When Rav Huna died … Rabbi Abba opened (his eulogy for him): “Our Rabbi was worthy that the Shechina should rest upon him, except for the fact that Babylonia caused it not to rest (i.e., the Shechina is not manifest outside the Land).” Rav Nacḥman bar Chisda raised an objection, and some say it was Rav Chanan bar Chisda: “The word of the Lord came (hayo haya) to Ezekiel, son of Buzi the Kohen, in the land of the Chaldeans.” [Ezekiel 1:3] His father tapped him with his sandal and said to him “Have I not told you not to trouble everyone with questions? The meaning of the double wording “hayo haya” is that it had already come (i.e., that Ezekiel had begun to prophesy in Eretz Yisrael).”
[Gemara Moed Katan 25a]
Exposition of the Gemara
When Rav Huna died, Rabbi Abba eulogized him, saying that he was worthy of having the Shechina rest upon him, and the sole reason this did not happen is that the Shechina is not manifest outside the Land. The Gemara questions Rabbi Abba’s comment, based upon the verse which tells us that Ezekiel prophesied in Babylonia (“the land of the Chaldeans”). The Gemara answers that Ezekiel was able to prophesy outside Eretz Yisrael only because he had begun to prophesy within her, so that his prophecies outside the Land were merely a continuation of what he had begun within the Land. (Rashi’s elucidation of the Gemara discussion.)
Why is the Shechina Manifest Only in Eretz Yisrael?
Why does the Gemara assume that the Shechina is manifest only in Eretz Yisrael? It is clear that Eretz Yisrael is the Holy Land and the Chosen Land, but why does that prevent one from achieving the level of prophecy outside her? What is the factor which directly connects prophecy and the Land?
In order to answer our question, we must delve into the meaning of the concept of prophecy and the conditions necessary to achieve it.
Prophecy: Imagination and Intellect
Rambam in his Guide for the Perplexed [2:36] explains that prophecy is an emanation from God which is received through a combination of man’s rational and imaginative faculties, with the imaginative faculty allowing the prophecy to be received, and the rational faculty clarifying the content. Rambam notes that his approach explains the Gemara statement that a dream constitutes one-sixtieth of prophecy [Gemara B’rachot 57b]. Dreaming is a state in which the imaginative faculty reigns and allows thought unlimited expression, and therefore the imaginative faculty during sleep is the same as at the time when it receives a prophecy, only in the first case it is not fully developed, and has not yet reached its highest degree.and it therefore has only an aspect of prophecy.
Based upon Rambam’s exposition, prophecy has two primary prerequisites: rational and imaginative emanations. Likely, the fact that the Shechina is manifest only in Eretz Yisrael is a function of one of these components.
Lucid Imagination – Specifically in Eretz Yisrael
What is the missing factor outside the Land? At first glance, we may suggest that it is the emanation of imagination, since intellectual emanation apparently exists outside the Land as well, as evidenced by the number of Torah scholars who reside outside the Land. In fact, the Oral Torah developed primarily outside the Land, in Babylonia. The Babylonian Talmud, which is the foundation of every bet midrash, was composed when Israel was exiled from the Land, making it clear that intellectual emanation does in fact reach lands outside Eretz Yisrael.
However, we must understand why lucid imagination is restricted to the Land. What connects it specifically to Eretz Yisrael?
Concerning this, Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak haKohen Kook zt”l wrote:
The imaginative faculty of the Land of Israel is lucid and clear, clean and pure, and suitable for the appearance of divine truth… On the other hand, the imaginative faculty in the lands of the nations is murky, mixed with darkness, in the shadows of impurity and corruption. Since intellect and imagination are intertwined and act upon and are acted upon by each other, it follows that intellect outside the Land cannot shine with the light of Eretz Yisrael.
[Orot, Eretz Yisrael, 5]
Rabbi Kook explains that pure and lucid imagination can be achieved only within Eretz Yisrael, since “the climate of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise” [Gemara Bava Batra 158b].
Yet, we must understand the meaning of Chazals’ (the Sages’) comment that the climate of the Land makes one wise. What is Chazals’ intention and how does this allow the imaginative function to be expressed in purity?
By understanding the factor which prevents the pure expression of the imaginative faculty, we will be able to understand how the Land overcomes this limitation. Thus, our question is: What prevents the pure expression of the imaginative faculty?
The Restriction to Purity of Imagination: The Concreteness of Material
In order to understand this, we will again be aided by Rabbi Kook’s words:
Allaying desires and purifying the material is in accordance with bodily purity, and in accordance with intellectual enlightenment … the imaginative ability will develop … so that it approaches the intellectual in its clarity, and it will exceed the intellectual in the depths of its emotion.
[Orot haKodesh 1:240]
Rabbi Kook clarifies that purity of the imaginative faculty requires bodily purity.
