The Unity Of God, Torah And Israel


Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat candles: 7:51 p.m.
Torah: Leviticus 25:1–27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14
Havdalah: 8:58 p.m.                                                    

The sacred Zohar teaches that God, the nation Israel, and the Torah, are one. This suggests that God may be experienced through those phenomena that are also perceived to be eternal. Since Israel is eternal [by Divine oath, Genesis 15] and since the Torah is eternal, God/Israel/Torah are inextricably linked by common eternity.

The Land of Israel shares in this eternity. The earth’s perennial cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth, express a movement of regeneration and renaissance. There are intimations of immortality: The trees shed their leaves and fruits onto the earth, and when they decompose and merge with the earth, that very earth provides the necessary nutrients for the tree to bear fruit in the future. Plants leave their seeds in the ground, these continue to sprout plant life from the earth after the mother herb has been taken and eaten.

And so the cycle of life, decay, death and rebirth is grounded in the eternal and natural dimension of the earth. In the words of the wisest of men, “one generation passes away and another generation arrives, but the earth abides forever” [Ecclesiastes 1:3].

In a more national sense, it is the biblical tradition to bury our dead in the earth, and specifically in the land of Israel. The biblical idiom for death is, “And he was gathered to his nation (or his family),” for if one is buried in one's homeland, one’s physical remains merge with the physical remains of one's family members, of those who came and died before, as well as of those who will follow in the future.

Further, the Land of Israel is invested with a special metaphysical quality which is inextricably linked to Knesset Yisrael, historic Israel. The first Hebrew, Abraham, entered into the “Covenant between the Pieces,” that God’s promise of world peace and messianic redemption will be realized in the City of Jerusalem. Hebron’s Cave of the Couples — Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah — was the very first acquisition by a Jew of land in Israel, purchased as the earthly resting place for the founders of our faith. At the very same time, it is also the womb of our future, a future informed by the ideas and ideals of our revered ancestors. “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” [Proverbs 17:6].

It is for this reason that the Talmud maintains that only in Israel is there a true and authentic “community” [B.T. Horayot 3], for only in Israel do we see the footprints of historic Israel, the sweep of the generations, the “common unity” of tradition, from Abraham to the Messiah. The people of Israel formed, prophesied and taught its eternal traditions and continues to live out its destiny within the Land of Israel.

Moreover, the eternal Torah is rooted and invested in the very earth, stones and vegetation of the land of Israel. This is true not only in terms of the biblical covenantal promise that guarantees our constant relationship and eventual return to Israel, it is also true because of the myriad of mitzvot embedded in its bedrock, its soil and agricultural produce. The seventh Sabbatical year provides free fruits and vegetables for anyone who wishes to take them. The “corners” of the field actually “belong” to the poor every day of the year, and they may come and reap their harvests. The land of Israel itself cries out to its inhabitants in the name of God: “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers” [Leviticus 25:23].

As God later says, “You must not defile the Land upon which you live and in the midst of which I dwell, since I dwell in the midst of the children of Israel” [Numbers 35:34].

Hence God Himself, as it were, becomes inextricably linked — even “incorporated” — within the peoplehood, the land and the Torah of Israel, the very objects and subjects which express God’s will, and out of which our essence and destiny is formed. Indeed, historic Israel, the land of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Holy One, the God of Israel, are truly united in an eternal bond.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and the chief rabbi of Efrat.