Eretz Yisrael: the Place of the Shechina and of Blessing
Rabbi Mordechai Gershon
In memory of her father, Meyer Goldman z”l
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Eretz Yisrael: the Place of the Shechina and of Blessing
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"ואל שדי יברך אתך" (“And may the Almighty God bless you”) – This includes the blessing that Yaacov "שהוא מה שברכו שיהיה לקהל עמים" (“shall become an assembly of peoples”) [Bereishit (Genesis) 28:3] as well as receiving the blessing of Avraham, namely that He be his God and rest His Shechina upon him, and this is implied in “that you may inherit the Land of your sojournings,” [Posuk(verse) 4] – for the blessings of descendants and of inheriting the Land are interdependent and are always mentioned in connection with each other.
" ... וירושת הארץ תנאי אל שישרה שכינתו עליהם, כי היא מוכנת לקדושה ולהשראת שכינה, וכן תנאי אל שיפרו וירבו, כי השורק והגפן המובחר לא יצלח רק בקרן בן שמן."
And inheriting the Land is the condition for the Shechina resting upon them, since the Land is suited for sanctity and inspiration of the Shechina, as well it is the condition for being fruitful and multiplying, [posuk 3] for the choice vines will succeed only when planted in a “fertile corner.” [Isaiah 5:1]
Malbim, [Bereishit 28:3-4]
In his insightful comments Malbim notes that receiving the inspiration of the Shechina and fulfilling the blessing of the “seed” of the Am Yisrael (Nation of Israel) are related to the Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel). The implication of Malbim’s comment is that when Am Yisrael is exiled from its Land, the Shechina does not rest within the nation. However, we find explicit statements of Chazal (our Sages) which seemingly contradict this implication. For example, Chazal state:
"בוא וראה כמה חביבים ישראל לפני הקב"ה שבכל מקום שגלו שכינה עמהן"
“Come and see how beloved Israel is before God – wherever they are exiled the Shechina is with them.” [Gemara Megilla 29a]
How can Malbim’s comment be reconciled with Chazals’ statement?
Eretz Yisrael – the Natural Venue of the Shechina
We can explain things based upon a comment of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda haKohen Kook, who explains that the Shechina never leaves Am Yisrael, and indeed, wherever Israel is exiled, the Shechina goes into exile with them. However, there is a substantive difference between the inspiration of the Shechina in the Land and outside her. The natural venue for the inspiration of the Shechina and its revelation is in Eretz Yisrael, which is the main conduit through which the Shechina appears and is able to act openly and fully. When Am Yisrael is exiled, though God does not abandon them, and He, as it were exiles Himself with them, the Shechina cannot be fully revealed nor can it act freely because of its distance from its natural venue. Thus, in the Diaspora, the Shechina can be revealed only in a limited manner as the atmosphere of the Diaspora is foreign and opposed to the essence of the Shechina. Therefore, when the Shechina is there, necessarily its light is limited to protecting Am Yisrael and guaranteeing its survival – physical and spiritual – but not more than that. Only within Eretz Yisrael, its natural habitat, can the Shechina be in its full vitality and perform its blessed acts for the Am Yisrael and hence the world in its entirety.
We can convey this distinction through a parable of a person who dives into the sea. When breathing oxygen from the tanks he carries on his back, the diver is able to spend an extended period under water, but this period is limited and the diver will have to surface to breathe natural air. Only upon resurfacing and breathing the natural air is the diver able to return to normal life.
We must now understand Malbim’s second comment concerning the dependence of the promise of descendants upon Israel living in the Land. Does Israel’s physical condition change when they are in exile?
The answer is indeed affirmative, the promise of descendants for Am Yisrael flows from the Divine supernatural sanctity which operates within the nation and facilitates increase beyond the ordinary laws of nature, as elucidated by Maharal of Prague [Gevurot haShem, Perek (chapter) 12]. It follows that it is only when the Shechina is in its natural habitat that it can effect the Divine blessing and cause Am Yisrael to multiply in an unnatural manner. In the Diaspora, the Shechina, as it were, is limited and unable to work properly. Only in Eretz Yisrael is the Shechina able to operate in full strength and bring the full blessing and light to the nation.
The Am Yisrael within Eretz Yisrael – as a Vine Planted in a Vineyard
We have seen that the Shechina is inextricably bound to Eretz Yisrael and is can fully function only within the Land. Reflection on Malbim’s words indicates that Am Yisrael can fully develop itself only within Eretz Yisrael.
We shall revisit Malbim’s comment that “the choice vines will succeed only when planted in a fertile corner.” That is, Am Yisrael is compared to planting a choice vine which requires special conditions and appropriate soil in order to produce its choice fruit. Because of the quality and uniqueness of the vine, it is sensitive to factors which would not harm other plants, and it can yield its special harvest only in soil which is exactly suited for it.
Effectively, Malbim’s comments were made centuries before him by Rabbi Yehuda haLevi in Kuzari, where he wrote that just as any soil has plants which are suited to it, and planting other crops will not produce the maximum yield, despite the quality of the soil, so it is with the Israel and its Land. The Land of Israel is uniquely suited to the Nation of Israel and no other nation can fully prosper within her.
When the vine returns to its vineyard – when the Nation of Israel returns to its Land and is cultivated in the manner uniquely suited to it – Torah and mitzvot which were given exclusively to the Am Yisrael – it will produce the choicest fruit which cannot be produced elsewhere. Then Am Yisrael will receive blessings and plentitude out of proportion to any natural measure, and the Shechina will be manifest within its midst to its full greatness and glory.
The Contemporary Relevance
In our days we merit seeing Eretz Yisrael yielding its fruit in abundance in a manner not experienced for hundreds of years. The Land has once again become the world center of the Jewish people, with the largest segment of the world Jewish population living within her. The Jewish population of Israel continues to grow at an impressive rate, over and above the growth rate of most countries of the world.
We must reflect on these phenomena, and realize that this is the incarnation of God’s promise to the Forefathers to fulfill the “blessing of Avraham” within Am Yisrael – to have His Shechina within us, to make us fruitful and multiply us within the Land of our Fathers.
The more deeply we recognize the Hand of God in these processes and internalize the realization that it is the Shechina in our midst which is the moving force behind these developments, the more manifest the Shechina will be, and the more the blessings of the nation and the Land will increase without limit.