Independence Day, Jerusalem, Israel. The scene is set and the celebrations are about to get underway. Thousands of people are present. I see Jews of many nationalities flocking here from many countries. Many will stay, and some will go. They are all here for one reason – this is the Holy landwhose power has drawn these people in. Religious and secular, Israelis and Diaspora Jews. Many of them ask themselves the question: what is the power of this land? How does it attract so many to its borders? Indeed many commentators have asked themselves a very similar question – is the land of Israel holy in essence, or does it merely receive its holiness from our people who perceive it to be so? It seems that our Parasha offers a very clear view… Upon asking us to learn from the mistakes of the seven Canaanite nations who dwelled in the land we are told, “lest the land spew you out like it spewed out the nation before you.” It seems from here that the land has intrinsic holiness that cannot tolerate immoral behaviour. Just like the body removes unwanted waste so too, the landof Israelremoves sinners from its mists.
We all know that there are three sins that one must not perform even if it means paying with ones life: murder, incest and idolatry. There are certain actions that render the notion of living as meaningless. What is absolutely fascinating is that when the Torah describes the holiness of the land it mentions these three sins as being actions that will not and can not be tolerated by the land. In Vayikra 18, 21-25 we are told that one is prohibited to offer human sacrifices to molech (idolatry) as it will contaminate the land. Two verses later the Torah tells us that immorality was prevalent among the dwellers of the land and that this contaminates the land. Finally, in Bamidbar 35, 33-34, we are told that murder also contaminates the land. The message is clear: there are certain values that are more important than life itself and the consequences of these actions are most felt in Israel which is the land of life.
Furthermore, just as the land cannot tolerate sin and particularly these three for which one should offer ones life up rather than commit the sin, so too the Templecan not tolerate these imperfections. Proof can be found in the laws of Sacrifices. We are told that any animal that has mated or been worshiped (Idolatry) or that has gnawed to death, is not permitted to be used as a sacrifice. These three sins contradict the worship of G-d to the point that even an innocent animal that is associated with these actions is not fitting to be offered up on the Alter.
The land is Holy and the Torah requires us to relate to it as such. The Chofetz Chaim is reported to have said that we are doing a disservice to the secular community in encouraging mass aliya to Israel. Because of the sensitivity of the land just as mitzvot are worth more when performed in the land, so too sin is more severely punished when committed there. Better they should stay in the Diaspora where their actions will be less severely punished was his claim. This is an extreme opinion to say the least and it seems history has deemed it to be a mistaken one, but we must understand where it comes from. Only someone who recognizes the great Holiness of our Homeland is able to make such a bold claim. Interestingly, there is a follow up to this story. One of the leading present day Rabbis was once asked if this is so, how is it that Divine providence used secular Jews to bring about the formation of the state and how is it that the land is not spewing them out? His answer is both fascinating and relevant to our days. We do not know the reward for a particular Mitzvah and the punishment for a specific sin. Clearly according to Divine judgment, their merits outweigh their sins and indeed our Sages point out that dwelling in the land of Israelis comparable to performing the entire Torah.
This message is even more relevant to us today. Our brothers and sisters who remain in Israeldespite all the trials and tribulations are clearly performing a service to eternity. Certain commandments are meant for the individual and only affect the self. Certain other commandments have a positive affect on the entire community and the reward for performing such actions reflects this point. Dwelling in the land is therefore considered to be as great as fulfilling the entire Torah.
May the merits of our great people bring salvation to this precious land speedily in our days.