Arie E. Pelta

Answers about Israel You Always Wanted to Know (part 1 of 13)

A few years ago an amazing book came out about Israel. It’s called “A Drop in the Ocean: A Daily Dose of Eretz Yisrael by Michael Freund and Rabbi Moshe Lichtman.”  The authors have brilliantly put together all of the salient sources, in Hebrew and English, about Israel in the Jewish literature, Talmud and great rabbis.

In lieu of current events: the most recent war from Gaza and rise of anti-Semitism worldwide; Jews must be educated of why Israel is essential to our existence and Religion.  Love of Israel does not come on its own. It must be taught and studied in depth.

Firstly, Jews themselves must be convinced of the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to our nation and Religion. Then secondarily, our position and beliefs can be made to the world at large.

After reading the book “A Drop in the ocean”, I realized that the answers to lots of common questions are found in the book. However, there is no index.  I propose to review the book in the similar layout as presented; however, to present it as questions and answers. In this way, one can then buy the book and read the sources in full, as needed.

Prayer In Eretz Yisrael

1) Which direction much a Jew face during the main tefilah of Shemoneh Esrei?

We physically face towards Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim because this is the way we connect to G-d. Imagine how much more significant and meaningful it is to actually pray within Eretz Yisrael or Yerushalyim!

When King Shlomo built the Beis Hamikdash, he taught all Jews to pray towards Yerushalayim.

Melachim I 8:22-49

…to hear the prayer that Your servant will pray towards this place…You become angry with them, and you deliver them to the enemy, and their captors carry them off to the enemy’s land (USA/Europe)…and they [the Jews] pay heed in the land where they are taken captive …We have sinned…and they return to You with all their heart and soul, in the land of their enemies who captured them, and pray to You by way of their Land…and the City that You have chosen [Yerushalayim]…Hear their prayer…

2) A Jew must face Eretz Yisrael when praying to Hashem. Should a Jew leave Israel to find a better place of Prayer?

Talmud Bavli, Berachos 30a

…If one is standing outside the of Israel, he should face Eretz, as it says, “They will pray to You by way of their Land” (Melachim I 8:48). If one is standing in Eretz Yisrael he should face Yerushalayim, as it says, “They will pray to Hashem by way of the City that You have chosen” (Divrei HaYamim II 6:32)…Consequently, all Jews face the same place …”Your neck is like the Tower of Dovid, built magnificently “לתלפיות (Shir HaShirim 4:4) – Yerushalyim is the mound תל towards which all mouths פיות  turn.

These authentic Jewish sources beg the question why Jews would feel the need for prayer and connection to G-d by leaving Eretz Yisrael and going to Umman or other places in Europe?

3) How should a Jew stand in prayer?

Talmud Bavli, Yevamos 105b

Rav Chiya and Rav Shimon the son of Rebbi…said, “One who prays must direct his eyes downward towards Eretz Yisrael, because the Shechina exists there, as it says, “My eyes and My heart will be there all the time” (Melachim I 9:3)…

4) Is it special and beneficial to pray in Yerushalayim?

Midrash Tehillim 91:7

…The Sages said, “Anyone who prays in Yerushalayim is as one who prays before the Throne of Glory כסא הכבוד, for the gate of heaven is there, and there is an opened door through which prayers are heard, as it says, And this is the gate of heaven (Bereishis 28:17).

Clearly the gate of heaven through which prayers are heard is not in the graveyards of Europe or Umman.

5) What advantage did Yehoshua Bin Nun have over Moshe Rabeinu and he was therefore punished?

Talmud Bavli, Arachin 32b

Ezra prayed for the abolishment of the Yetzer Harah for idolatry…This is why Scripture was strict with Yehoshua. After all, everywhere else it says Yehoshua יהושע, while here (Nechemyah 8:17) it says Yeshua ישוע  (missing a heh ה ). The reason being: it is understandable why Moshe did not pray to abolish the Yetzer Harah, for he did not have the merit of Eretz Yisrael, but Yehoshua, who had the merit of Eretz Yisrael, why didn’t he pray?

Those of us in Eretz Yisrael have tremendous amount of merit praying in our land. Why would a Jew every leave this Holy chosen Land to pray anywhere else?

6) Rav Yisrael Shklov (1770-1839), disciple of the Vilna Gaon, states explicitly that our prayers in Israel are more accepted by G-d compared to prayer at other locations (USA/Europe…).

