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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Re'eh 5777 "Priceless Land"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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A Texas rancher was visiting a farm in Israel. The proud Israeli farmer was showing the Texan around. “Here is where I grow my tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. Over there I built a clubhouse for my children, next to the shed I built, on the side of the flower garden.” The Texan was surprised by how much the Israeli had cultivated on such a small tract of land. “Is this all your land?” the Texan asked.

“Yes” replied the Israeli proudly, “every bit of it is mine.”

“No, I mean this is it? Is this all of it?” asked the Texan incredulously.

Betach! It really is all mine!”

“Well son”, replied the Texan, “back home I’d get in my car before the sun’d come up and I’d drive and drive, and when the sun set, why, I’d only be halfway across my land.”

“Oh yes,” replied the Israeli wistfully, “I know exactly how you feel; I used to have a car that ran the same way.”

Moshe Rabbeinu pined to enter the Land until the day he died. Ultimately he was only allowed to gaze at the Land from afar. But throughout his final will and testament to his beloved people, which comprises most of the book of Devorim, Moshe reminded the nation of the physical and spiritual delights of the land. At the same time he repeatedly cautioned them to maintain the sanctity of the Land by observing the Torah. Otherwise, he warned, the Land will repulse them and they would suffer greatly as a result. In the palace of the king one must act with greater vigilance and respect.[1]

The timeless words of the Torah contain the key for our ultimate return to the Land. The Land must be purged from all impurities of idols and other gods. The laws endemic to the Land must be adhered to with precision, such as shemittah (sabbatical year of the Land) and the various tithes. If Klal Yisroel will fulfill those dictums they will live in unhindered peace and the land will flourish. “You shall cross the Jordan and settle in the Land that Hashem, your G-d, causes you to inherit, and He will give you rest from your enemies all around, and you will dwell securely[2].”

In bentching[3] we thank G-d, not only for the food He allowed us to enjoy, but also for the Holy Land from which all blessing emanates from. “We thank You Hashem, our G-d, because You have given to our forefathers as a heritage, a land which is desirable, good, and wide.”

That the land is desirable and good is clear. But how can it be said that it is a spacious land? The square footage of Eretz Yisroel is less than the relatively small state of New Jersey[4]. Even with if the Biblical parameters of Trans-Jordan included, the land is dwarfed by any one of the surrounding Arab countries[5]. Despite how much we love the land and how connected we feel to it, it is not a physically spacious land?

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita[6] related the following beautiful explanation: Reuven meets his friend Shimon one afternoon and excitedly tells him that he has just recently purchased some real estate. “That is wonderful”, replies Shimon, “How much land did you buy?” Reuven smiles, “A foot of land!” Shimon gazes at him incredulously, “A foot of land is practically insignificant. For that you are excited? I think you were duped into a silly deal.”

We would all agree that Reuven does not possess much business acumen. But what if Reuven approached Shimon and told him that he purchased a foot of diamond. Undoubtedly Shimon would be most impressed, for a foot of diamond is invaluable. The disparity between a foot of land and a foot of diamond is diametrically different. The smallest diamond is very valuable, and every added inch of diamond is worth exponentially more.

Eretz Yisroel is described as, “a land that Hashem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it…[7]” Every inch of land in Eretz Yisroel is priceless and invaluable. Thus, because it is “a land which is desirable and good”, it is wide and spacious. Perhaps geometrically, in comparison to other lands, it is physically a small land. But as the land which is G-d’s Palace, as it were, it is a huge land, a veritable treasure.

The truth is that one need only travel the roads of Eretz Yisroel to know the veracity of these words. Today the cities of Eretz Yisroel are congested and bustling with Jews, thank G-d. It can be difficult to find living space or even to merely get around the city roads. However, once one drives slightly beyond the city limits (which are constantly expanding) there is open landscape for miles and miles.

