The Holiness of the Land and of its People
Reprinted with permission of Connections Magazine. Copyright (C) 1986 Congregation Kehilat Jacob Hakrev Ushma Division
There is a teaching from the lshbitzer that says that a man brought an object from somebody and he thought that it was copper and worth one hundred rubles. And someone stole it from him. Then he discovered it it really was made of gold. They caught the thief, who had sold the object, and asked the Holy Rosh how much he had to pay. The Rosh ruled, and I don’t know if all the rabbis agree with him, that he is only the baal bayis (the owner) to as much as he thinks it was worth. Since he thought that it was only copper, and only worth one hundred rubles, the thief has to give him back only double that amount. (In Jewish law. a thief repays double the value of what he stole.) The Ishbitzer says something very deep. Things belong to you only as much as you think they are worth . So, if a Jew thinks that Yiddishkeit (Judaism) is worth only a little to him, that is how much he is really a Jew. Obviously. it is not hard to find out how much something is worth. But, on a deeper level, you really only know how much something is worth after you lose it. That kind of knowledge, how much something is worth, is so deep, so infinite. because as long as you have it, you only have the object, but suddenly you lose it, and you feel as though you are losing a little part of your heart I had this thought. Whv is our mother, Rachel, the one who is bringing us back to Eretz Yisrael? “Rachel is weeping for her children.” Because Rachel was the first Jew who met a Jew who had lost Eretz Yisrael. After Yaacov left Eretz Yisrael, the first Jew he met was Rachel. And the Torah says that when he met Rachel. “He lifted up his voice and cried.” The Midrash says that he cried over the destruction of the Temple. You know what he told her? He taught her how a Jew feels when he misses Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, Rachel is the master of how a Jew feels when he has lost Eretz Yisrael. To our fathers, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov, Eretz Yisroel is given over on the level of receiving it for the first time. To our holy mothers, Eretz Yisrael was given on the level of receiving it after it was lost. Our mother Sarah’s connection to Eretz Yisrael begins when she left this world. An entire parsha (section of the Torah) tells of how Sarah was buried in the land. Our holy mother Sarah made the connection to Eretz Yisrael that even if a Jew dies, and there is nothing left, there should always be the connection to Eretz Yisrael. Let’s go back to Rachel. Rachel is teaching us the Torah of how a Jew feels when he doesn’t have Eretz Yisrael. Then comes our holy mother, Leah. Leah, in the deepest sense, never had Yaacov. To receive something again, after it was lost, that is our holy mother Rachel. Leah never dreamt of Eretz Yisrael - she never thought she had any connection to it. And suddenly she had a connection. Rachel and Leah gave each other signs; they each knew what the other was thinking. Leah is teaching us - I didn’t even dream that I had a connection to Eretz Yisrael. I never thought of it. The most unbelievable thing today is that we are living in a world where young people discover Eretz Yisrael. A whole generation is discovering Eretz Yisrael. and they didn’t even dare think that they had a connection to it. We are living today in a world in which there is so much interest in Kabbalah. More than ever before. But, the people who teach it don’t really understand it. The people who want to learn mean it for real. Kabbalah teaches that basically Judaism has two parts. There is a niglah (revealed) path - keeping Shabbos, fasting on Yom Kippur, learning Torah, doing everything right. Then, there is a nistar (hidden) part; that which is inside. I didn’t keep anything, but somehow I am connected to Yiddishkeit Our generation comes mostly from parents who, on a revealed level, had no connection to Judaism. All their parents gave to them is this hidden part of Judaism. So, when they come to Judaism, they are looking a little bit for the niglah, but first of all, they are looking for not what they are supposed to do, but what is their connection to it. They are looking for the deepest connection to Judaism. Let me tell you my favorite story about Mr. Green. In my father’s synagogue there was a young man, Mr. Green, who would come only for Yiskor prayer, (memorial services). As I grew up, on the West Side, every Saturday night I saw him with a different non-Jewish girl on his arm Suddenly, I see Mr. Green is going with the same woman four times, which was unheard of. Then, one Saturday night, I see him alone. I say: “Mr. Green, what’s happening?” He says: “Remember that girl you saw me with the last four times? I want you to know, I really love her. But, I decided not to marry her, because she isn’t Jewish.” I thought to myself, gevalt, if I were Mr. Green I don’t think I would have the strength not to marry her if I loved her. I said, “Mr. Green, why did you decide not to marry her?” He answered, “I’ll tell you the truth. Basically, I do nothing for my Judaism. The only thing I do is make Kiddush Friday night, And, if I marry a non-Jewish girl, I won’t even make Kiddush anymore.” Now, listen to me. What is Mr. Green’s Kiddush? He doesn’t even know the blessings. He gets a little bit drunk every Friday night. So. what’s so hard for him to give up? But, inside, in the secret place. in the