The Names of Eretz Yisrael
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The Names of Eretz Yisrael
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"והנה ידיעת שבתות ה' ומועדי ה' תלויה בארץ שהיא נחלת ה' (שמואל א כו, יט), עם מה שקראתו, מאשר נקראת הר קדשו (תהלים ב, ה) והדום רגליו (תהלים צט, ה) ושער השמים (בראשית כח, יז) וכי מציון תצא תורה (ישעיהו ב, ג)." (כוזרי, מאמר ב סוף אות כ)
Knowledge of the “Sabbath of the Lord” and the “Festivals of the Lord” depends upon the Land which is the “inheritance of the Lord”, [I Samuel 26:19] which is also called “His holy mountain” [Psalms 48:2], “His footstool”, [ibid 99:5], the “Gate of heaven” [Genesis 28:17] and “For from Zion will the Torah come forth” [Isaiah 2:3]. (Kuzari, Part 2, 20)
Multiplicity of Names
Kuzari mentions a number of Biblical names given to Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel), though there are others, for example "אדמת ד'" (“The Land of the Lord”) [Isaiah 14:2];
"נחלת יעקב" (“The heritage of Yaacov”) [Isaiah 58:14]; "ארץ הכרמל" (“A plentiful Land”) [Jeremiah 2:7]; "אדמת הקדש" (“The holy soil”) [Zechariah 2:16].
What can be learned from the numerous names of Eretz Yisrael?
First Level – Love of the Land and its Importance
Kuzari here deals with a series of verses which express love of Eretz Yisrael, as the King of the Kazars requested: “Continue your discourse on the special advantages of Eretz Yisrael.” [part2, 15] In essence, the multiplicity of names of the Land hints at her high level and praise of her. Indeed, we have examples of other things which have numerous names as an expression of their praise and dearness, such as the ten names of praise attributed to God [Avot d’Rebbi Natan, chapter 38]; ten names of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), given to praise her [ibid., Perek (chapter) 39]; the seven names of Yitro (Jethro) [Rashi, Shemot (Exodus) 18:1]; and the four names by which Har Chermon (Mount Hermon) is known [Rashi, Devarim (Deuteronomy) 3:9]. Concerning the latter, Rashi adds: “This is written to express praise of Eretz Yisrael. There were four kingdoms, each priding itself, saying ‘It shall be named for me.’” In truth, we are familiar with this phenomenon from family life. It is common for parents to give their children pet names which express affection for the child. The use of different names for a person or a thing can convey love. A variety of names can express love for various traits or unique characteristics of the loved one or thing.
Kuzari itself mentions this principle elsewhere where Rabbi Yehuda haLevi describes the distinction between an idolater’s path towards sun or moon worship and our path, the path of our fathers, leading to service of God. [Maamar (Chapter) 4, 3] The idolater attempted to achieve an intellectual understanding of the Supreme Power which functions in the world, and created ways of worshipping it. Our fathers, Kuzari writes, saw and spoke with God, Who instructed them and promised them rewards for loyalty to His word, and punishment for rebellion against Him. Through this, it was clear to our ancestors that God is truly the master of the universe.
Those who spoke to God directly were few in number, and only true prophets achieved this in practice. Throughout the generations, most people did not achieve the level of prophecy. Yet even those who did not reach prophecy called God by the same names used by the prophets, because they perceived God to be the leader of all those who clung to Him. The names given to God are based upon the various ways in which we encounter Him and the actions through which His presence is manifest in the world. Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He is named “Honor,” “Shechina,” “Monarch,” “Fire,” “Cloud,” “Image,” “The sight of the rainbow” and many others.
Kuzari continues and explains that there is an additional stage in which people or objects are referred to by God’s names. Thus, the verse says of ארון העדות (the Ark of the Covenant): “Arise O Lord and disperse Your enemies.” [Bamidbar (Numbers) 10:35] Similarly, Tehillim (Psalms) states: “For behold, Your enemies stir, and those who hate You raise their heads,” while the next verse states “Against Your people they plot cunningly, and they take counsel against Your protected ones.” [Tehillim 83:3-4]
As well, a number of righteous people are called “Man of God” because they completely fulfilled His will and through them Divine omens were given.
We thus see that a multiplicity of names can be a means of expressing affection in various ways. The numerous names of the Land express love for her and of the encounter with the sanctity of the Land.
Second Level – Hints Contained Within Each of the Names
Eretz Yisrael has numerous attributes, and each attribute has a corresponding name. The five names of the Land which Rabbi Yehuda haLevi chose to mention convey spiritual principles which Chazal (our Sages) connected to Eretz Yisrael.
