Moshe Rabbeinu was not about to give up. Hashem decreed to the fullest extent that Moshe Rabbeinu would not be allowed into Eretz Yisrael, but Moshe had other plans. Moshe began debating with Hashem, presenting arguments against Hashem, persistently showing Hashem why he should be allowed to go into Eretz Yisrael. And as we know, he prayed relentlessly in a passionate attempt to receive permission. Why was Moshe so insistent on going into Eretz Yisrael? In fact, the Gemara Sota (14a) asks this question in a very similar manner: “Why did Moshe desire to go into Eretz Yisrael?” The Gemara answers because Moshe wanted to fulfill the mitzvot that were applicable only in Eretz Yisrael. According to this Gemara, it seems that Moshe did not necessarily have a desire for Eretz Yisrael itself, but rather for the mitzvot that could only be performed there.
However, there is a midrash (Devarim Rabbah 11) that presents an additional and entirely different reason for Moshe’s desire to enter Eretz Yisrael. In one of the pleas that Moshe expresses to Hashem, Moshe says, If I myself am not able to go into Eretz Yisrael, let me at least be turned into an animal and roam in the land. But Hashem declined. Moshe continued, If I can’t be like an animal to roam the land, let me at least be turned into a bird and simply fly over there for some time and return back. Yet again, Hashem declined.
What good will it do to be like an animal? What benefit is there to just fly over the land? Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that Moshe Rabbeinu is expressing the importance of just being in a holy place, and thus even to just be in Eretz Yisrael was part of Moshe’s plea. Moshe’s pleading includes the desire to just be in the land, even if he can’t do anything there. Moshe Rabbeinu’s sincere and overwhelming love for the land shows the idea that besides acknowledging the incredible opportunities Eretz Yisrael has to offer, we should also bear in mind the inherent and immeasurable value of the land itself.
This reminds me of Pirkei Avot (5:16), which says, “Any love that is contingent on something, when that thing is no longer present, the love as well will cease; but a love that is not dependent on something, it will never cease.” Moshe may have not been able to perform the mitzvot of Eretz Yisrael, but his love for the land was so strong that he wanted to be in the land itself. His love for the land was independent of anything.
I saw a story about Rav Kook from R’ Aryeh Ginzberg, that after being stuck in Switzerland during WWI, Rav Kook returned to Eretz Yisrael and marveled at the sight of the Judean Mountains as he ascended to Yerushalayim. One of his students said, “But rebbe, you just saw the Swiss Alps, said to be the most beautiful in the world.” To which Rav Kook replied, “The Alps didn’t speak to me, the Mountains of Yehuda do; they are mine.”
The Gemara in Ketubot (112) brings a few Amoraim who would engage in what we might think is rather peculiar behavior in expressing their love for Eretz Yisrael. R’ Abbah would kiss the stones of Acco; R’ Chanina would clear obstacles from the roads of Eretz Yisrael [out of his love for the land—Rashi]: and R’ Chiya bar Gamda would roll in the dust of the land! [based on the verse that says, “And your servants take pleasure in her stones, and love her dust” (Tehillim 102:15)]. A love so great, that even actions of these sorts are commendable.
But this relationship is not one way. R’ Yisrael Reisman brings the Beit Halevi that says that Eretz Yisrael is a land that has a desire for klal Yisrael, a yearning for Jews to come back to it. It takes two to tango, and thus indeed, the same way we may have a love and yearning for the land, the land has a love and yearning for us. The same way we may be eager for the land, the land is eager for us to come back to it. It’s so common for many people that when they arrive at the pinnacle of Eretz Yisrael—the Kotel—they all of a sudden begin tearing up. There’s an emotion of “where have you been, where have I been, we’re finally re-united.” These are tears of longing, tears of hope, and tears of joy that we’re finally back together after so long.
May we all be reunited soon in Eretz Yisrael, and re-establish that mutual bond of affection between us and it, soon with the coming of Mashiach and the final redemption.
Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]