I remember, shortly after we moved to Israel, commenting that it seems we need to play a different role in serving God here than outside of Israel. Soon it became clear to me that in NY I was primarily focused on rejecting the negative influences. There’s so much distraction and lure there that the main objective was to keep everything out. Even the daily apparel catalogues mailed to our house were a major disturbance. I felt like I was in a boxing match, in the corner of the ring, with my gloves covering my face in defense. But in Israel, living with our brothers, the task wasn’t to shun the outside anymore. This forced me to look deep inside myself and question what am I really all about? It wasn’t sufficient anymore to play the guardian role – סור מרע. I needed to further develop my productive side – עשה טוב. After learning Torah 20 I see that I was on to something.
Rebbe Nachman’s love for the Land of Israel was unparalleled. Not only did he risk his life in the late 18th Century and make the courageous pilgrimage to our homeland, but his writings and teachings are brimming with lessons on the Holy Land’s powers and spiritual benefits.
Reb Nosson writes that when the Rebbe said over Torah 20 on Rosh Hashana of 1804, he made the following declaration: “It’s not possible to be a Jew, meaning to go from level to level, without the Land of Israel”. After the lesson Reb Nosson thought that the Rebbe was alluding to some lofty concept, so he asked him, “What are you specifically referring to when you say that the Land of Israel is so great”? The Rebbe answered him chidingly, “I’m referring simply to the Land of Israel, with its’ houses and apartments”.
So what is it about the streets, stones and buildings of Israel that separates it from everywhere else? I don’t claim to have that answer. But in the same superficial way that we can regard Shabbos as simply Saturday or view a Tzaddik as a plain human being, we can mistakenly see the Holy Land as just the same old dirt and rock. But it’s much more than that.
Israel is potentially perfect for holiness. There are a number of mitzvos that are only a possibility in the Land of Israel, such as the first fruit offering. What this means is that mundane activity has potential for Holiness in this Land more than anywhere else. In fact, on some level, what the 12 spies failed to understand was how we can work the land for sustenance and attain greater spiritual connection than in the desert where God was taking care of all our needs without our efforts. It’s specifically in Israel, amongst our people that we can produce corporeally and become the unique individuals and nation that we’re destined to become. Outside of Israel we can only hold on for dear life and shelter ourselves from the storm of assimilation. But in Israel we’re free to explore who we truly are. Like the Rebbe said, we need the Land of Israel to go ‘from level to level’.