The Heavenly Eretz Yisrael
Rav Moshe Davis
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The Heavenly Eretz Yisrael
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אֵ֣לֶּה פְקוּדֵ֤י הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ מִשְׁכַּ֣ן הָעֵדֻ֔ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר פֻּקַּ֖ד עַל־פִּ֣י מֹשֶׁ֑ה עֲבֹדַת֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם בְּיַד֙ אִֽיתָמָ֔ר בֶּֽן־אַהֲרֹ֖ן הַכֹּהֵֽן:
This is the inventory for the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, which was recorded at Moshe’s command. It was the work of the Levites under the direction of Itamar son of Aaron the priest.
[Shemot (Exodus) 38:21]
וע"ד המדרש: (תנחומא פקודי ב) "אלה פקודי המשכן משכן", למה שני פעמים "משכן", אלא ללמד שהיכל של מטה מכוון כנגד היכל של מעלה, שנאמר: "מכון לשבתך פעלת ה'" וגו' (שמות טו, יז), אל תקרי "מכון" אלא מכוון.
The Midrash [Tanḥuma, Pekudei 2] asks why the word Mishkan (“Tabernacle”) is repeated in the verse, and answers that it teaches that the earthly tabernacle is located opposite the heavenly one.
The Heavenly Eretz Yisrael
Rabbeinu Becḥayye refers to the Heavenly Tabernacle/Temple, which is located above the earthly one, and towards the end of the Torah, [commentary on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 32:52] he adds the concept of the Heavenly Eretz Yisrael, which is located above the earthly Land.
What is the meaning of these concepts? What are the Heavenly Eretz Yisrael and the Heavenly Temple? What is the significance of the parallel between the heavenly and earthly Eretz Yisrael?
The Sanctity of Eretz Yisrael is Fitting for Her
The Soul of Eretz Yisrael
We can explain the Heavenly Eretz Yisrael as a spiritual concept, reflecting an existing reality, and not merely a metaphor. When we speak of the Heavenly Tabernacle/Temple, we must be aware of the fact that we are dealing with spiritual, not tangible things. Concerning the Heavenly Eretz Yisrael as well, we cannot superimpose our image of Eretz Yisrael on the Heavenly Eretz Yisrael. The heavenly worlds are exclusively spiritual. It is true that prior to descending to this world, each of us was a soul in the heavenly world, with knowledge of spiritual concepts, just as we knew all of Torah. However, God caused us to forget Torah, including the familiarity with the spiritual reality of the heavenly worlds, as Chazal (our Sages) taught:
"למה הולד דומה במעי אמו... ומלמדים אותו כל התורה כולה... וכיוון שבא לאוויר העולם בא מלאך וסטרו על פיו ומשכחו כל התורה כולה"
A fetus in its mother’s womb … is taught all of Torah … and when it enters this world, an angel slaps it on its mouth and causes it to forget all the Torah.
[Gemara (Talmud) Nidda 30b]
The Heavenly Eretz Yisrael is the soul of the material/earthly Eretz Yisrael, the life force of the Land. Eretz Yisrael is a living land, which expands as Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) increases its numbers within her and contracts when they are exiled from her [Gemara Gittin 57a]. As well, the Land spits out those who sin excessively within her [Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:25] and she will generously provide fruit to those who come to her at the time of redemption [Sanhedrin 98a]. Bacḥ [Oraḥ Ḥayyim 208] writes that the fruit of the Land is endowed with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael; the tangible fruits instill a fear of heaven in those who partake of them, due to the sanctity of the Heavenly Land.
This, then, is the meaning of the spiritual reality of the Heavenly Eretz Yisrael and its location directly above the earthly Eretz Yisrael: as God put a soul into each human being and it is that soul which gives each person his individuality and his basic qualities, so the Creator endowed Eretz Yisrael with a soul, making her a living land, which influences those who live within her. The Land is possessed of unique traits and characteristics which suit her lofty sanctity.
We should note that other lands do not have a soul; that is, they neither possess a life force nor express something living. They are completely inanimate. The will of Eretz Yisrael is expressed by her spitting out sinners and the success of the righteous dwelling within her. This vitality is unique to Eretz Yisrael and can be found only within her soil, trees and rocks. Thus, Zohar elucidates the posuk (verse) "לדוד מזמור, לד' הארץ ומלואה תבל ויושבי בה", שארץ ישראל נקראת: 'ארץ החיים', ושאר הארצות נקראות: 'תבל'. (“A song of David: The Land and the fullness thereof are the Lord’s; the world (tevel) and those who dwell therein:”) [Tehillim (Psalms) 24:1] – Eretz Yisrael is called the Land of the living, while the other lands are called “the world” (tevel).
We offered an explanation of the concept of the Heavenly Eretz Yisrael and its correspondence to the earthly Land as the reality of soul and body; the force which gives the Land vitality is that which gives her the aspects of life which are suited to her unique material aspect.
May Our Eyes See
Three times daily we pray “May our eyes see Your return to Zion.” The simple meaning of the prayer is our request that God quickly return to Jerusalem, and that we will see and experience His return.
At a celebration of Yom Yerushalayim at Mercaz haRav Kook, Rabbi Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen z”tl, the son of the “Nazir,” suggested an alternate understanding of this request: that God open our eyes to see the stages of Israel’s return to its Land and to Jerusalem; that we not lose sight of each stage which brings us closer to the final redemption.
We ask God to help us see the life force of Eretz Yisrael in its full strength and merit seeing the complete realization of the spiritual ideal of Eretz Yisrael with the entire nation settled within her in accordance with the tribal divisions given us by Yehoshua bin Nun, and to see how recognition of the complete truth emanates from Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael to the entire world, as Isaiah prophesied [2:3]:
"והלכו עמים רבים ואמרו לכו ונעלה אל־הר־ד' אל־בית אלהי יעקב וירנו מדרכיו ונלכה בארחתיו כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר־ד' מירושלם".
And many nations shall go and say “Come, let us ascend to the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, and let Him teach us of His ways, and we shall go in His paths,” for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Amen.