Seeking the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
“…ויצאו אתם מאור כשדים ללכת ארצה כנען…”
“I shall pray to God, I shall beseech His countenance, I shall ask from Him an answer of the tongue, for amongst the community of the People I shall sing His might, I shall express praises for His works – ‘The preparations of the heart are man’s, but the answer of the tongue is from HaShem’ (Mishlei 16, 1)”. (Musaf Yomim Noraim)
‘The preparations of the heart of man’ is seen in this week’s parsha, as Avraham prepares the journey to the Land of Israel with his father, wife and extended family, although he is detained from reaching this goal, and stops mid-way in Haran where his father dies. Only at the beginning of next week’s parsha do we learn of ‘HaShem’s answer of tongue’, commanding Avraham to go forward and commit the mission he set out to do. As the fore-mentioned verse (Mishlei) suggests, ‘HaShem’s answer of the tongue’ is ultimately the response to man’s efforts and preparations, so we may infer that it is Avraham’s initial efforts to come to the Land of Israel ‘from below’ that ultimately brought about the Divine aid and command ‘from above’.
Indeed, the Zohar explicitly tells the story of Avraham as such, saying that Avraham examined every location on earth to seek the spiritual ‘officers’ or sources of each land, and succeeded to do so. However, when he reached the Land of Israel he was not capable of discerning the spiritual power of this location for it was so great, for it does not receive its spiritual power from these spiritual ‘officers’ (similar to angels), but rather receives its power directly from the Holy Presence. The Zohar continues to say that Avraham continued on his spiritual quest which brought him towards this Presence in the Holy Land, but was so baffled by the nature of this Holy Presence that he could not continue, and he stopped in Haran. The Zohar concludes by saying that once HaShem saw Avraham’s efforts in seeking the Holy Presence He immediately appeared to him and commanded him: ‘go forth… to the Land I will show you’.
Indeed in halacha too we see the value the poskim attached to those who make efforts in settling the Holy Land, as in visitation or the like, even if a permanent settlement is not made initially. The two main halachic stances are either that such a visit is not a mitzvah but is meritorious, or that it is a mitzvah. Many latter-day poskim maintain the latter opinion, and others add that the visitor commits the mitzvah of settling the Land by supporting the livelihood of those who are permanent settlers of the Land. Other poskim add that simply traveling in the Land, albeit for a limited time, also adds to the settlement of the Land and is also a mitzvah. In any case, it is agreed that such visitation or the like is a commitment of this mitzvah to a certain level, but is not the same as settling the Land on a permanent basis.
In truth, the story of Avraham’s search for the Holy Presence, according to the Zohar , does not end here. It continues yet still within the Land of Israel, when Avraham and Yitzhak discover the Holy Presence in Hebron at Maarat HaMachpela…
Real Stories from the Holy Land #93:
“About 30 years ago, a friend of mine moved from Kiryat Shmoneh, where we live still today, to Kiryat Arba. Recently, our daughter moved to Kiryat Arba and we went to visit her, bringing a heavy bag of fruit courtesy of the fruit factory I work at near Kiryat Shemoneh. Before going to Kiryat Arba, we decided to visit our son in Jerusalem, but since the heavy bag of fruit was burdensome on our journey, I decided to randomly ask someone in the central bus station if he could bring the bag to Kiryat Arba to be picked up by my son-in-law. The person who I ‘happened’ to ask, noticing and recognizing only after the fact, was no other than my friend from 30 years ago…” (R.F.N)
Sources: Zohar I 78a, Nahalat Yakov p. 629