By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
The book of Bamidbar concludes the period of exile in the desert. At the end of the forty years, Am Yisrael stands at the entrance to Eretz Yisrael, conquers the east-bank of the Jordan River, delineates the borders of Israel and prepares for war.
This is a commandment for generations. According to the Ramban: “'You shall possess the land and settle in it' – that we shall not leave it in the hands of a nation other than us or allow it to become barren.” (Bamidbar 33:53) Despising the precious land brought about the long exile. However, many people still ask: Why did Hashem “lock us” us in this particular tract of land?
The Ramban writes at length on this subject in Parshat Acharei Mot. Rav Kook encapsulates the idea succinctly in his opening to Orot: “Eretz Yisrael is not something external, an external possession of the nation, merely as a means to the goal of collective joining and of maintaining its material or even spiritual existence. Eretz Yisrael is connected by a bond of life to the nation.”
Every means has a substitute. When Eretz Yisrael is seen as a means towards the security of Am Yisrael, as a national or even cultural center, it is possible in times of distress to find a substitute. However, Eretz Yisrael is a land of life: “I shall walk before Hashem in the lands of the living” (Tehillim 116:9) Chazal teach that this is Eretz Yisrael. The Torah writes several times: "That you may live, and you will come and possess the land." (Devarim 4:1) Since Am Yisrael is characterized by: “You who cling to Hashem, your G-d – you are all alive today,” (Devarim 4:4) it is impossible to maintain this kind of life and attachment anywhere but in the land of life. Just like a person does not look for explanations on the existence of life, so there should be no need to look for reasons to live in Eretz Yisrael, because that is where life really is. Am Yisrael can only find a full life in this place. Chazal teach that the pasuk: “The dove could not find a resting place for the sole of its foot” (Bereishit 8:9), alludes to Knesset Yisrael, which is compared to a dove. For this it says: “Among those nations you will not be tranquil, there will be no rest for the sole of your foot." (Devarim 28:65)
On the other hand, gentiles cannot find peace in Eretz Yisrael. The Ramban writes about Eretz Yisrael: “They are unworthy of you, and you are not deserving of them.”
Eretz Yisrael is not just a place that people live in. It is the "Sanctuary of Hashem," as the Ramban writes. The Torah writes about it: “Cain left the presence of Hashem", (Bereishit 4:16) "Yonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of Hashem." (Yonah 1:3) Therefore, the Ramban writes: “It is impossible to comment any more on the subject of the land, but if you are worthy of understanding the first [mention in the Torah of] "land," you will understand a great and hidden secret, and you will understand what our rabbis meant that the Temple above corresponds to the temple below.” His intention is that the pasuk: “In the beginning of G-d's creating the Heavens and the land” (Bereishit 1:1) should be interpreted that Hashem first created the land above and only then did he create the parallel land below.
This is what the Torah means when it states in the Parsha: “This is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance.” (Bamidbar 34:2) Chazal ask: “Can the land fall?”
The Sefat Emet explains Chazal’s answer, that so long as the Canaanites were in Eretz Yisrael, the necessary vessels to contain the land above were not yet formed. However, when Am Yisrael enter the land, the land above drops and connects with the land below, thus creating compatibility between Heaven and earth.
The war over Eretz Yisrael is not about territories and other national rights. This is a global war over Hashem’s Throne in the world. “For the Hand is on the Throne (kes) of G-d” (Shemot 17:16) –Hashem’s name is incomplete and His Throne is incomplete. Therefore, the war in the end will focus on Yerushalayim because: “At that time people will call Yerushalayim 'the Throne (kisei) of Hashem'” (Yirmiyahu 3:17) and the nations wish to prevent this. Otherwise, it is impossible to understand this great interest of all the nations in such a small place.
However, we are sure of: “Not one of Your words is turned back to its origin unfulfilled” (Haftarah blessings), and, “May our eyes behold your return to Zion in compassion” (Shemoneh Esrei prayer)