hidden part of him, he doesn’t want to give it up. Yaacov gave over to Rachel not that Israel belongs to us, but the deep, deep connection, that which cannot be given up. All the nations of the world, when they are driven out of their country, they look for another country. Why? Because that country belonged to them, but when it’s taken away, they will find another to live in. For us and Eretz Yisrael the connection is so deep. We can be separated from it for 2,000 years, but the connection remains. Everybody knows that Eretz Yisrael has all kinds of Kedushot (holinesses), First of all, it has kedushat avoth (holiness of our ancestors), Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, G-d gave them the land. Then there is the kedusha of clal Yisraul, of all Israel. And then, Eretz Yisrael itself is holy, The Midrash says something beautiful. We don’t find Eretz Yisrael mentioned until Avraham aveinu. ‘There is a teaching from Ray Leibele Eiger. He says, until I meet the girl I love the most, I don’t need a special place. When I meet the girl I love the most, I want a very special place to be in with her. He says, until Avraham, G-d was never so close to anyone to need a special place. But, when Avraham appeared on the scene, then G-d wanted a place where He could speak to Avraham. I want to say this a little bit differently. Imagine, I have a place that is my favorite place I am not going to show it to anyone. I’ll only show it to the girl I love the most. So, basically, Eretz Yisrael is the land from which the Ribbono Shel Olam (G-d) doesn’t ever remove His eyes. He showed Avruham Aveinu that place.
Everybody asks, why did G-d forgive us for the sin of the Golden Calf and didn’t He forgive us for the sin of the spies? Imagine, I love a girl very much. She says, I’m no good. I can forgive her, I can understand. But, imagine if I show her the place that I love the most and she says that it’s a disgusting place! This I can’t forgive. This means that she is not connected to the depths of my soul. When we said the calf is G-d, G-d forgave us. But, when G-d showed us the place G-d loves the most, and we said it’s no good, that He can t forgive. Everybody asks, how could we have performed the korbon Pesach (sacrifice of the Paschal lamb) in Egypt? We had korbon Pesach the night G-d took us out of Egypt. But, we are not permitted to eat korbon Pesach outside of Jerusalem! There is a Midrash in the holy Zohar. The Torah tells us: “I carried you on eagles’ wings.” The Zohar asks, when did G-d carry us on eagles’ wings? For forty years we shlepped ourselves through the desert! So, the Zohar answers. while we were in Egypt clouds came and picked up every Jew and carried us to Jerusalem, and we ate the korbon Pesach in Jerusalem. Then. we were brought back. And then, we walked out of Egypt. I said to my friend that Pesach morning, when you walk to shul and you meet another Jew, and you feel connected to that Jew, probably, last night. when the clouds took you to Jerusalem, you saw that Jew and you were waving to each other through the clouds. When did Eretz Yisrael receive the kedusha of clal Yisrael? Pesach night. The night of korbon Pesach. Because, in order to make korban Pesach, you need the inhabitant to be in Eretz Yisrael. This is Pesach night. When all the Jews first came to Eretz Yisrael, that is when Eretz Yisrael received its kedusha as the everlasting home of clal Yisrael. Avraham Aveinu said to G-d, “How shall I know that I shall inherit the land?” I am always asking on this: Avraham didn’t inherit the land - his children inherited the land! Avraham should have said to G-d, “How do I know You will give me the land?” not “inherit.” My answer is, Avraham was given Eretz Yisrael on the level of kedushat ha-aretz, the holiness of the land. But, Eretz Yisrael, on the level of clal Yisrael, that Avrahani inherits from us. Basically, a father doesn’t inherit from his children unless, G-d forbid, his children die in his lifetime. Everybody knows that Avraham saw the galut. the exile, and saw that Mashiach is coming. All the Jewish children who died in exile, in Auschwitz, all the children who died - Avraham aveinu inherits Eretz Yisrael from them. That is what he meant when he asked, “How can I know that I will inherit the land?” Avraham asked G-d, “Who will be the last one before Mashiach comes?” G-d answered, “You will be the one.” All those souls who died, giving Eretz Yisrael back to Avraham aveinu, Avraham gives it over to us. The way he gives it to us is: “Go thou from thy land, from thy father’s house.” When I inherit through my zaida (grandfather) I inherit because it belongs to me. But, when it goes back to Avraham, it goes back to “go thou from thy Iand.” Our generation inherits from Avraham. The whole teshuva (return to Judaism) movement began after Auschwitz, after the children gave Eretz Yisrael back to Avraham aveinu, and Avraham gave it back to us. The way he gave it back to us is “Lech lecha” - (“Go thou out”) - G-d should give us the strength to leave the whole world behind us, and run to Eretz Yisrael. It is so heartbreaking, it is so clear to me that the people who are in charge of the Israeli government don’t really know what brings people to Israel. The Minister of Tourism showed me a pamphlet they are putting out, a picture of the beach in Tel Aviv. I told him. with all due respect, if a person is looking for girls in bikinis he will go to other places. Do you think any person comes to Eretz Yisrael for that? Here Avraham Aveinu comes in.
