Laudable Land

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Hashem has promised each of our Patriarchs the land we know as Eretz Yisroel. Yet, each of the Patriarchs experienced a famine while he was in the promised land. While Avraham Avinu and Yaakov Avinu left Eretz Yisroel to obtain food, Hashem commanded Yitzchak Avinu to stay in Eretz Yisroel. and not to descend to Egypt. The obvious questions Rabbi Mintzberg asks in Ben Melech are why was only Yitzchak prevented from leaving the land and, as a corollary, what was special about Eretz Yisroel.

Rashi answers the first question somewhat enigmatically. Unlike your father Avraham, you, Yitzchak were raised as an elevation offering that is completely consumed on the altar. Just as such an offering may not be removed from the sacred Temple courtyard, neither may you, Yitzchak leave the sacred soil of Eretz Yisroel.

Obviously, Yitzchak was never burnt, as an animal offering would be. But the Gerrer Rebbe zt”l explains in Lev Tahor that Avraham was commanded only to bind him as an offering; Avraham was never commanded to slaughter him and burn him. Yitzchak's status as the offering became complete when he was bound on the altar. Which begs the question: Yitzchak did leave the area of the Temple courtyard itself, he descended from Har Moriah. To this, Rabbi Parness explains that all of Eretz Yisroel retains the sanctity of the courtyard around the altar. In fact, the Gemarrah tells us that anyone buried in Eretz Yisroel is considered as being buried in the earth of the mizbeach/altar itself with the sanctity that provides atonement.

Rabbi Mintzberg zt”l elucidates this idea for us, comparing Yitzchak more to the Kohein Gadol/High Priest than to the offering itself. Just as the closest servant to a king must remain in the king's palace due to his elevated status and constant readiness to serve, so too did Yitzchak's elevated status require him to remain constantly in God's closest presence. Similarly, although Avraham Avinu was not a kohein, he was the premier servant of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Therefore Hashem commanded him to go to Eretz Yisroel. Even when Bnei Yisroel was traveling in the desert, the Mishkan/Tabernacle was at the center while Bnei Yisroel were camped around it, with the Tribe of Levi, those tasked with the Service, camped in the innermost circle around the Mishkan. Therefore, urges Rabbi Mintzberg, we should all strive to live in Eretz Yisroel, to build and maintain a close relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Avraham Avinu understood the power of this connection with the Land even before Hashem verbalized it by forbidding Yitzchak to leave. As Rabbi Mintzberg zt”l points out, that is why Avraham sent Eliezer outside of Canaan to find a wife for Yitzchak rather than sending Yitzchak himself.

To confirm the special sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l notes that Hashem promised Avraham Avinu all ארצות האל, not ארצות האלא. Although Hashem was specifying these lands, He was alluding to these lands as the Godly lands with elevated sanctity.

Rabbi Teichtal hy’d provides a beautiful image of what it means to live in Eretz Yisroel. He compares it to being in your mother's arms. As long as you are in mother's loving arms, wherever life takes you, you always feel safe. As a Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Teichtal zt”l understood how flimsy would be any protection in another "motherland." Our desire should be to return from other lands and find ourselves in Mother's embrace. [May Hashem's embrace our brothers and sisters as they fight to protect our Motherland. CKS] The intensity and omnipresence of God's watchful eye in Eretz Yisroel cannot be compared to His presence in any other land. Yitzchak needed to maintain this continuous connection with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Ramban zt”l provides some clarification. Yitzchak, like Bnei Yisroel in the desert, would move from one area to another within the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel following Hashem's instructions. Yitzchak was in Gerar, in the land of the Philistines. It is this land that Hashem now promises to Yitzchak and to his descendants. As Rebbetzin Smiles points out, the five Philistine cities will sound familiar to us today and were part of the land promised to Yitzchak Avinu. These cities are Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron. [The Philistines themselves were not indigenous to this area. Being sea merchants, they came from other areas and settled here. Check out the Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod. And the Palestinians are not descendants of the ancient Philistines. CKS]

This was Yitzchak's greatness. Wherever he went, he always felt as if he were a child, safe in his mother's arms, writes Rabbi Scheinerman. He could not leave that protective embrace. Our goal, writes Rav Scheinerman, should also be to feel that closeness to Hashem wherever we go.

In Eretz Zvi, a sefer dedicated to praising Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Frommer hy"d questions Rashi's purpose in writing that Yitzchak was a blemish free offering, an olah temimah. After all, our Sages proclaim that all our forefathers kept the entire Torah, and it is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisroel. However, Rashi's metaphor was meant to implant in us that same desire for closeness to Hashem Yisborach as if we too were a pure offering to Hashem.

Throughout our prayers, we refer to Hashem more often not as the Creator of heaven and earth, but as the God who took us out of Egypt. Why, asks Rabbi Frummer? Because every nation throughout the world has a guardian angel, but only Bnei Yisroel, the chosen nation, is supervised directly by Hashem, and the only place we can have that direct supervision is in the chosen land. Only there can you keep the entire Torah and forge the closest relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Our whole relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu begins with yirat Shamayim. fear and awe of Heaven. Since everything comes from Hashem, yirat Shamayim must also come from Hashem. However, it is up to us to desire it and pray for it, and then Hashem will implant it within us.

