Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Dvar Torah for Ki Tavo - Happiness in the Land of Israel

What makes you happy? Different people would probably answer that question differently. Rabbi Chaim Ben 'Atar, in his commentary on the Torah Or HaChaim at the beginning of this week's portion, tells us that there is no happiness like the happiness of coming to the land of Israel. You will not find happiness in a bigger house or a fancier automobile. If you are looking for happiness this is the place to be.

When a Jew would bring Bikkurim, the first fruits to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he would recite a special text. This text is probably one of the most familiar texts in Judaism, as it plays a central role in the Passover Haggadah. Here it is in the context of the parasha:
1 And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and dost possess it, and dwell therein; 2 that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the LORD thy God giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. 3 And thou shalt come unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him: 'I profess this day unto the LORD thy God, that I am come unto the land which the LORD swore unto our fathers to give us.' 4 And the priest shall take the basket out of thy hand, and set it down before the altar of the LORD thy God. 5 And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. 7 And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. 9 And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God. 11 And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of thee.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the land of Israel. When a Jew would bring the first fruits, he would thank God from many things: how from few we became many, how He saved us from the Egyptians, etc. We also thank God for the land. Our appreciation of the land is repeated over and over again in the text. When we say Birkat HaMazon, the grace after meals, "the land" receives a place of honor: 'Al HaAretz Ve 'Al HaMazon.

I've been living here in the Land of Israel for a long time. Sometimes, as I walk down the streets of Jerusalem, I have to figuratively pinch myself. Is this really happening? I, my children and grandchildren, are living in the land of our ancestors, the Holy Land which the Jewish People have dreamt about for hundreds of years during the long and bitter Diaspora. This is certainly something to be happy about. Miracles do happen.

To get an idea of how great this miracle is, take a look at Rabbi Eliezer Papo's classic book of ethics, Pele Yoetz. Turn to the chapter entitled "Eretz Yisrael", the land of Israel. Here is a small segment of what this great rabbi wrote:
ארץ ישראל הצבי ישראל (כתובות קיג, א). ידוע מעלתה כי רבה, כמבאר בזהר הקדוש (ח"ג דף עב) ובשאר ספרי הקדש, אשר יבחר בו ה' יקריב אליו לחזות בנעם ה' ולבקר בהיכלו. וצריך כל אדם שיהיו עיניו ולבו שם כל הימים, על דרך הכתוב (תהלים מב א) "צמאה נפשי לאלהים לאל חי מתי אבא ואראה פני אלהים". ובכן ישתדל בכל עז לקבע דירתו בארץ ישראל, רק יפקח עיניו תחלה שלא לבוא להיות תוהה על הראשונות ושלא להצטרך לחזר ולצאת. וגדר לזה שלא לילך אלא לעת זקנה לאחר שחדל מהיות לאשתו ארח כנשים ואינה יולדת, ולא יוליך עמו ילדים בנים או בנות. ואם הרחיב ה' את גבולו יוכל להוליך בת, שהיא מוצאת ונצול הימנה, אבל בן לא יוליך כלל, שמתרבה הטף ולא ידע מה ילד יום. והן אמת שאוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים (ב"ב קנח, ב), אבל לפי מה שעינינו הרואות קשים מזונותיו של אדם בארץ ישראל, ועל הרב הם נצרכים לצאת עד שחוטפים השליחות של מצוה לצאת קרית חוצות כעשר שנים או יותר, וחיי צער יחיו הם ונשותיהם יותר מהם, ורבה רעת עוברי דרכים לגוף ולנפש, כידוע. לא כן היושבים בחוץ לארץ, מוצאים כדי פרנסתם במקומם. וכשילכו זקן וזקנה כאשר יאות, יוכלו לחיות שם בשיבה טובה, ואפלו אם חיי צער יחיו, לחיים טובים יחשב לפי רב הטובה
I apologize to those that do not read Hebrew for not translating this. In short, Rav Papo describes the spiritual loftiness of the Land of Israel. However, he also warns the prospective immigrant to the Holy Land that it is very difficult to find physical sustenance there. He was describing the situation that existed about 150-200 years ago.

My point in quoting this passage is to remark how things have changed for the better in the most dramatic way. The shuk in Mahane Yehuda and the supermarkets are full of produce! One who is willing to work, live modestly and endure the affliction that the land of Israel is acquired with, can almost surely find his place here. May all of you Jews who are still living in the Diaspora merit to experience the happiness that the Or HaChaim described: the happiness of living in the land of Israel!

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