In order in be a Jew you need three things. You need light. You need taste. Finally, you need smell. The Midrash says that the world was dark until Avraham aveinu came He is on the level of light: enlightenment. Yitzchok is taste He said: “Make for me good food that I love.” Yitzchok saw that unless you have a taste of Judaism, it won’t last. It is not enough to know it and to do it. You have to taste it. Yaacov saw even further. “The fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field.” Yaacov brought down to the world the idea that even a Jew who cannot taste Judaism, who is too far away to taste it, can taste it from afar - he can smell it He can smell something holy, the fragrance of Gan Eden. Avraham is light. Avraham knew that G-d wanted, he knew true Judaism. The generation that inherits from Avraham, our generation, is looking for the deepest depths. It is obvious to me that until we fix the sin of the spies, we shall have trouble in Eretz Yisraet.
How do I know that I really love a person? I have a right to say about every person that he has good parts and bad parts. But, when I love a person the most, I just can’t see anything bad in him. If someone asks about my children, to me, they are completely good.
Why was Yitzchok laughing? When he was born? Most parents, when their baby is born, say: “I like your ears. but your nose could be a little better.” Can vou imagine the way Avraham and Sarah were looking at Yitzchok? Why was Yitzchok an olah temimah. a perfect sacrifice, completely holy? Because his parents looked at him as though he were completely holy. I want to share a story with you. I once was going to perform a wedding. and a holy hippie was driving me. You don’t ask a hippie if he has a license. What a stupid question to ask, how establishment can you get, right? Still, he drives, and drives and passes all the red lights. Finally, there was a policeman at one corner. So he stopped us and said “You passed so many red lights. Show me your license.” So, the hippie, let’s call him Moishele, says, “I forgot it at home.” Anyway, I begged the policeman, I said, “I must go to a wedding. This hippie is the brother of the groom Please give him a ticket. I promise he’ll pay. but let us go.” The policeman said “Okay. Park your car somewhere. and don’t come back without a license.” Then he said to me, “I like you. You’re a good man. I’ll tell you the difference between a rabbi and a policeman. A policeman’s job is to look for the bad in people. A rabbi’s job is to look for the good in people.” That Italian policeman is one of my great rebbes. We know how much it affects a person if you think that they are good, they are holy. Yitzchok’s parents thought that he was completely good. You can take the greatest speakers in the world and if you think they will stammer, and they know what you think, they probably will. So Yitzchok was laughing because his parents thought he was an olah temimah - perfect. This is true, too, of Eretz Yisrael. G-d looks at it as though it is completely good. What is so special about Eretz Yisrael? Basicaly, the sky is over all of the world; water is over all of the world. The Torah says: “And G-d saw that it was good.” Where do we connect to that “good?” Obviously. if G-d says it in the Torah, we have to be connected to it. Eretz Yisrael is the land that, when you are there you are connected to what G-d saw that was good. You can live in the whtile world, even if it doesn’t look good to you. In Eretz Yisrael, if it doesn’t look good to you, vou cannot be there. The highest revalation of G-d is to see that it is completey good. G-d said to Avraham. I shall show you that it is completely good. “And Leah’s eyes were soft.” Leah is the real, utmost fixing of the Jews. Softness. She was crying so much. The spies were crying for no reason. The beginning of the fixing was Leah. By her crying, she was fixing the sin of the spies. When did G-d tell Moshe that he could not go to Eretz Yisrael? When Moshe said: “Listen to me, you rebellious ones.” Gevalt. If you see something wrong with Jews, you cannot go to Eretz Yisrael. If you see something wrong with Jews, then you see something wrong with Eretz Yisrael. The spies made something wrong in Moshe, that’s why he saw bad things in Jews. Moshe said to G-d, “A’abra nah ve’areh et ha’aretz hazoth” - “Please let me pass over and see this land.” “A’abra” also means “uber” - fetus. Moshe asked, let me be reborn, make me reborn and I promise I shall see Eretz Yisriel and Jews in a new light.
In order to see Eretz Yisrael in the deepest depth, you have to see the world in the deepest depth, and this is what our generation is all about Our generation wants something completely good. There is a tremendous yearning in the world. The world is tired of good and evil. The world wants to be connected with something which is completely good!
