Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Simha Bat Hana

28. Expression of the Land's Preeminence

The Rabbi explained to the King that the preeminence of the land of Israel is only manifest when the appropriate nation - the people of Israel - resides thereupon and behaves in the proper manner. Only then is the superior nature of the land evinced.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

After hearing the assertion of the Khazar king that the inhabitants of the land of Israel do not appear to be superior to other peoples, the Rabbi responds, "This is like your mountain. You say that it has exceptional vineyards, nevertheless, if vines were not to be planted on it or if its soil was not cultivated properly, it would not produce grapes! Similarly the preeminence of Israel is only manifest when the appropriate nation - the people of Israel - resides thereupon and behaves in the proper manner. Only then is the superior nature of the land evinced.

"The Jewish people cannot achieve Divinity anywhere else. All of the prophets prophesied either in the Land of Israel or for its sake. Hence, Abraham's prophecy outside of the land, in Ur Casdim, was on behalf of the land – he was told to journey to the land of Israel. Ezekiel and Daniel, when they prophesied in Babylon, did so for the sake of the land of Israel, and their prophecy began in the land of Israel. The prophecy of Jeremiah in Egypt was similarly for the sake of the Land of Israel.

"The same is true of the prophecies of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam - for Sinai and Paran are both within the boarders of the land of Israel. They are both contained within the boundary of the Red Sea, of which Scripture writes, 'And I will place your boundaries from the Red Sea until the Philistine Sea, and from the desert until the river' (Exodus 23:31). The 'desert' in this verse refers to the Paran Desert, which Scripture also calls 'the great and awesome desert.' This is the southern boarder of Israel. The river in the verse refers to the Euphrates River, which is the northern boarder of Israel.

"As for Adam, Israel was the land from which he was created, and it was there that he died, according to our tradition, which tells us that there are four couples buried in the Cave of the Makhpelah – Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. It was on this land that jealousy and desire first arose between Cain and Abel when they strove to find out which one of them was worthy of taking their father's stead as the elite and heart. The one chosen would inherit Israel and attach himself to Divinity, while the other brother would be as the peel of the fruit.

"Subsequently, Abel was killed at the hand of his brother, making the position of Adam's successor vacant. Scripture then records that 'Cain left God's presence,' meaning that he was chased out of Israel, as Scripture testifies, 'Cain went out from before God's presence' (Genesis 4:16). After this, Adam's son Sheth was born and inherited the unique spiritual propensity of his father, and merited the land of Israel, which is one level below the Garden of Eden.

"The altars of the forefathers – from which God appeared to the forefathers with a fire from heaven and with prophecy – were in Israel. The Binding of Isaac was on the desolate mountain, Mount Moriah. But it was revealed only later, in David's time, that this was the special place upon which the Divine Presence would rest. The Book of Chronicles explicitly states that the Holy Temple was built upon Mount Moriah.

"Isaac and Ishmael strove over the land of Israel, until Ishmael was finally pushed aside as the peel. Even though God stated about Ishmael, 'I have blessed him and made him great in number,' this only referred to worldly bounty. Whereas by Isaac, God stated afterwards, 'I will establish My covenant with Isaac,' meaning that Isaac would attach himself to Divinity and the special rewards of the World to Come.

"Neither Ishmael nor Esau inherited this covenant, despite the fact that their nations became successful in this world. Rivalry between Jacob and Esau arose over this land in the form of both the firstborn right and the special blessing given by Isaac. Esau was eventually pushed aside from the land of Israel, despite Esau's physical strength and Jacob's weakness.

"Israel also contains those places that unquestionably are worthy of being called 'the Gates of Heaven.' Take Jacob for example. He did not attribute his prophetic visions to his own fear of God. Rather, he attributed his prophecy to his place, as it says, 'And he was in awe, and said "How awesome is this place"' (Genesis 28:17). Jacob saw the prophetic vision in his dream by virtue of the qualities of the place where he lie."

These are a few of the things which the Rabbi said to the Khazar king regarding the land of Israel.

Postscript: In the above article, some of what appears to be the dialog of Rabbi Judah Halevi's The Kuzari has in fact been added by Rabbi Melamed for purposes of clarity and explication.
Much of the translation of the Kuzari in the above article is taken from N. Daniel Korobkin's translation of The Kuzari (Jason Aaronson Inc.).

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