The Goal – Eretz Yisrael
תְּבִאֵ֗מוֹ וְתִטָּעֵ֙מוֹ֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַחֲלָֽתְךָ֔ מָכ֧וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֛ פָּעַ֖לְתָּ ה' מִקְּדָ֕שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כּוֹנְנ֥וּ יָדֶֽיךָ: (שמות טו, יז)
מקדש ה'. רמז שתשוקתם אל ארץ ישראל וחפצם בה לא מפני טובה בעניני העולם היה שהם רק אמצעיים, אלא מפני טובה הדתי אשר קוטבו בית המקדש ועבודת ה' בו. כמו שתרגם אונקלוס במאמר "אעברה נא וגו' ההר הטוב הזה והלבנון" (דברים ג, כה): "טורא טבא הדין ובית מקדשא"...
(פרוש ר' אברהם בן הרמב"ם על התורה שמות טו, יז)
“You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your heritage, directed toward Your habitation, which You made, O Lord; The shrine of God Your Hands have founded.”
[Shemot (Exodus) 15:17]
“The shrine of God” – this hints that the Israelites’ desire was to reach Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), and not for any worldly benefit, since this is merely a means, but because of the spiritual advantage in the fact that the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) and Divine service are within the Land. As Onkelos translated the verse “Let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon …” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 3:25] – “‘This good mountain’ refers to the Beit Hamikdash.”
The Exodus from Egypt: Background
Along with the promises He made to Avraham at the ברית בין הבתרים (Covenant Between the Pieces), God ordained three interrelated decrees for his descendants, over a period of four-hundred years: that they will be strangers in a foreign land; that they will be enslaved; and that they will be oppressed. [Bereishit (Genesis) 15:13] Three generations were destined to live in this foreign land, and the fourth generation would return to Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, Yaacov’s son Yehudah was among those who descended to Egypt; and his great-grandson (i.e., the fourth generation) Caleb was privileged to return to Eretz Yisrael. [Rashi, ibid. 15] In practice, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for two-hundred and ten years, suffering oppression and hard work [Rashi, Shemot 12:40], while the four-hundred year period is measured from the time the servitude was decreed in the days of Avraham. Following the period of more than two centuries of servitude, God took the Israelites out of Egypt.
It is natural for people who are enslaved and suffering to be focused on ending their suffering. We read that God instructed Moshe to inform the Israelites: “I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, to a Land flowing milk and honey” [Shemot 3:17]. What brought the Israelites when they sang שירת הים (the Song of the Sea) to think of Eretz Yisrael in general and the Beit Hamikdash in particular? How did they reach the sublime level of clear recognition that the essential good in this world is serving God, which is focused in the Land, to the point where they desired reaching the Land because of the Beit Hamikdash which will be built within her, rather than for any tangible benefit of being in the Land?
First Level – The Completion of the Redemption from Egypt
There were numerous stages to our national redemption from Egypt. We already mentioned that at the ברית בין הבתרים (Covenant Between the Pieces), Avraham was informed of two appointed times which mark the end of the decree of enslavement: the end of the period of four-hundred years and the fourth generation. Rabbi Sa’adya Gaon, and following him, Rambam, write that these indicators are open to different interpretations. Chazal (Our Sages) taught that the Tribe of Ephraim miscalculated the four-hundred year period, as commencing at the time of the ברית בין הבתרים (Covenant Between the Pieces) and fought against the Egyptians, convinced that this was the appointed time for redemption and therefore God would grant them victory. [Gemara (Talmud) Sanhedrin 92b] Rambam notes that it was equally possible to understand that the four-hundred year period began with Yaakov’s descent to Egypt or from the beginning of the actual Egyptian enslavement.
The Israelites’ cries because of the hardship of their subjugation was the true first stage in the redemption form Egypt, the stage of praying to God and having Him accept the prayers [Shemot 2:23-25]. Following the seven days during which God convinced Moshe to accept his appointment as the redeemer of Israel [based upon Rashi, Shemot 4:10], Moshe met Aaron and together they went to convince the elders and then all the Israelite that the time of redemption had arrived [Shemot 4:27-31]. Only approximately six months later were our ancestors freed from subjugation, on Rosh haShana of that year. [Gemara Rosh haShana 11b] After Moshe and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, demanding that he allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, God’s judgment of the Egyptians lasted twelve months. [Mishna, Eduyot 2:10] Following this period, the Israelites gathered together and began their journey from Egyptian enslavement to freedom. After one week of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites saw their former masters chasing after them, intending to fight against Israel. Moshe and the entire nation crossed the sea on dry land and were saved from the Egyptians, whom they saw drowning in the sea.
Where to continue? What is the direction and what is the goal? Am Yisrael (The Nation of Israel) relied on the Creator, Who led them with overt miracles, עמוד הענן (a pillar of the Cloud) to lead them during the days and עמוד אש (a pillar of fire) at night. Now was the ideal time for them to recall the goal which had been set in Egypt. In Egypt the message dealt with the tangible goodness of the Land, but now the Israelites had the peace of mind to reflect on the question of what would fill their lives now that they have been freed. The Israelites’ knowledge of the promise of the tangible benefit of the Land created the hope that the Land would also be a source of values which would fill their lives within her. The spiritual guidance of Moshe and Aaron contributed. The overt miracles which the Israelites saw filled them with a sense of appreciation of the Creator and the desire to serve Him on the ideal level. All this was the continuation of the plan to offer sacrifices in the wilderness and to receive Torah at Mount Sinai, which the Israelites had heard while still in Egypt. We may add that our holy fathers, Avraham, Isaac and Yaakov, who knew the sublime qualities of Eretz Yisrael, transmitted and taught these qualities to their descendants and now the Israelites recalled these lessons.
