Unique Purity of Heart in the Land of Israel
וארץ כנען מיוחדת לאלהי ישראל, והמעשים לא ישלמו כי אם בה, והרבה ממצות יש בטלות ממי שאינו דר בארץ ישראל, והלב והנפש אינם טהורים וזכים כי אם במקום שיודעים בו שהוא מיוחד לאלהים, ואילו היה זה בדמיון ובמשל, כל שכן שהוא אמת כאשר קדם באורו...
The Land of Canaan is special to the Lord of Israel, and no deed can be perfect except within her. Many mitzvot apply only to those who live in the Land of Israel; the heart and soul are pure and immaculate only in the place which is known to be special to God. This is true in the figurative sense, all the more so in reality, as we have explained.
[Kuzari, Conclusion 23]
The Questions of the King of the Kazars
At the conclusion of the Book of Kuzari, the rabbi has decided to implement his great love for Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and ascend to the Land. The king of the Kazars had reached the conclusion that his mentor would forego his plan to move to Israel and tried to raise doubts about the rabbi’s plan. However, the rabbi was determined to ascend to the Land, though this was not a simple or easy decision. Moving to a new country always entails starting a new life; all the more so in earlier times, when conditions for emigrating were more difficult and required abandoning virtually all of one’s possessions. Israel at the time was not well-settled, adding another dimension of difficulty to realizing the rabbi’s brave decision.
Indeed, the king asked the rabbi basic questions about the advisability of his ascending to Israel, questions which reflect the king’s fears and concern for his mentor. The king raised two major questions:
What does Eretz Yisrael have which no other land does? The Shechina? Miracles? The Urim v’Tumim (Breastplate of the High Priest)? Since the time of the Bible’s completion, prophecy has not returned to Israel. Israel experienced many miracles in the past, some ongoing when the Temple stood, others occasional in other parts of the Land. These overt miracles do not occur now and will not until the time of redemption. The Land is quite desolate, so what does it offer? Do you expect to encounter God there?
Your desire to ascend to the Land is for the sake of your Divine service. Certainly you are able to achieve a lofty and pure level of love and fear of God wherever you are, so why ascend to Eretz Yisrael? Fulfill mitzvot with all your heart here in the land of the Kazars and do not ascend to Eretz Yisrael.
First Level – the Hidden Shechina Always Exists in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel)
The rabbi’s answer to the first question serves as the basis of the answer to the king’s second question as well. The rabbi asserts that one who dwells in the Land encounters the Shechina even in the base level of exile; the Shechina is ever-present within the Land. Kuzari itself explains the deep meaning of this concept by comparing the situation of Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) in the Diaspora to the dried bones of Ezekiel’s vision [Ezekiel, Chapter 37]. Kuzari comments that there is a substantive difference between bones which once held live limbs and a stone statue which can never have life. That which was alive and was possessed of a Divinely given soul and a spirit of holiness, retains the potential for revival and renewal even in a state of degradation. This fact inclines the hearts of those living in the Land towards serving the Creator with greater love than can be achieved in other lands. [Kuzari 2:30-32]
Thus, the point answers the king’s second question as well.
Kuzari expands upon the nature of the hidden Shechina within Eretz Yisrael, the Land which God designated as His, as Scripture states: "כי בחר ד' בציון, איוה למושב לו" (“For the Lord has chosen Zion, He desired it for His habitation”) [Tehillim (Psalms) 132:13]. As well, another posuk (verse) refers to God as "אלוקי הארץ" (“The God of the Land”) [II Kings 17:26]. The promise was made to all generations "ארץ אשר ד' אלקיך דורש אותה, תמיד עיני ד' אלוקיך בה מראשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה" (“A Land the Lord your God looks after, the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year”) [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:12].
God’s choice of the Land finds expression also in the fulfillment of mitzvot within her. Only within the Land can any mitzva or action be done with perfection, and numerous mitzvot can be fulfilled only within the Land. The corollary to understanding that the hidden Shechina necessarily exists within the Land even at times of desolation and that its existence carries practical implications, for those dwelling within the Land even at such times is that the heart of a Jew beats more powerfully in prayer and in all aspects of Divine service within the Land.
