This week we commemorated Yom Zikaron and celebrated Yom Haatzmaut. We take a day to recognise the sacrifice that has been made to ensure we have an Independent Jewish State.
For thousands of years before modern “political Zionism”, Jews have been studying the Land of Israel, praying for it and discussing its sanctity.
Israel is known as The Holyland but what is it that makes Eretz Yisrael so Holy?
In this week’s Parshiot Achrei Mot-Kedoshim we are given many rules, in particular we read in Vayikra 18:1-23 about which relationships are forbidden. The next six verses speak about those nations which did not adhere to those rules using terminology such as “and the land spewed out its inhabitants.” (18:25 and 18:28), suggesting that the Land is exceptionally sensitive to the slightest wrongdoing.
Can a Land be sensitive to wrongdoing and corruption? The Land of Israel appears to be sensitive from a spiritual perspective, it doesn’t have favourites for any nation that sins is “spewed out.”
The Rambam holds a more rational view on the holiness of the Eretz Yisrael. He feels that the holiness is a by-product of human behaviour and that the people are holy not the soil.
Yishayahu Leibowitz in his book Judaism, Human Values and the Jewish State supports this idea. “The land of Israel is the Holy Land and the Temple Mount is a holy place only by virtue of the Mitzvot linked to these locations.”
In his view, a Holyland has extra laws. We know in Israel there are Shmitta, Bikkurim and the laws of the Temple to name a few. By virtue of more extensive observance, a higher spiritual intensity is achieved making the land Holy and the consequences of non-observance are more severe.
Rabbi Alex Israel does not think that the Parshah reflects this viewpoint. He feels it is suggesting a different, more dynamic, model as the verse intrinsically says that the Land is Holy.
Ramban on his commentary of Vayikra 18:25 suggests that it is the soil of the Land which is spiritual as it was created by Hashem with a specific purpose and that the Torah should only be kept in Eretz Yisrael. When it is kept outside, it is mere practice. Other countries have laws due to the leaders they follow or the laws of nature but Eretz Yisrael is guided by Hashem who keeps a spiritual watch over it.
In Devarim 11:13-21, it states that if we listen to Hashem’s laws we will have rain and agriculture will be good but if other gods are served, He will close the heavens and there will not be rain and agricultural work will not be possible. Likewise in Behar-Bechukotai, when we received the laws of Shmitta and other laws of the land, Hashem promises us that if we keep the Torah then Eretz Yisrael will prosper.
Eretz Yisrael is a Holyland, a land filled with great blessing and a Holy presence. It seems like to live in such a land we should raise the ethical standards by which we live our lives. The modern State of Israel and the modern Zionism movement on which it rests would not have had the energy and fuel to exist if it weren’t for the thousands of years of Jews viewing it not only as a Homeland but also as a Holyland.