Yitzchok knew that Esau was a little bit bad. But. he thought that blessings are there to make the good parts stronger and, eventually, Esau will have strength to overcome his evil inclinations. But, the truth is, blessings, brachoth, have nothing to do with good or bad. Brachoth come from the world of kulo tov - completely good. When G-d created the world, it was completely good. Amalek took away this goodness. I want to say to all of my friends, it’s so special if you can give over to children this kulo tov - completely good. On Simchat Torah we read the parsha where Moshe gives us Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael has to be completely good. When Jews come to the Holy Wall they don’t overcome their evil. They go back and do whatever bad things they usually do. But, something inside touched them which is completely good Something so holy. Our children need this the most.
Rachel represents the holiness of the end. Rachel teaches us what to do when we lose Eretz Yisrael. Rachel herself goes through the whole thing - she is losing Yaacov. When she gave over the signs to Leah (at her wedding, thus enabing Leah to marry Yaakov instead of her) gevalt was Rachel crying. The holiness of Rachel and Leah - they both built the House of G-d. Rachel teaches us how to respond when we miss something. Leah is different. Yaacov didn’t think he hid any connection with Leah. Suddenly he discovered that he had a connection with her; he discovered a new beginning with her. I was in a store in Mea Shearim and I discovered a little book. It was dusty so they sold it to me for fifty cents. I am sure it was worth hundreds of dollars. It was called “Midrash Eretz Yisrael. ” It was stolen from me a few days later. Obviously, I didn’t have the privilege of owning it, but I remember the first part. It begins like this: One rabbi says that before G-d created the world, He created Eretz Yisrael. He stood in Eretz Yisrael and then He created the world. Then somebody else says that before G-d created the world, He created Yerushalayim. And He stood in Yerushalayim when He created the world. Then, somebody else says that before G-d created the world, He built the Holy Temple. And He stood in the holy Temple, and He created the world. And then another says that before G-d created the world, He stood with children. He stood with children, and He created the world. That means that the first thing G-d did was to put into the world something that is completely holy. We have to bring the message to Eretz Yisrael to the whole world. The world is so hungry to hear something which is completely untouched by evil.
Let me tell you a story. During the Yom Kippur War we were playing in Hadassah Hospital. When a soIdier is wheeled in a wheelchair, you know that something, G-d forbid, is wrong with his feet. When a soldier walks in, you look at his hands. So, I see a soldier walk in, a Sephardic boy, about eighteen years old. In his ordinary life he must have been a very simple boy ! see that, nebech, he has no hands. No arms. During the concert, I don’t know why. I started talking about Avraham aveinu. Suddenly he stops me and says: “Did you ever see Avraham aveinu?” I say: “No, why do you ask?” So he says, “I’ll tell you later in private. “ After the concert he told me he wanted me to know his story. During the war, he and his friend were in the middle of battle, and they had to retreat a little. He suddenly saw that his friend was shot. His friend couldn’t move, but he was still alive. So this boy went back and picked him up, put him on his shoulders. and ran with him. While he was running with his friend, he was shot himself - Both his arms were shot off. Do you know what he did? He said that even though he didn’t have strength. he kept his friend on his shoulders. Baruch Hashem. he saved his friend’s life. But now, he himself has no arms. He said to me: “I want you to know, Avraham Aveinu sits on my bed every night, all night long.” Avraham Aveinu. How did this simple boy get so much holiness? Imagine, if I would learn Torah day and night. for two thousand years, I could not reach that level of holiness. I could not. That is Avraham Aveinu’s holiness. Everybody asks, when G-d spoke to Avraham for the first time, why didn’t He tell him to keep Shabbos, to keep kashrut? Why did He immediately tell him, “Lech lecha - Go thou from thy land, and from thy father’s house ... ?” G-d gave over to Avraham Aaveinu what this soldier knew - to leave everything behind you for G-d, for Israel, for somebody else. This awesome holiness comes from the deepest depths, from inside. This is what Avraham Aveinu is all about.
Avraham saw everything until Mashiach. He saw this soldier also. He asked G-d, “How do I know that I shall inherit ... ?” How can I inherit the holiness of this soldier? When Mashiach comes it will be revealed to us how holy our children are. You never know, sometimes you see somebody and you don’t have the faintest idea of how holy they are inside. This is why our generation is so much in touch with the mystical part of the Torah, with the deepest secrets. This generation contains people who, from outside, look like nothing and yet, inside, they are completely holy. We cannot have redemption unless we are connected to Eretz Yisrael. Eretz Yisrael has to be first, and after that comes redemption, Yaacov met Rachel first, and then he met Leah. But, he married Leah first, and then Rachel. He could not have Rachel until he had Leah first. Rachel teaches us how terrible it felt to leave Eretz Yisrael for the first time. Leah teaches us how good it feels to return. Together, they both built the House of G-d.