Parshas Achrei Mos: A Holy Land for a Holy Nation

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Achrei Mos, the Torah commands us regarding a lengthy list of forbidden sexual relationships (Lev.18).  At the conclusion of the long list of what is forbidden, the Torah warns us not to defile ourselves so that the Land of Israel will not spit us out in our defilement (18:24-28).  

In a lengthy, powerful and inspiring commentary, the Ramban (18:24-25) questions the connection between impurity that results from forbidden sexual relationships and the Land of Israel.  Surely, wonders the Ramban, these are not mitzvos ha’te’luyos ba’Aretz, like shemittah, yovel, terumos and ma’asros; rather they are mitzvos ha’te’luyos ba’guf!  Why would the consequence of transgressing these commands result in banishment and exile from the Land, the Ramban wonders.

In a detailed and in-depth answer (which is worthy to learn inside to fully appreciate the impact and import of his message), the Ramban explains that the Hashgachas Hashem (Divine Providence) in Eretz Yisrael is unique.  For in all other lands, there is a heavenly officer over that land and its inhabitants, with G-d above that officer.  However! Over Eretz Yisrael, there is only Hashem Himself, Who directly supervises and watches over the Land of Israel and her inhabitants.  Hence, the Land is far more sensitive to sin and cannot, and will not, tolerate the presence of sinners.  Just as a person who eats spoiled food will expel the food from within himself, for it is intolerable to him, so too, the Land of Israel cannot tolerate sinful ways upon her precious soil (and soul!).  

Hence, in a very real sense, due to the heightened Hashgachas Hashem over Eretz Yisrael, forbidden sexual relationships become a form of mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’Aretz.  

For anyone who has ever walked the Holy Land, the feeling of the palpable Hashgacha is apparent and felt by all.  The air is different, the rocks, stones, mountains, hills and trees are different.  The feeling of kedusha that one absorbs in the Land is simply incomparable to the feeling in any other land. Anywhere. In the world.  With Hashem directly over the Land of Israel, His presence is (metaphysically) tangible from the North to the South, and from the East to the West.  It is not something that can be described in words, but when one feels it, he knows it.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Ha’sharas ha’Shechina, the reality of the Divine Presence, is a continuous process in Eretz Yisrael (E”Y); it is part of the climate.  Just as there are different kinds of climates, cold climates and warm climates, similarly there are climates completely devoid of the Divine Presence and climates very conducive to it.  Just as it is natural to get up in the morning and see the sun shining or hear the rain falling, so it is natural in E”Y to get up in the morning and find the Shechina.  Just as one who walks out in the rain must get wet, and one who walks out in the sunshine must feel warm, so too, one who lives in E”Y must feel and absorb the ruach ha’kodesh, must simply be saturated with kevod Elokim.  Certain places where the prophets thousands of years ago had conversations with HKB”H are still endowed with the potential of hasharas ha’Shechina for everyone. 

“Those who want to can receive it, even today.  Anyone who is in E”Y and kisses the stones the prophets walked on merits to share in the Divine Presence regardless of whether he is a great rabbinic scholar or not.  The gates of Heaven are open to Tzion.  Anything that emerges or comes down from the gates of Heaven comes down to Tzion.  There are special windows in Heaven that are only open to Zion… No other land in the world can imitate this quality.  All one need do is open oneself up to the divine flow, which is like dew or a stream coming down upon the land from Heaven” (The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways, p.308-309).  

In regard to the miracle, importance, and centrality of the modern-day State of Israel in the ancient land of Israel, Rabbi Lord J. Sacks z’l writes, “A society needs a land, a home, a location in space where a nation can shape its own destiny in accord with its deepest aspirations and ideals.  The Jewish people has had a long and varied history during the almost four thousand years since Abraham began his journey.  During that time they have lived in every country on the face of the earth, under good conditions and bad, freedom and persecution.  Yet in all that time, there was only one place where they formed a majority and exercised sovereignty: the Land of Israel, a tiny country of difficult terrain and all too little rainfall, surrounded by enemies and empires.

“Only in Israel is the fulfillment of the commands a society-building exercise, shaping the contours of a culture as a whole.  Only in Israel can we fulfill the commands in a land, a landscape, and a language saturated with Jewish memories and hopes.  Only in Israel does the calendar track the rhythms of the Jewish year.  In Israel, Judaism is part of the public square, not just the private, sequestered space of the synagogue, school and home.

“Judaism is more than a metaphysical faith, a private drama within the soul.  It is more than a set of moral-spiritual principles that can be lived anywhere.  It is the constitution of a holy nation in a holy land.  The great principles of the Torah – freedom, justice, respect for human dignity, and a code of holiness governing all aspects of life from eating and drinking to marriages and sexual fidelity – are about the way we structure a society and its laws, and they require independent national existence.

“That is the significance of the return to Zion in modern times.  It is more than the ‘Jewish return into history’.  It is the Jewish return to the full terms of the covenant.  Outside Israel, we strive to keep the commands as individuals and communities.  Only in Israel are they part of the public domain, shaping its culture and character as a nation.  Jews are the people of the covenant charged with bringing the Divine Presence down to earth in the shared space of our collective life.  A holy people needs a holy land” (Covenant & Conversation, Leviticus: The Book of Holiness, p.278-279).

אַתָּה תָקוּם, תְּרַחֵם צִיּוֹן: כִּיעֵת לְחֶנְנָהּ, כִּיבָא מוֹעֵדYou will rise, You will have mercy on Zion for there is a time to favor it, for the appointed season has arrived;

כִּירָצוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ, אֶתאֲבָנֶיהָ; וְאֶתעֲפָרָהּ, יְחֹנֵנוּFor Your servants desired its stones and favored its dust (Tehillim 102:14-15).

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,


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