1) Inheritance of the Lord – this name denotes Israel as the land which God chose to sanctify His name within the world, as Scripture states: “And it shall be at the end of the days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be firmly established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills, and all the nations shall stream to it.” [Isaiah 2:2]
2) His holy Mountain – corresponds to the inherent sanctity of the Land, which existed before Israel entered the Land, and which is independent of the choice of the Am Yisrael (Nation of Israel) or their good deeds, or any other factor. This can be learned from the verse: “He brought them to the border of His sanctuary, this mountain that His right hand had acquired,” [Tehillim 78:54] which Radak elucidates as referring to the Eretz Yisrael. The Gemara (Talmud) adds: “Eretz Yisrael was created first and then the rest of the world was created.” [Ta’anit 10a]. Eretz Yisrael has been beloved and special since the creation of the world.
3) His footstool – as it were, God is in heaven and His deeds are on earth, and He especially looks after Eretz Yisrael. Ramban [Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:25] writes that God entrusted the care of all lands to Hid angels, except for Eretz Yisrael, of which the verse declares: “The eyes of Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:12] Similarly, Chazal taught that God Himself provides water to Eretz Yisrael and the remained of the world receives its water from His emissaries. [Ta’anit, ibid.]
4) The gate of Heaven – Kuzari [Chapter 2, 14] itself explains the meaning of this name, quoting the verse in connection with our father Yaacov: “And he was frightened, and he said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” [Bereishit (Genesis) 28:17] Kuzari comments: “You can see that Yaacov did not attribute the visions he saw to his own spiritual level nor to his belief nor to the purity of his heart, but to the place itself.” [2, 14] That is, Yaacov understood that it was the merit of the Land which allowed him to experience the prophecy mentioned there. Thus, the Land is the portal for encountering God and the heavenly angels. It is for this reason that the Land is called “the gate of heaven.” Further, souls are gathered into the Land and from her ascend to heaven, [2, 23] and all prayers ascend to heaven via Eretz Yisrael, as the verse states; “And pray to You towards their Land,” [I Kings 8:48] and Metzudat David comments: “When they are in the land of their enemies, their intention will be that their prayers pass through their Land, their city and the House (of the Lord).”
5) Zion – this name is connected to the aspect of Eretz Yisrael that it does not have extremes, but merges all traits and all places into the mean, which allows it to be the choicest?? of places. He should cite a source for this assertion That which is not in balance cannot be fully successful. As this is true in the tangible world, so too spirit and sanctity penetrate that which is balance. This is concept is an important basic assumption of Kuzari, מורה נבוכים (The Guide for the Perplexed) and other works, and this is the basis of the Gemara (Talmudic) comment [Yoma, 54b] that the world was created from Zion, as the posuk (verse) states “From Zion, the perfection of beauty, God appears in radiance.” [Tehillim 50:2] The word “ẓion” means a sign, something which is noticeable, as we read in Jeremiah [31:20] “Set up markers (ẓiyunim) for yourself,” and as the Hagaddah says “Israel was distinguished (meẓuyanim) there.” Thus, Chazal stated that the world was created from Zion, since Zion is the center of the world, representing the balance of all traits and indicating that it is the choicest of places.
We saw two strata concerning the numerous names of Eretz Yisrael:
1) God gave the Land numerous names as an expression of affection for the Land and as a reflection of its uniqueness.
2) The Land has numerous qualities which are hinted at by her various names.
Based upon these two points, we understand Kuzari’s words as an expression of how dear the Land is to God.
Eretz Yisrael and the State of Israel
Our state is called the State of Israel, but that choice of names was not self-evident. As the state was coming into existence there were discussions and debates as to the name it should be given. Among the suggestions were; “Ivriya (Hebrew),” “Judea,” “Zion” and “Jeshurun,” as well as “The Jewish State,” which Herzl used. In the end, Aharon Reuveni (the brother of the second president of Israel) was the one who suggested, in real time, “the State of Israel.” Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak Kook foresaw this choice of names. In his book Orot Yisrael [6, 7] Rabbi Kook wrote that the state which will be established by Israel, necessarily incorporates ideals of the loftiest sanctity, not merely mutual responsibility of its citizens, and this is the highest level of happiness Rabbi Kook mentions that this state is “the State of Israel.”
The name “Yisrael” includes God’s name and connotes Yaacov’s struggle with the angel of Esau [Genesis 32:29] and the integrity of the qualities of the nation of Israel. This name does not apply only to a segment of the nation, as the name Judea would. The name “The Jewish State” ignores the essence of the state, implying that it is merely the state where Jews live. The name “The State of Israel” is the loftiest name our state can carry.
May we be privileged to love our Land.