For the week ending 23 February 2019 / 18 Adar I 5779

Living in the Land

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Adam

Dear Rabbi, Is there any spiritual benefit to living in Eretz Yisrael nowadays when there is no Temple and no prophecy? Or is it the same as living in any other country?

Dear Adam,

There are definitely spiritual benefits to living in the Land of Israel even after the Destruction and Exile, and it is not like living in any other country.

The Land of Israel is where Adam was brought to life before being placed in Eden and it is where he lived and died after leaving Eden. It is also the land in which our forefathers, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and his wives, lived and achieved their spiritual elevation and excellence. Someone who lives in this Land connects to the origin of humanity and the foundation of the Jewish People and the major events of its history, which were independent of the Temple. This alone inspires a person and infuses one’s life with Jewish significance, meaning and purpose.

In addition, this is the one and only Land in which G-d bestows prophecy to His people Israel. The very nature of the Land is conducive to spiritual elevation and revelation. Only within the confluence of Israel and the Land can one receive prophecy and Divine inspiration. And even without the Temple, and without direct and explicit prophecy, the power of Israel in the Land still promotes spiritual sagacity. This is the meaning of the Talmudic teaching (Bava Batra 158b): “The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise”.

For both of the above-mentioned reasons, the Torah learning and mitzvah observance that one does in the Land of Israel is qualitatively elevated far above that performed in exile. This enhanced service of G-d, amplified by the latent spiritual quality of the Land, further purifies and refines one’s spiritual state, thereby catalyzing further Jewish growth and elevation.

But not only is one’s service of G-d generally qualitatively higher in the Land of Israel. It is also quantitatively greater. And this is for the simple reason that many of the Torah mitzvot are applicable only in the Land. So, numerically speaking, one can perform many more mitzvot in the Land of Israel, and this is an obvious spiritual advantage.

All of the previous reasons apply at any time in history, even when only a small number of Jews live in Israel under non-Jewish rule. And, historically, pious and dedicated Jews throughout the generations made great efforts to move to and live in Israel despite the great difficulties and dangers. Their tremendous self-sacrifice to this end indicates how spiritually beneficial living in the Land of Israel is, even after the destruction of the Temple.

In our times, given the current state of affairs in the modern State of Israel, there may even be potentially more spiritual benefits to living in the Land. For one, the fact that such a high percentage of world Jewry lives in Israel, and that the country itself is a self-proclaimed Jewish State, means that one who lives in Israel is automatically connecting himself to the People of Israel. This tremendously increases one’s Jewish identity, affiliation and a sense of “peoplehood”. It goes without saying that this bolsters one’s Jewishness, which is spiritually beneficial from a Jewish perspective.

Secondly, by merely living among so many Jews in Israel, the likelihood of intermarriage is quite low. Quite simply, the vast majority of Jews who live and marry in Israel will marry other Jews. And even if they are not religious, because of the character of the country, most are more traditional than their secular counterparts in the Diaspora. And, in any case, their children will be Jewish. This is a major spiritual benefit over the silent holocaust of assimilation and intermarriage occurring in exile, which threatens the very existence and continuation of the Jewish People.

Thirdly, since Israel defines itself as a Jewish State, the curriculum of even the secular public school system is full of classes on Judaism and Jewish history, which makes even secular Jews of Israel much more Jewishly

educated than Jews of the Diaspora. In addition, an entire division of the public educational system is comprised of religious schools for religious people. Not to mention the partially state-sponsored religious schools and yeshivot.

Fourthly, the fact that Jews in Israel speak and read Hebrew as their primary language makes for an unparalleled Jewish literacy which enables the Jews of Israel to access and understand the Torah, Mishna, Talmud and all other Jewish religious texts, as well as the prayers and the prayer book. In addition, merely speaking, thinking, expressing and living in Hebrew, whose source is the Holy Tongue, has a spiritually beneficial effect on a person.

Finally, the fact that Israel is a Jewish country means that, for one who lives there, the entire year, and one’s entire life from birth to death — that is, one’s yearly cycle and life cycle — revolve around, and are infused by, the Jewish way of life, the Sabbath, holidays and life events. Thus, in the most simple and natural way, someone who lives in Israel lives Jewishly.

So we see that there are many spiritual advantages, abstract and practical, to living in Israel even after the destruction of the Temple and despite the absence of prophecy. To be sure, much is missing, which we hope to achieve toward the “final redemption.” But, until then, there is still relatively much to gain by living in the Holy Land, the Land of Israel.

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