The Prophet Habakkuk wrote, צדיק באמונתו יחיה, a tzadik lives through and by his faith. Given that Habakkuk himself was revived from the dead through the prayers of Eliyahu Hanavi, Habakkuk is perfect to validate this truth. Rabbi Frommer attaches this description to Yitzchak Avinu whose entire life was dedicated to serving Hashem as the pure offering on the altar. That complete connection is more easily accessible in Eretz Yisroel. While Yitzchak had to remain in Eretz Yisroel, we have the ability to recreate the atmosphere of Eretz Yisroel anywhere through our dedication to Hashem and cleaving to Him. All of our lives, we must yearn for that connection, but if we can't live in Eretz Yisroel, we should try to recreate that sanctity wherever we are through living a life of dedication to Hashem.

We live in a complex world. How can we create this aura of sanctity wherever we are? The Shvilei Pinchas points us first to Avraham Avinu. Hashem told him to go to the place He would show him. So Avraham needed to tune in to see his inner eye, to connect to the part of Hashem within himself. We are blind to Hashem's messages unless we open our eyes to see and our ears to hear His messages. In the desert, we were constantly connected to Hashem. He told us when to travel and when to encamp, and we willingly followed His direction. We need to have that same mindset—What does Hashem want of me - in whatever we do and wherever we go. We need to daven to Hashem to help us before embarking on any ‘journey’, and to thank Hashem when we have arrived.

Interestingly, after we take a drink of water, we recite the blessing thanking Hashem for creating many souls, and for their deficiencies. Why do we thank Hashem for deficiencies? The

Shvilei Pinchas explains that it is because of these deficiencies, because of what we lack, that we connect to Hashem and pray, asking Him to fill our needs.

The Sifsei Chaim cites Medrash Rabba that Hashem told Moshe that the Land is beloved to Me, Yisroel is beloved to Me, and I will take the beloved people into the beloved Land. It is a Land Hashem's eyes continually watch more intensely than anywhere else.

In the tragic events of this Simchat Torah, it was noted that the fields of those who had observed shmittah the previous year were spared the fires and destruction of adjacent fields. In another miraculous story, a family that had recently become Torah observant left their non observant kibbutz weekly to stay in a Shabbat observant community every Shabbat. This week, circumstances had them stay home. The terrorists, having inside information, believed they were away for Shabbat and completely skipped their house. The entire family was saved B"H. [We cannot judge why so many others were murdered; we can merely be grateful for those Hashem miraculously spared. CKS]

The Tosher Rebbe zt”l, in Avodat Avodah, gives us a more homiletic understanding of Hashem's commanding Yitzchak to stay in Eretz Yisroel, for there Hashem will be with him. We've discussed the seminal episode of Yitzchak's life, as his father Avraham Avinu binding him as a sacrifice upon the altar. We have here the chesed of Avraham and the judgment/strength of Yitzchak moderating each other. The chesed of Avraham is symbolically being tempered with appropriate boundaries, and the harsh judgment represented by Yitzchak is being sweetened by the chesed of Avraham.

Hashem tells Yitzchak, "גור בארץ הזאת /Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you." But גור is also related to יראה, awe and strength. Hashem is telling Yitzchak that it is necessary for his attribute of awe and judgment to remain in Eretz Yisroel under His direct supervision, where He Himself can guard over him and keep it connected to the chesed of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The very name of Yitzchak will, in the future, laugh and validate the chesed Hashem bestowed on Bnei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel. Outside of Eretz Yisroel pure judgment reigns.

In Wellsprings of Torah, Rabbi Wolfson expands on the interrelationship of Avraham's chesed with Yitzchak's yirah in connection to Eretz Yisroel. First, Rabbi Wolfson reminds us of the medrash that Adam himself was formed from the dust of the earth of Eretz Yisroel. [While other medrashim argue that the dust that formed Adam's body was taken from all corners of the earth, they all claim that his head was formed from the earth of Eretz Yisroel. CKS] Hashem's first recorded words to both Avraham and Yitzchak were about Eretz Yisroel. To Avraham He gave the positive command, "Go for yourself to the land," while to Yitzchak, He commanded, "Do not go down, stay in this land." To Avraham, He gave the positive command, signifying the positive mitzvoth representing action, doing. In contrast, His words to Yitzchak symbolized the negative command, the restraint Yitzchak represents.

Rabbi Mintzberg zt”l then demonstrates how Hakodosh Boruch Hu establishes ownership of the land with each of our Patriarchs. To Avraham, he says, "Walk the length and breadth of the land;" to Yitzchak, He commands, "Live in this land," creating a chazakah, laying claim to the land; and Yaakov sleeps in the land.

Because Yitzchak had already laid claim to the land for his progeny by living there all his life, Yaakov could then go down to Mitzrayim during the famine, but he and Bnei Yisroel would remain strangers in Mitzrayim, writes the Novominsker Rav.

Each of our Patriarchs presented a paradigm for Bnei Yisroel. Yitzchak was the model of mesirat nefesh, self sacrifice not only for Hashem, but also for the land and for others. By living in the land even during a famine, Yitzchak demonstrated his willingness to suffer for Eretz Yisroel., writes Benzion Firer in Hegyonah shel Torah. Today, unfortunately, we see this self sacrifice for the sake of Eretz Yisroel literally taking place. But we also see the tremendous chesed of Avraham Avinu manifest in Eretz Yisroel and wherever Jews live to help our brethren in Eretz Yisroel. In the merit of all the chesed, may Hashem envelop us in the safety of His arms, and bring comfort and peace to His people in the land He has promised them. zt”l