Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The land of Israel and its Fruit
To dedicate this lesson

The Day of Love for the Land of Israel

The Day of Love for the Land of Israel


Rabbi Yaakov Ariel

Shvat 12 5783
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Our feeling towards every mitzvah in the Torah must be of love. We are meant to observe our commandments not as a yoke or burden, but rather as something precious and beloved. In fact, this is actually an intrinsic part of their fulfillment. And this is all the more true for the Land of Israel – for it is a mitzvah to love the Land, regardless even of the mitzvah itself of living here. Certainly, then, when actually fulfilling the commandment to live in the Land, we must do so with love!

It might seem superficially that Tu B'shvat is nothing more than a technical date for calculating the laws related to the Land-dependent mitzvot, such as the t'rumah and maaser tithes, orlah (fruits of a sapling, for its first three years), the fourth-year fruits, and the like. All of these depend on when the agricultural year begins for each fruit, and so Tu B'Shvat – the New Year for Trees - is important to commemorate.

But actually, this date has caught on to our natural national inclinations, and now occupies a most honored place. This became the day on which our hearts filled with warm emotions of love and longing for Eretz Yisrael, for its horizons, its fruits, its past and future, and of course its mitzvot.

It could be that our long centuries of Exile, when we were unable to fulfill the Land-dependent mitzvot – i.e., the commandments that must and can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael – brought about a need to grant this day more emotional content. Thus we could compensate for our lack of physical mitzvot that were out of reach, such as giving tithes and setting aside produce for the poor. But now, too, that we have returned to the Land of Israel, we are not exempt from activating our hearts on this day, and not only our minds. On the contrary: the love obligation for this mitzvah is greater today in the Land, for it is manifest in our entire being. Heart and mind; love and obligation [chibah and chovah, in Hebrew]; the Land-dependent mitzvot and our soul-ties with the Land of Israel – they are all one.

Yes, this is a profound approach. Love for the Land is not only love for its sites and beauty, and not only for its rebuilding and redemption. Love for Eretz Yisrael is a deep soul-bonding with its sanctity, its values, and its uniqueness as G-d's Chosen Land. It is the Land that He perpetually looks after and always loves; this is why He chose to park His presence here. And this is why the Land involves so many special mitzvot – for it is not just a parcel of land, but rather the Land of Holiness – whose sanctity is expressed in a uniquely practical manner.

Furthermore: The Land of Israel is not merely territory or a physical place which houses and supports us. Nor is it simply beautiful sites and views that bring us pleasure. Certainly it is these things, but it is mainly something way beyond them – for even when we were not here physically, but rather dispersed throughout the globe, the Land was in us, in our souls. Our intrinsic bonds with our Land not only did not weaken as a result of our exile, but actually and amazingly became tighter and deeper. For the ties connecting the Nation of Israel with its Land are not something external, but rather internal and essential.

The mitzvot that are dependent on the Land express, in a practical, Halakhic manner, that this Land is not like the other pieces of earth around the world. It is "holy land," and is therefore obligated in special mitzvot. Just as we recite, when learning Pirkei Avot, that G-d granted us many mitzvot in order to merit us, the same can be said about the Land: "G-d sought to grant merit to the Land of Israel, and therefore gave it much Torah and mitzvot."

According to the Ramban, all of the Torah's mitzvot, whether Land-dependent or not, are bound up intrinsically with Eretz Yisrael; he says that our obligation to fulfill them outside the Land is simply as practice for when we return. And even the Rambam, who does not say this, is of the opinion that the basic facets of our entire religion would collapse, Heaven forbid, without the presence of Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Explaining the mitzvah of sanctifying the months, the Rambam writes that our entire calendar, with its holidays and associated mitzvot [not including the Sabbath, which is independent of the calendar], depends on our presence in the Land. This is why the seasons of the year as they occur in Eretz Yisrael are that which set the character of our holiday for every Jew, even if he is not in the Land. A Jew in Australia celebrates the "Festival of Spring" when it is autumn for him – because he is not in his natural locale.

The full existence of our Torah and our national institutions – law and justice, royalty and kingdom, priesthood and prophecy – can come to fruition only in the Land of Israel. That is why all our prayers, hopes, wishes and aspirations are focused on Israel. "Whoever lives outside the Land," the Sages teach, "is like the one who has no God." His spiritual life is meaningless, and he lacks inspiration, lacks faith, and lacks purpose.

Tu B'Shvat is the holiday of the arousal of the trees of the Land from their winter sleep – and is also the holiday of the arousal of the Nation of Israel from its hibernation of Exile. The flowering of the trees here brought about the flowering of Israel's hopes to return and be planted anew in its Land. With our physical return to our Land, we have also returned to strike spiritual roots here.

All the mitzvot that are dependent on the Land have arisen and awakened, and with them, our unique "Torah of Eretz Yisrael" has also begun to flourish once again. No longer will we live a life cut off from nature, from the earth, and from our return to national strength; rather we will live a complete life of Torah that includes everything: physical life, spiritual life, work, nationhood, the first buds of royalty, strength of body, and strength of spirit.

The New Year for Trees is also the new year for the tree of our nation – a day on which we deepen its roots in the Land below and raise its uppermost branches to the very Heavens. 

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