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To Dwell in the Palace
by Rabbi Zev Leff

...Every time we eat a meal, after satisfying our physical appetite, we are required by the Torah to recite Grace After Meals. It consists of three blessings of Torah origin and a fourth that is rabbinic. The first of the three Torah blessings acknowledges that God is the source of all sustenance. The second thanks God for the food and for the Land of Israel. It is in this blessing that we also mention God's covenant with us and the Torah. The third blessing is a prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of the Holy Temple and the Davidic dynasty.

Reciting all of this after each addition of a few ounces to our physical constitution, no matter where we live, may not seem particularly relevant. But it is. A Jew must focus his attention on the ultimate purpose of the creation of the material. Any thank-you for food must include mention of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, for only through the Land of Israel are the world's material components put to use in the most sublime and ideal fashion.

And yet we may imagine that we can daily acknowledge the ideal while continuing to live our own lives among the nations in a less-than-ideal fashion. Dwelling apart would be nice, we may say, but as for me, blending in with my host country will suffice. The Torah tells us otherwise. If we dwell apart, then "Israel will dwell apart in security" (Deut. 33). If, however, we choose not to do so willingly, then solitude of a different nature will be forced upon us. "How does she dwell apart in solitude?" is, we will recall, the opening verse of Lamentations.

How often have we tried to assimilate! Yet we, like the oil which can never blend with other liquids, are doomed to remain separate. Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner put it succinctly: "If the Jew does not make kiddush, then the gentile makes havdala." Either we separate and sanctify ourselves, or the matter will be taken care of for us in much more painful ways.

* * *

The ultimate "cure" for all the woes of the Jew among the nations can only be a return to our own land, there to live a life absolutely unique in its sanctification.

Consider the verse: "No man will covet your land when you ascend to greet the Presence of God thrice yearly" (Exodus 34). Would it not have been sufficient if no one took the land? Why was it necessary to promise that no one would "covet" the land?

In light of the purpose of the Land of Israel, we can explain this verse in the following manner:

The Ibn Ezra explains that the prohibition of "do not covet" demands that a person recognize that all possessions are Divinely ordained for their owners. One does not covet that which is totally removed from his sphere (e.g., the peasant does not desire the king's daughter, whom he merely admires from afar).

With this in mind, the verse quoted above takes on new meaning. The Jewish people are to renew and revitalize their relationship to God three times each year by immersion in the holiness of Jerusalem. They then go home to live their everyday lives in the Land of Israel proper -- a sanctified people in a sanctified society, observing numerous agricultural commandments with the produce of a sanctified land. The nations of the world will recognize that the Land of Israel is something outside their orbit. Perceiving how ill-suited it is to their worldly ways and goals, they will lose interest in it. It is only when we dwell in the Land of Israel in a secular manner comparable to theirs that the nations imagine it has relevance to them also -- and that is when they covet the Land.

This is a general picture of the way things are meant to be for the people of Israel living in the Land of Israel. Although every person must act in accordance with his unique circumstances, the Jew must maintain an awareness of the task of the Jewish people in Creation. While an individual Jew may reach a relatively high level anywhere, there is no possibility of fulfilling our national destiny except in the Land of Israel...

* * *

Connecting to the Land

If you do not merit settling in the Land of Israel presently, aspire and fervently pray for the day when your circumstances will change, so that you will be able to fulfill this mitzvah and reap the spiritual benefits of living in our holy Land. It would also be advantageous to visit the Land of Israel from time to time if your finances permit, to keep the fires of your dreams and aspirations glowing...

It is not sufficient to admire and appreciate the advantages and benefits of the Land of Israel in theory. In part this was the sin of the spies who, while extolling the beauty and goodness of the land, lacked the trust to take advantage of those merits and concretize their personal connection to the land. Rabbi Yaakov Emden, in his Siddur, emphasizes this point.

"The mere hint of facing toward Jerusalem when we pray is only sufficient when more than that is impossible. But, if we are not prevented by circumstance from physically being in the Land of Israel, then just facing in its direction will not suffice. Therefore, every Jew must resolve in his heart to settle in the Land of Israel as soon as he has the means to finance his move and to be able to eke out a meager livelihood by means of a trade or business....

"Don't think to become entrenched in the Diaspora for this was the sin of our forefathers who 'despised the desirable land.' This sin has caused all the calamities in our exile. We have been like one totally forgotten because we have completely forgotten the mitzvah to dwell in the Land of Israel."

Other Torah sages too have warned of becoming too settled in the Diaspora. Some even went so far as to prohibit the erection of permanent stone dwellings outside of the Land of Israel. The Keli Yakar (at the beginning of parshas Vayechi) explains why the date of the arrival of Mashiach was hidden from us: to prevent us from becoming too settled in foreign lands, and losing the sense of anticipation of his arrival and of our imminent return to the Land of Israel. He goes on to bemoan the lack of success of even this measure, noting that so many Jews feel so settled in the lands of their dispersion that they build luxurious, permanent homes, and ignore even the possibility (let alone the fervent desire) that Mashiach may come at any moment and bring us all back to the Land of Israel.

* * *

We must refrain from feeling settled and fulfilled as long as we are outside the land. This attitude need not lead to melancholy, but should instead actually enhance one's spiritual life. It affords direction in aspiring toward the proper values and lifestyle. Interestingly, it may also provide physical protection for the community in which one resides now, as illustrated by the following account (from the Shearis Yisroel, in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, the author of the SMA):

The city of Worms was devastated twice during the Crusades. Why did a city blessed with pious Torah scholars merit such a fate? When Ezra the Scribe returned to the Land of Israel to begin his work on the second Holy Temple, he sent letters to all the major communities of the time inviting them to return with him. The community of Worms, which had been established since the destruction of the first Temple, responded: "Peace unto you, Ezra the Scribe! May you be successful in establishing the grand Holy Temple in the grand Jerusalem. We, however, will remain here in our 'small Jerusalem' and with our [miniature] Temple."

This attitude, tragically common even in our own day, spiritually blemished the city to such an extent that it was especially vulnerable to the attacks of the Crusaders many years later.

And if in fact your personal circumstances do not exempt you from fulfilling this magnificent mitzvah, then do not delay. If you keep in mind the benefits which will accrue to you personally, as well as the tremendous advantage to the nation, you will surely act with alacrity. Preparations need not be elaborate. The most important preparation that one can make is learning and teaching his family the importance of the Land of Israel in the total picture of Divine service -- for each Jew, and for the Jewish nation.

The holy books relate the custom of leaving the doors to one's home unlocked all through the night of Pesach. This was in keeping with the tradition that an opportune time for our future redemption will be the anniversary of our first one (redemption from Egypt). Eager for the advent of Elijah the Prophet to herald the redemption, we do not wish to delay the process even the few seconds it would take to unlock the door...

Reprinted with permission from Innernet Magazine

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