This phenomenon is extremely noticeable in Yerushalayim. “Jerusalem, mountains surround it, and G-d surrounds His people, now and forever[8].” The hills surrounding Jerusalem are breathtaking. Houses and settlements, literally, jet out of the sides of the mountains creating ornate beautiful neighborhoods. But if one is driving down Highway One, passed Har Menuchos on the left heading out of western Jerusalem, once one has passed the outlying neighborhoods of Ramot which appear atop the adjacent hills, there are wide gaps of land before the next village appears on the horizon.

The same holds true to the east. When one travels beyond the ever expanding neighborhood of Har Chomah, the rolling hills of the Judean desert come into view, with the villages of Gush Etzion in the distance.

Similarly, if one stands above the Mount of Olives in the Arab village of At-Tur in one direction is a magnificent view of the Temple Mount. In the other direction is nothing but miles of desert.

But even desert land does not seem to be an impediment to us. During the previous sixty years, areas which were nothing but desert are today beautiful tracts of oasis land with Jews living comfortably there.

It may be the land is crowded and population is increasing constantly. Yet the land still beckons to us and awaits our return with open arms… and open land.

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi expressed his nostalgic love for the Land with unparalleled prose and eloquence[9]: “Would that I could wander among the places where G-d revealed to your seers and envoys. Who could make wings for me so that I could wander afar and spread the broken pieces of my heart between your broken pieces (i.e. ruins)? I will fall to my face upon your land and treasure your stones and treasure your soil. I will even stand near the graves of my forefathers, and be in wonder in Hebron, the site of the graves of your chosen ones… Living souls are the air of your land, flowing myrrh the dust of your soil, and dripping honey your rivers…”

When I was in Eretz Yisroel a few months ago I had the opportunity to see many beautiful places and special people, but I did not have a chance to pray at Kever Rochel. On the final afternoon of my visit with an eleven p.m. flight rapidly approaching, I had about three hours left before the taxi would arrive to drive me to Ben Gurion airport.

I stopped the next cab that passed and asked him how long it would take and how much it would cost for him to drive me to Kever Rochel and to wait for me to enter and daven and then to drive me back. In typical harried Israeli dialect he replied, “One hundred shekel; one hour. Get in, let’s go!” It was a great deal and well worth the price to have the opportunity to daven in one of the holiest places in the world, and we set off.

The driver was not a religious man, but it was clear that he had tremendous respect for Torah and tradition. The Israeli radio was playing in the car, but it wasn’t too loud so I didn’t ask him to shut it. As we drove towards East Jerusalem we conversed about living in Yerushalayim and how fortunate he was to be there.

When we arrived at the security check point barrier outside Bethlehem, he suddenly shut off the radio and quipped, “Zeh makom kadosh; kahn ayn radio – This is a holy place; here there’s no radio!”

All of Eretz Yisroel is holy and ever inch of the land is invaluable. It is the land of Torah[10], a land of spirituality, and the land from which our hearts never left.

Those who were involved in the formation of the state were dubbed Zionists. Truthfully however, a Zionist is one who loves the land because he/she recognizes that it is the Palace of the King from where His Presence never completely left. A Zionist is one who seeks to restore the land to its glory, not merely by aesthetically and physically beautifying the land, but by promulgating and studying Torah, the very fabric of the land.

“Who could make wings for me”

“A land which is desirable, good, and wide”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] It is also not coincidental that the parshios read during the Shabbosos following Tisha B’av discuss and describe the greatness of Eretz Yisroel.

[2] 12:10

[3] Grace after Meals

[4] Israel is 8,522 square mile; New Jersey is 8,729 square miles

[5] With the exception of Lebanon (4,035 sq. miles)

[6] In his sefer “Tzion V’areha” (Zion and its cities). The sefer is a collection of Rabbi Wolfson’s explanations and thoughts, based on the wisdom of the Sages, regarding Eretz Yisroel generally and about many of its cities.

[7] Devorim 11:12

[8] Tehillim 125:2

[9] Tisha B’av Kinnah 36 – “Zion halo Tishali”

[10] The kabbalistic works explain that every four amos (cubits) of land in Eretz Yisroel corresponds to a specific part of Torah.

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