"The sages teach: The land of Israel was created first, and everything else in creation followed, as it is written (see Proverbs 8:22-29): '[The Lord made me as the beginning of His way] . . . while as yet He had not made the earth.' " (Taanit 10a)
Rain in Israel (17)
Rabbi Uzi Kalchaim zt"l
6 - The Blessing of Rain for All
7 - The Condensed Blessing
8 - "You shall not lack any thing"
We have thus far tried to understand the secret behind God's scattering His blessing over all parts of the earth. We saw that the rationale and justification for this could be found in the creation of a trend that leads finally to the unity of creation, a trend that leads all nations on earth to mutual cooperation and mutual dependency in order to share God's blessing.
The creation of this trend finds expression in the idea, voiced by the sages, that God wanted the world be irrigated from above, by rainwater, because rain irrigates both high and low, mountains and valleys. Were the world to depend upon stream irrigation alone, "lawless men" would take control of the waterways and their sources and leave the weak with nothing.
The land of Israel appears to have a special place among the other lands. The sages of the Talmud teach us that Zion is the foundation point of creation: "It is called the 'foundation [stone],' because upon it the world was founded" (Yoma 54b). The world's starting point was Zion, as it is written, "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined forth" (Psalms 50:2).
These teachings, and others like them, were intended to give expression to the unique and superior status of the land of Israel, for no other land can compare to it: "The Almighty Himself irrigates [the land of Israel], but the rest of the world [is irrigated] by an emissary" (Taanit 10a). This is because the land of Israel is the purpose of creation, and its starting point.
The sage who differentiates between the land of Israel and other lands bases himself upon the verse in Job (5:10): "Who gives rain upon the Land, and sends waters upon the exterior." Regarding this verse the Rashba says (in his Perushei Agadot), "This sage is of the opinion that the land of Israel, which is the essence, is called simply 'the Land,' because it is the epitome of 'land,' and whatever is secondary to it is called 'chutzot' ('the exterior') from the word 'chutz,' ('outside'), because it is ‘outside’ of the essence."
What makes the Chosen Land unique is the Divine Providence it receives. No divine emissary oversees it, and there is no star or constellation that influences it. Rather, it is God "Who gives rain upon the land." This is what the sages mean when they say that God Himself irrigates the land of Israel. All "external" lands, on the other hand, are overseen by divine emissaries.
Sometimes it seems as if what counts most is quantity, the great quantitative expanses of the external world. How are we supposed to understand the importance of a thing’s inner quality, its essence? How can we appreciate a small land in the face of the great continents? What is meant by the claim that "the world was created from Zion" (Yoma 54b)?
We know that a tiny cell contains man’s entire hereditary baggage, so it is possible to understand how a small strip of land can serve as the source of the entire world. All the different forms in the world are concentrated in the land of Israel: mountains and hills, valleys and plains, steppes and deserts, seas and rivers.
The land of Israel contains wind and snow like the cold lands of the north, as well as dry and arid places like the African desert lands. Under its surface one can find many stalactite caves, and in the depths of its seas there are hidden corals containing extraordinary silent creatures. All this contrasting beauty is concentrated in the land of Israel, within the reach of all who reside there. It is also possible to discover numerous ancient stratum of civilizations under Israel’s surface, the likes of which cannot be found in any other place in the world.
"Out of Zion the perfection of the world" (Psalms 50:2). "This," say the sages of the Talmud, "means that the beauty of the world was perfected from Zion" (Yoma 54b). The unique beauty of the land of Israel is not readily discernible. It does not impress and overwhelm a person at first sight. This restrained beauty must be absorbed and internalized by one’s soul in order to become a part of it. Only then is it possible to sense its inner perfection.
The modest beauty of the land of Israel can be touched and sensed up close, directly, intimately. This contrasts the magnitude and intensity of the "external" lands, which, though impressive, are frightening in their imposing grandness. In the external lands things become larger and expand to vast dimensions.
It is therefore impossible to compare the concentrated elements of the land of Israel with the enormousness that one finds in other lands. We cannot compare the waterfalls of the Golan Heights with the Niagara Falls, nor the Judean Desert and the Negev with the Sahara or Nevada Deserts. We cannot compare the Ramon Crater with that of Colorado, nor the Jordan River with the Nile or Mississippi. We likewise cannot compare the snowy Mount Hermon with the Everest. Here in the land of Israel we find the unique quality of "everything" in a concentrated form, and there, in the "exterior" lands, we find enormity in quantity, mass, numbers.
When Jacob and Esau stood facing each other, with all their possessions, their soldiers, and their families, at their famous confrontation, Esau said, "I have much" (Genesis 33:9). Jacob, after Esau had gotten a good look at his caravans of camels, asses, and goats, said, "I have everything" (ibid. 33:11). Jacob was satisfied with his lot, with the blessing he had received from God. Just as Israel’s chosenness did not stem from the numerical dimension, "For you are the smallest of the nations" (Deuteronomy 7:7), so too the chosenness of the land did not stem from economic considerations relating to an intensity of material quantity.
What is clear and obvious to all is that our geographically small land possesses enormous skies. This little strip of earth, despite its small dimensions, has great depth. It is intertwined with, and has made its impact felt upon, manifold cultures over the course of human history.