Moshe was greater than Yehoshua; how was Yehoshua’s prayers greater than Moshe’s?

Pe’at HaShulchan, Hilchos Eretz Yisrael 1:3

Prayers are heard and accepted more readily in Eretz Yisrael than they are in Chutz LaAretz. Thus, Yehoshua’s prayer in Eretz Yisrael was more acceptable than Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer in Chutz LaAretz.

7) The Chasam Sofer (Rav Moshe Schreiber 1762-1839) teaches that Yerushalayim is superior to other cities in Eretz Yisrael.

How is the only way for our prayers to ascend heavenward?

Through the one and only gate in heaven located above the Har Habayis in Yerushalayim. Our prayers in Eretz Yisrael are more readily accepted, because the ones from Chutz LaAretz need to travel further to get to the place required to ascend heavenward.

Sheylos v’Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 234

…Yerushalayim and the fact is  that it is  the gate of heaven from time immemorial…The Shechina never left and will never leave the Kotel Ha’Maaravi, even after the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed…Chesed LeAvraham (Ma’ayan 3, Nahar3)…who explains that the window of heaven is wide at the bottom, covering the entire Eretz Yisrael, and narrow at the top, corresponding only to Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash. And when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed this window was completely sealed. Afterwards, it reopened, but its lower opening became narrower. Its upper opening and the gate of heaven, however, will never close up, G-d forbid, for that is the conduit of divine influence שפע אלהי that exists at the site of the Beis HaMikdash and in Yerushalayim…

8) Is prayer towards Eretz Yisrael/Yerushalayim Essential?

The Mabit (Rav Moshe Tirani of Tzefat 1500-1580) teaches that praying Shmoneh Esrei towards Eretz Yisrael is essential because we speak to G-d directly. By praying towards Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim we recognize that we are praying to the One and Only True G-d. Yerushalayim is the place where G-d resides.

Beit Elokim, Sha’ar HaTefillah, chapter 5

Behold, it is clear that there is a predisposition for the divine influence שפע האלקי    in some places more than others…Therefore, it is likely that the prayers of one who prays there will be heard, even if he is alone and even if  he prays without complete devotion…Calev, who went to prostrate himself on the graves of the Avos in Chevron, so  that Hashem would save him from the evil counsel of the Meraglim…And Calev’s prayer was answered…

The concept of praying towards Eretz Yisrael, Yerushalyim, and the Beis HaMikdash is an essential part of prayer…Since Eretz Yisrael, Yerushalayim, and the Beis HaMikdash are predisposed to the acceptance of prayer…one must pray towards them, to recognize and allude to the fact that one is praying to the blessed G-d, Who dwells in these predisposed places…he must turn his face towards its place for the Shechina never left the Kotel HaMa’aravi…the main part of our prayers is the Eighteen Blessings…as if we are speaking directly with the Shechina…Therefore, one must face the place of the Shechina, as one speaks to his friend face to face…

9) Where do we belong?

If a Jew can make Aliyah, but chooses not to do so, does facing Israel in prayer help?

Rav Yakov Emden of Germany (1697-1776) states that we face Yerushalayim to remind us that this is where we belong.

Siddur Beis Yakov, Sullam Beis El 3:6

It is well known that a Jew must face Yerushalayim when he prays. Scripture states this explicitly several times…this sign and gesture of facing Yerushalyim that we do as a remembrance, an example, and a mere symbol will suffice only when it is impossible to actually be in Eretz Yisrael. Then our intentions and good thoughts will be counted as deeds, since we are unable to bring them to fruition on account of duress and danger. After all, one who acts under duress אנוס  is exempt פטור  from all obligations, and a sin done by force is not disgraceful, but also not praiseworthy. However, good intensions will not help unless one can claim absolute compulsion; nor will it help at a time of comfort. Therefore, every Jew must make a firm and steadfast decision in his heart to ascend to and dwell in Eretz Yisrael…and to yearn to be privileged to pray there in the King’s Palace היכל המלך. For even though it is in ruins, the Shechina never left it.

About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA, made Aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. He received his Rabbinical ordination in 1997. He is also an active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Dr. Pelta is currently a full time Senior Surgeon practicing in Laniado Hospital (Netanya); specializing in the surgical care of all colorectal diseases.
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