Loving the Land of Israel
The Torah teaches us to appreciate the “good Land” and to thank God for its bounties, as it says:
“For the Lord your God brings you into a good Land, a Land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a Land of wheat, and barely, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and honey; a Land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness; you shall not lack anything in it; a Land the stones of which are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass. When you have eaten and are satisfied, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good Land which He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:7-10).
Quite often, we don’t pay attention to the simple meaning of these verses from the Torah. Their basic lesson is to love the Land of Israel, and to thank God for giving it to us.
The Talmud relates that when Rabbi Abba would reach the border of Eretz Yisrael, he would kiss its stones, due to his tremendous love for the Land (Ketubot 112a,b). Rabbi Chiya bar Gamda, in his great love for the Land, would roll around in its dust to fulfill the verse: “You will arise and have mercy on Zion: for it is time to favor her; for the set time is come. For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Tehillim 102:14-15).
Accordingly,Rambam (Maimonides) writes: “The great Torah scholars would kiss the borders of Eretz Yisrael, and embrace her stones, and roll in her dust, as the verse says, “For your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her very dust” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 5:10).
One could ask: Why did Rambam relate these stories in the Mishna Torah, his opus of halakha? What law do we learn from the fact that the great Torah scholars of Israel kissed the dust of the Land and hugged its very stones? Seemingly, the proper place for such stories would be in a book on agaddah or mussar, and not halachah. Rather, we learn something very important from this halakha – we have to love the Land of Israel. It is not enough to live in Israel and understand its great worth; we must also enthusiastically cherish our good and Holy Land.
Praising the Land and the Prohibition of Speaking Against It
The Sin of the Spies stemmed from their lack of love for the Land, as it is written, “They despised the cherished Land; they did not believe His word” (Tehillim 106:24). Consequently, they spoke disparagingly about her, as it says, “And they spread an evil report of the Land which they had spied on for the Children of Israel, saying, The Land which we have gone to spy it out is a Land that eats up its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32).
Here we see how Eretz Yisrael is distinguished from all other lands. For the prohibition of lashon hara, speaking with an evil tongue, applies solely to people, in order not to cause them grief. There is no prohibition to speak lashon hara about trees or rocks, for they feel no sorrow. However, concerning Eretz Yisrael, it is forbidden to speak lashon hara about it, for one who speaks negatively about it denies the Torah, which praises the Land. He also prevents the revelation of the Name of God in the world, which is revealed only through the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael – the Holy Land. The punishment for speaking against the Land is particularly severe. Even the Jews who received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, who were called “the generation of knowledge,” were harshly punished for speaking lashon hara and despising the Land. Death was decreed upon their generation, and the entry of the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel was delayed forty years.
Thus, it is told in the Talmud about the great Amoraim who would make every effort to prevent the Land of Israel from being seen in a negative light (see, Ketubot 112a). If Rabbi Chanina, while walking in Eretz Yisrael, saw a stumbling block on the road, he would remove it. Rashi explains that he would clear roadways and repair obstructions because of his love for the Land. He would always seek out things that needed to be corrected, so that no one would speak badly about her roads.
Similarly, while conducting a Torah class outside, Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi would be careful to seat their students in the most comfortable place. In the morning, when it was a little cool, they would seat them in the sun. Towards the afternoon, when the sun became hot, they would seat them in the shade – so that no one would complain about Eretz Yisrael or about its climate.
Today, it is contingent upon us to rectify the Sin of the Spies by praising the Land of Israel, and by thanking God for the wonderful present which He bequeathed to our fathers, and to us. This is particularly applicable in our generation when millions of Jews, through the kindness of God, have merited immigrating to Israel, building families, and settling the Land – something which was denied to generations of righteous and holy Jews in the past. Therefore, we are obligated to constantly praise Eretz Yisrael, to cherish her landscapes, to beautify her open stretches with trees and flowers, to rebuild her highways, and to construct attractive and comfortable homes. We must also constantly repeat the words of Yehoshua and Calev, who stood up against all the evildoers and said, “The Land is very, very good” (Numbers 14:7), thus countering and rectifying the deep blemishes left by the Sin of the Spies. Consequently, more Jews will be inspired to make aliyah, and fewer will leave her borders, thinking to find a better life elsewhere.
In conclusion, I will mention the words of our teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (Igrot Riyah, Letter 96): “The foundation of the exile, and the baseness which continues to proliferate in this world, stem from the lack of understanding of Eretz Yisrael, its sublime value and wisdom, and from not rectifying the Sin of the Spies who spoke disparagingly about the Land. We are called upon to do the opposite – to speak her praises and herald her magnificence and glory, her holiness and honor. We can only hope that after all our praises, we merit expressing even one iota of the proper transcendental desire due to “the Land of delight,” to the splendor of her illuminating Torah, to the genius of her illuminating wisdom, and to the Divine Inspiration which hovers upon her.”