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  • Farrah Mashihi

Shiriyah Dvar Torah Winner- Day 3: We Are One With Israel

The words "holiness" and "Israel" are often synonymous, but do we truly understand the nature of these two words? The word "holiness," or kedusha, is defined as separate, distinct, and elevated. The word "Israel" simultaneously refers to the land itself, as well as to the children of the patriarch Jacob, or Bnei Israel. So, the question begs to be asked: what is the significance of this "dual-definition," and on top of that, what makes the land of Israel holy to begin with? There are 4 answers to this question, which demonstrate that the holiness of the land stems from various areas:

1) Historical significance

2) Separation and distinction

3) Personal sacrifice

4) Divine purpose.

Historical Significance

The first explanation for the holiness of Israel is that it’s a site in which awesome and significant events have taken place. We know that the land of Israel is invaluable to the Jewish nation because it is exactly where our ancestors fought, were exiled from, and eventually returned to. The Rambam notes that the most sacred place in the entire world is Har Hamoriah, the location of the Temple Mount. Har Hamoriah is where both Beit Hamikdashim were built, where Noach built an altar, where Kayin and Hevel offered sacrifices to Hashem, and, last but not least, where Adam Harishon was created. From these substantial events that occurred on Har Hamoriah, we can come to appreciate the immense holiness of the entire land of Israel, which requires us to treat it with respect and reverence.

Separation and Distinction

The second contributor to the holiness of Israel is that it is separate and distinct, so much so that there are many mitzvot that can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael. One such mitzvah is that of Maaser and Terumah. Maaser is the mitzvah of giving 1/10 of your earnings to charity, and Terumah is the mitzvah of giving produce to the Kohanim. In Israel, produce is only kosher if both Maaser and Terumah have been separated from it. The unique kashrut standards required in the Holy Land act as an indication of it's separation from other countries, and thus, its kedusha.

Personal Sacrifice

Throughout history, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, among them many rabbis, have made pilgrimages, or have even moved to Israel completely, even at great personal risk and sacrifice. The third understanding of Kedushat Yisrael is that of personal sacrifice. The Gemara in Masechet Ketubot further demonstrates the concept of Kedushat Yisrael, quoting a story of Rebbi Zeira, who was so eager to set foot in Eretz Yisrael that he was willing to endanger himself by crossing a river on a rope. This was done just so that he could board a boat that was headed toward Israel. From here, we can appreciate the risk that Rebbie Zeira took in order to obtain an elevated level of Kedusha. We can also learn a crucial life lesson from the story of Rebbe Zeira: that oftentimes in life, we must be willing to make sacrifices in the short term in order to overcome obstacles and achieve something amazing in the long term.

Divine Purpose

The fourth and perhaps the most compelling explanation for the holiness of Israel can be understood from the very purpose of the existence and essence of Israel, to be a holy land for a holy nation. The very name Israel means “to have striven with Hashem.” In fact, Yaakov Avinu's name is only changed to “Israel” once he wrestles with the Divine and comes out on top.

As the passuk says,

"וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃"

"And he said, 'Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.'” (Bereshit 32:28)

Jacob reaches his most elevated and holy state when he becomes “Israel."

Later in our history, Hashem expected Bnei Israel to enter into the promised land of Israel, and to fulfill his commandments by being a holy nation to Hashem:

"דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־כׇּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃"

"Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: 'You shall be holy, for I, your God Hashem, am holy.'" (Vayikra 19:2)

Hashem tells Moshe to instruct the children of Israel to be holy by fulfilling the mitzvot as they prepare to enter the promised land. The land, therefore, represents the holiness of Bnei Israel, and is called the land of Israel by Shmuel Hanavi (13:19). The people of Israel and the land of Israel have a unified purpose, to strive with Hashem and to be holy.

We, the children of Yaakov, become worthy of the land itself when we are in our most elevated state. When we fulfill the mitzvot, we become a holy nation of Israel and can fulfill the purpose of the holy land of Israel.

Baruch Hashem, the land of Israel has so much kedusha that it represents the limitless potential in each and every one of us. What we can all take away from this is that if we recognize the importance of significant events in Eretz Yisrael, if we elevate our actions as distinct and separate from the ordinary, if we make selfless and personal sacrifices to achieve the mitzvot, and if we appreciate the divine purpose for which we are created, we will achieve our utmost potential. When we reach for this potential, we will illuminate the world through Torah, and we will be holy as Hashem is holy. If we strive for this level of kedusha, we will be worthy of the name Yisrael, of the physical land of Israel, and of its meaning.

So with Hashem's help, may we all internalize these lessons of Kedushat Yisrael and apply them to our everyday lives so that we can become better people in the world and radiate kedusha!

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