All of the above is a sufficient explanation of the arousal of Am Yisrael to desire Eretz Yisrael and its spiritual benefit specifically after being saved at the sea. They understood that the purpose of the exodus was to reach the Land and to benefit from her spirituality.
Second Level – the Entire Nation Achieved the Level of Prophecy
Chazal taught that a maid-servant at the sea saw more than the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah saw [Midrash Sechel Tov, Shemot 15:2]. It was the merit of Israel’s faith in God which allowed them to be saved at the Red Sea [Mechilta d’Rebbi Yishmael 6], as the posuk (verse) states "ויאמינו בד' ובמשה עבדו" (“And they believed in the Lord and in Moshe, His servant”) [Shemot 14:31]. Because of their faith, the Israelites were worthy of reaching the lofty level of communal prophecy. The righteous and the simple Israelites were all able to declare "זה אלי" (“This is my God”) [Shemot 15:2, as expounded by Sechel Tov]. This was an unusual spiritual elevation, in which everybody and soul of the entire nation achieved during the time they sang the prophetic song after crossing the Red Sea.
Clearly, at that time, the thoughts and aspirations of the nation, which only a short time before had been trampled and downtrodden as slaves, were those of people of stature ideals and lofty faith. Eretz Yisrael and the Beit Hamikdash, which are Divine ideals in the Israelite faith, were the aim and desire of those who had left Egypt. In fact, the level of Eretz Yisrael is so sublime that Divine service and sanctifying His name can be fully realized only when Am Yisrael is within its Land and the Beit Hamikdash in existence. The rectification and the ultimate refinement of the world are rooted in Israel’s return to its Land and reinstatement of all the national aspects: monarchy, Sanhedrin, Beit Hamikdash service and application of Torah and mitzvot to the individual and the collective.
After the salvation at the Red Sea, the Israelites suddenly felt and understood all this. At that point, their entire aspiration and goal was to reach the Land in order to serve God. Indeed, the Israelites were correct. The level of Eretz Yisrael is so sublime that even one who exaggerates in praise of the Land is able to express no more than one ten-thousandth of its true praise, as Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak Kook wrote in one of his letters:
"יסוד הגלות והשפלות הנמשך בעולם, בא רק ממה שאין מודיעים את ארץ ישראל, את ערכה וחכמתה, ואין מתקנים את חטא המרגלים שהוציאו דיבה על הארץ בתשובת המשקל: להגיד ולבשר בעולם כולו הודה והדרה, קדושתה וכבודה. והלוואי שנזכה אחרי כל ההפלגות כולן, מצדנו, להביע אף חלק אחד מרבבה מחמדת ארץ חמדה ומהדרת אור תורתה ועילוי אור חכמתה ורוח הקודש המתנוסס בקרבה"
]אגרות הראי"ה אגרת צו[
The basis of the exile and the degradation which continues in the world is the failure to convey the value of Eretz Yisrael and the failure to rectify the sin of the spies, which was speaking ill of the Land; [we must] announce to the entire world the glory and splendor of the Land, her sanctity and her honor. Would that after all the hyperbole on our part that we were able to convey even one ten-thousandth of the beauty of the “Desired Land” [Jeremiah 3:19] and of the splendor of the light of its Torah and the sublime light of its wisdom and the holy spirit which arises from within her.
We can thus understand that because Am Yisrael was so elevated at the Red Sea, it was specifically then that they requested Eretz Yisrael in its lofty spiritual level.
We saw two factors which brought Israel to be cognizant of the level of the Land specifically as they sang the Song of the Sea:
1. Splitting the Red Sea was the completion of the redemption from Egypt and brought the Israelites to reflect on their goal in life, now that they were indeed free.
2. Am Yisrael achieved the level of prophecy, which brought them to reflect on their ideals and Eretz Yisrael is the most sublime spiritual ideal.
These factors explain how the Israelites were able to desire the Land and to have spiritual yearnings to reach her.
The Lack of the Beit Hamikdash
Thank God, we have merited the generation in which the majority of Jews live in Eretz Yisrael. Once again, we are engaged with the mitzvot which apply only in the Land; Shemitta, teruma, ma’aser, etc. In the Diaspora, these mitzvot were almost forgotten and we were unable to feel the lofty spiritual aspect of the Land in our daily lives. Routine wears one down; the problems of earning a livelihood and of caring for a family also divert our thoughts. When the Beit Hamikdash stood, we were surrounded by lives of purity and far from all types of impurities. For example, Chazal taught that during the reign of King Chizkiyahu, they checked from Dan to Beer Sheva (i.e., the entire Land, north to south) and there was no man or woman, no child who was not expert in the laws of purity and impurity [Gemara Sanhedrin 94b]. The thrice yearly pilgrimage of the entire community to the place which was full of sanctity and purity left a strong impression of spiritual aspirations and feelings.
May it be His will that we truly feel the spiritual power of Eretz Yisrael and the aspiration to serve God in the Beit Hamikdash, sanctifying His name throughout the world. Amen.
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