Second Level – Psychological Aspect
In addition, there is a spiritual – psychological aspect which arouses the heart to love and fear of God specifically within the Land. The Gemara (Talmud) states: "הרבה נביאים עמדו להם לישראל, כפליים כיוצאי מצרים" (“Many prophets arose for Israel, double the number of Israelites who left Egypt”) [Megilla 14a]. Kuzari [2:14] notes that there can be prophecy only in Eretz Yisrael or for her sake. God sent one million two hundred thousand prophets from Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) to deliver His holy words, and all of them, or almost all, within Eretz Yisrael! Prophets moved throughout the Land, and especially in Jerusalem. Thus, it is not surprising that the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) said: "לא האמינו מלכי ארץ וכל יושבי תבל כי יבוא צר ואיוב בשערי ירושלים" (“The kings of the earth did not believe, nor all the inhabitants of the world, that a foe or enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem”) [Eicha (Lamentations) 4:12]. An additional verse conveys the message as well: "הזאת העיר שיאמרו כלילת יופי, משוש לכל הארץ" (“Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?”) [ibid. 2:15]. The encounter with the Shechina was a historical reality, which was a deep experience of Divine service. Such an experience necessarily elevates the individual and purifies his heart.
Kuzari [3:21] describes the imagery of this wonderful period of blossoming of Jerusalem and of the Beit Hamikdash (Temple). For example, Rabbi Yehuda haLevi describes the modesty of the residents of the entire Eretz Yisrael, their purity of speech, sanctity and maintaining their purity. Kuzari writes that the residents of Jerusalem were on an even higher level of purity.
The realization that the Land and Jerusalem in the past were filled with holy men has the awesome power to incline one towards purity of heart in the service of God.
We find a source for Rabbi Yehuda haLevi’s words in the writings of Chazal (our Sages). The Gemara establishes the halacha:
"היה עומד בחוץ לארץ - יכוין את לבו כנגד ארץ ישראל שנאמר: והתפללו אליך דרך ארצם; היה עומד בארץ ישראל - יכוין את לבו כנגד ירושלים" וכו'
One who stands (in prayer) outside the Land should incline his heart towards the Land of Israel, as Scripture states: “They shall pray to You toward their Land;” [II Kings 8:48] one who stands within the Land of Israel should incline his heart towards Jerusalem, etc.
[Gemara Berachot 30a]
Thus, one who prays the Amida, must think of his prayers as being routed through Eretz Yisrael and Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies). Indeed, all prayers ascend to heaven via the Kodesh HaKodashim (the Holy of Holies), and there is an obligation to be cognizant of this fact during prayer.
Summary of the Answers
The rabbi answered each of the two questions of the king of the Kazars on two levels.
The rabbi’s answers to the first question – what is unique about the Land during the period of exile? – are:
Despite the fact that prophecy and overt miracles no longer exist, encounter with God still exists in our times. At all times Eretz Yisrael is enveloped by Divine sanctity, for if this were not the case, the Land could never return to being the domain of the Shechina, and God has promised through His prophets that prophecy and the Temple will be returned to the Land.
2) God chose the Land and personally and continually supervises her; therefore, it is only within the Land that perfection can be achieved. This is reflected by the fact that the fulfillment of many mitzvot is dependent upon the Land of Israel.
The answers to the second question – why can the heart not be purified for Divine service elsewhere? – are:
1. There is an element of the hidden Shechina exclusively within the Land of Israel, and this draws the heart to true Divine service.
2. Psychologically, the heart and brain are drawn to memories of the great sanctity which the Land possessed at the peak of its development, and this imagery helps fill the heart with true love and awe of God.
The Younger Generation and the Older One
As is typical of those born into a particular reality, we have a difficult time recognizing all of the wonders which God has done to bring us to hither. Many men and women born in Eretz Yisrael have never left the Land; they did not experience the difficulties involved in moving to Israel, nor did they experience the exhilaration of entering the pure atmosphere of the Land of Israel. Many among us have gone abroad and upon return felt “It is good to wander, but even better to return home.” Our parents remember well Rabbi Goren’s shofar blast, when for the first time in almost 2000 years we reached the Kotel as a nation. They remember the tears and emotional prayers which swept up all strata of the nation. This is exactly what Kuzari mentions here. True, it was the first time after many years that the Kotel was accessible to Jews; nonetheless, if the Kotel were not a place of God, if not for the latent memories of the sanctity and purity which surround the site, it would not have been possible to anticipate the intensity of the emotional reaction.
Rabbi Yosef Bediḥi relates that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook zt”l used to comment that one comes to the Kotel not to pray to God but to encounter Him there, to encounter the sanctity which envelops the place, to meet the Creator of the world. Have you met Him? Now you are ready to pray, read Tehillim (Psalms), etc. Rabbi Bediḥi adds that often it was difficult for Rabbi Zvi Yehuda zt”l to leave the Kotel because he felt the Shechina’s presence there.
May it be His will that we recognize the sanctity of the Land and feel the hidden Shechina and the Divine encounter within the Land and thereby increase our love of the Land.
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