the way to Yerushalayim – and this happened on the 15th of Av. Indeed, this was a day to parallel Yom Kippur, for now the Jews would be able to offer korbanot in the Mikdash and achieve kapara for their sins.

After this explanation, Rav Kahana in the Yerushalmi asked that if Hoshea was such a great man, why then in his time did Shalmanetzer, King of Assyria, invade the northern tribes and exile all the Jews in Hoshea’s time and not in the reign of his successor? The Talmud answers that Hoshea ben Ela opened the way to Yerushalayim – BUT NO ONE CAME, and Hosea ben Ela was punished because he did not use his authority to prod or encourage the people to renew their covenant with the holy city, and most did not go to Yerushalayim.

And the Gemara explains that in the three hundred years when pilgrimage to the Holy City was prohibited by the evil kings, the heavenly bet din could not accuse the people of the north of neglecting their responsibilities to Yerushalayim. However, now that the government permitted the movement of people to the Holy City, there was no longer an excuse for not going. It was as if HaShem were saying, “You did not come to my house, so I will eject you from your houses”.

Hence, this day is most appropriate for the rabbis in the various galu’yot to declare Rabbis’ Day, because they are continuing in the tradition of Hosea ben Ela by not utilizing their authority and influence on the Jews in their congregations to leave the galut and return home.

When was the last time your rabbi stood at the pulpit and banged his fist on the lectern demanding that the congregation “go up to the Land”, as I am doing right now?

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

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