Seeking the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
“ולמדתם אותם את בניכם לדבר בם…”
“Our Father, O Merciful Father! Compassionate One have compassion on us and instill within our hearts understanding… to learn and teach, to keep and obey… all the words of Your Torah with love… quickly bring upon us blessing and peace… and lead us quickly upright to our Land.” (Ahavat Olam Shaharit)
This study of Torah, called by our Sages ‘the eternal life force’, is integrally linked to the settlement of our People in our Holy Land. So our Sages teach us, “if you wish to ‘see’ the countenance of the Holy Presence in this World, learn Torah in the Land of Israel, as it says ‘seek HaShem and His Might, ask for His Countenance always’ (Ps. 105)”.
The commentary ‘Re’em’ on Midrash Tehilim (ibid) explains that our Sages infer that ‘seeking HaShem’ refers to seeking HaShem in the Holy Land as it is taught that it is one that dwells in the Holy Land who is considered ‘to have (or be connected to) God’. ‘His Might’ in the verse refers to the Torah, as in the verse ‘HAShem will give might to His People’. When these two conditions are met then one reaches the end of this verse, ‘ask for His countenance always’, that is one will achieve receiving the countenance of the Holy Presence.
Halachicaly speaking we are not only commanded to study Torah, but also bidden not to stop or ‘nullify’ Torah study unnecessarily, a concept well-known as ‘bitul Torah’. Interestingly, we find this concept of ‘bitul Torah’ in regard to the state of Israel in Exile, as the Talmud Hagiga 5b determines: ‘once Israel have been exiled, there is no ‘bitul Torah’ greater than that.’ This statement can be understood in a number of ways, and we shall pose some of them.
One explanation is based on another Talmudic passage that seems to hint to a type of ‘bitul Torah’ in quality, saying that if one studies (or is able to study) Talmud (in depth learning/brings one to the halachic conclusion) and instead learns Mishna (more superficial learning) ‘he does not have peace’. The Talmud continues by saying that even if one goes ‘from Talmud to Talmud’ ‘he does not have peace’. Commentators explain that ‘Talmud to Talmud’ refers to going from the Torah learning of the Land of Israel to the Torah of Babylon (and it seems from context the Diaspora at large) as our Sages teach us “‘in darkness He has placed me’ (Lam. 3, 6) – this refers to the Talmud/learning of Babylon” (San. 24a) (this of course means that in contrast to the Torah of the Holy Land, the Talmud of Babylon lies in darkness, although it be a tremendous light in contrast to secular learning for example).
Another explanation of this passage is that in the state of Exile Israel is ripped away from much of the mitzvot connected to the Land and the Bais HaMikdash etc. which manifest the words of the Torah and in turn give spiritual power to the Torah itself. Another explanation is that in the state of Exile Israel are detached from the great spiritual light of the Holy Presence that rests in the Land which illuminates the study of Torah greatly.
Yet another explanation lies in the practical organization of Israel, meaning that once Israel are outside their Land, they are dispersed and disunited etc., causing many problems in the quality of Torah study and its dissemination.
Whatever the explanation, one matter that is clear in our sources is that the primary place of Torah study is the Land of Israel and that Hebron of the cities in this Land stands out as a beacon of Torah learning: ‘Hebron – this is Torah, as one who studies it is called a haber (member of the class of Torah scholars)’.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #83:
“A Missile was fired from Gaza… This particular Missile was heading to the Azrieli Towers, or to the railroad tracks. Either way, hundreds could have paid with their lives! … Suddenly, without any preliminary design from the Iron Dome system (which calculates the possible wind currents, etc.) a strong eastern wind blew – a wind that we have no idea where it came from and cast the missile right into the sea. We were all in shock!!! I stood up and started screaming ‘There is a G-d’! ‘There is a G-d!’ ‘There is a G-d’!!!” (as told by an ‘Iron Dome’ commander to Ohad Shaked)
Sources: Rambam Talmud Torah end of ch. 3, Zohar 3, 160a