Rabbi Boaz Genut
Former Rosh Kollel in St. Louis
Former Executive Director of Torah Mitzion
Currently Director of the Department of Marriage and Community Affairs at Tzohar

 

Shavuot is known as Yom Matan Torah (the day we received Torah). While we typically focus on the written Torah, as Jews we know that the oral Torah was also given at this time. The Midrash puts a different spin on what is meant by Torah:

“And the gold of that land is good” (Bereshit 2:12) this teaches us that there is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.

Bereshit Raba 16:4

This short sentence indicates that perhaps there is something better called “Torat Eretz Yisrael.” What is it? In truth this is a subject that is discussed at much length. Here is just one idea:

R. Oshia said: What is the meaning of the verse: “And I took unto me the two staves; the one I called No’am [graciousness] and the other I called ‘Chovlim’ [binders]” (Zecharya 11:7)? – ‘No’am refers to the scholars of Yisrael, who treat each other graciously [man’imim] when engaged in halachic debates; ‘chovlim’ refers to the scholars of Babylon, who injure each other’s feelings [mechablim] when discussing halacha.

“Then said he, These are the two anointed ones בְנֵי-הַיִּצְהָר… ” (Zecharya 14:4) R. Isaac said: ‘yizhar’ designates the scholars of Yisrael, who are affable to each other when engaged in halachic debates, like olive oil [which is soothing]; Zecharya 14:11 says “[whilst] and two olive trees stand by it” מַה-שְּׁנֵי הַזֵּיתִיםהָאֵלֶּה. This symbolize the scholars of Babylon, who are as bitter to each other in halachic discussions as olive trees.

[Sanhedrin 24:1]

Most of the benefits of Torat Eretz Yisrael usually refer to the extraordinarily high level of accomplishments that can be achieved in Eretz Yisrael, such as prophecy (see Kuzrai 2:14) or wisdom (see Bava Batra 158:2). In addition, this Midrash seems to point out a distinction in the personality of scholar’s from Eretz Yisrael. Accordingly, softness and pleasantness are part of the characteristic of scholars from Eretz Yisrael. I’m sure most American’s will find this counter-intuitive.

The unsolved question, of course, is why? How can we understand that something so basic as midot tovot (good character) can be more fully achieved only through Torat Eretz Yisrael? I don’t know the answer but the Midrash from above continues:

“He has made me to dwell in dark places like those that have been long dead.” (Eicha 3:6) This, said R. Jeremiah, refers to the Babylonian Talmud.”