Is there a connection between bodily purity and Eretz Yisrael? The answer, apparently, is “yes.” In another source, Rabbi Kook weaves bodily purity and Eretz Yisrael into a single sentence as factors which facilitate manifestation of ruaḥ hakodesh (“the holy spirit”):
The influence of ruaḥ hakodesh on performing mitzvot and on Torah study … exists covertly everywhere; and overtly only in Eretz Yisrael. “If you wish to see the countenance of the Shechina in this world, engage in Torah in Eretz Yisrael. [Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim (Psalms) 105:1] The expectation to reach Eretz Yisrael and yearning for purity of the body convey a manifestation of ruaḥ hakodesh, at least as a pale reflection. [Sh’mona Kevatzim, 6:5]
In combining Eretz Yisrael and yearning for purity of the body in a single sentence, Rabbi Kook expresses the concept that there is a direct connection between the two. But we must understand why purity of the body is specific to Eretz Yisrael.
Material Things in Eretz Yisrael are Holy
We may suggest that in Eretz Yisrael material things receive a different status, allowing material development without interfering with the purity of the imaginative faculty. An example of this is eating within Eretz Yisrael. Eating is ostensibly one of the most material acts, demonstrating man’s limitation and his dependence on material things. Yet, Rabbi Kook writes of eating within Eretz Yisrael:
The food of Eretz Yisrael is inherently sanctified and is materialistic only in its outer aspect. However, one must be careful of food from outside the Land; nonetheless, the expectation to reach Eretz Yisrael elevates food outside the Land as well. [Orot haKodesh 3:32]
Rabbi Kook presents a novel approach: in Eretz Yisrael, rather than fouling the individual through a mundane activity, eating elevates the body. Even the expectation of reaching Eretz Yisrael has the power to elevate food outside the Land.
Since only Eretz Yisrael has the unique ability to elevate the mundane, prophecy, which requires pure development of the imaginative function, is limited to the Land, while wisdom can be achieved even outside the Land.
Kuzari, [2:14] noting that prophecy is restricted to Eretz Yisrael, raises the question the Gemara addressed to Rabbi Abba: how is it that Ezekiel was able to prophesy outside the Land? In addition, Kuzari asks the same question concerning Moses and Aaron, who never entered Eretz Yisrael. Kuzari answers that these three prophets prophesied on behalf of Eretz Yisrael. Prophecy is possible within the Land or on behalf of the Land. It is possible that Rabbi Kook took Kuzari’s comment as the source for his assertion that even expectation to reach Eretz Yisrael influences material things, allowing manifestation of the Shechina.
Prophecy: A Sense Which Requires a Particular Stimulus
One of the unique Torah scholars living in recent times was Rabbi Shem Tov Gefen, who taught in Rabbi Kook’s yeshiva in Jaffa, and was expert in the Talmudic literature, halacha, kabbala, philosophy and science.
One of the matters which occupied Rabbi Gefen was the future rebirth of prophecy within Eretz Yisrael, and he writes about prophecy:
Prophecy is a sense which we had in the past, in addition to the five senses we have now … what activates this sense is something hidden and secret, similar to light which activates the sense of vision.
Rabbi Gefen suggests that prophecy was a sense which all people had in past times, and which could be activated by a particular stimulus. Just as everyone whose eyes function properly is able to see, but a certain level of light is necessary to allow vision to operate, so too with the sense of prophecy: the ability exists, but a stimulus is required in order to activate the sense. According to Rabbi Gefen, the stimulus necessary to activate prophecy is the climate of Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Kook writes:
In truth, the lack of ruaḥ hakodesh in Israel is not a shortcoming of imperfection, rather a blemish and a disease; within Eretz Yisrael it is a painful disease which must be cured. “For I am God, your Healer.” [Shemot (Exodus) 15:26]
[Orot Yisrael 9:7]
Indeed, our current situation is not ideal, it is pathological and painful. “The spirit of prophecy moves through the Land, seeking refuge; seeking valiant ones who are filled with courage and sanctity” [Rabbi Kook, Orot haKodesh 1:157]. It is significant that the blessing of redemption appears in the amida close to the blessing of healing.
We have been privileged to return to Eretz Yisrael, the basic condition for prophecy, but there are additional conditions, both concerning the individual who may become a prophet and for the nation to be worthy of realizing prophecy.
We began with the Talmudic statement that the manifestation of the Shechina and prophecy are possible only within Eretz Yisrael, and asked what the connection is between them.
We explained that prophecy is a Divine emanation to man which comes through the imaginative faculty and is filtered and purified by the rational intellect. The combination of intellect and imagination creates the conditions necessary for receiving the manifestation of the Shechina and prophecy. We also noted the connection between being in Eretz Yisrael and the purity of the imaginative faculty.
We saw Rabbi Kook’s explanation that purity of the body and of material things is a prerequisite for purifying the imaginative faculty. It is specifically within Eretz Yisrael that bodily purity can be achieved, and hence that the imaginative faculty can be purified; thus, experiencing the manifestation of the Shechina is possible only in the Land. We added the explanation that the reason bodily purity can be achieved only in Eretz Yisrael is that all material things within the Land have been elevated to a level of sanctity. In Eretz Yisrael, rather than mundane things interfering with the imaginative faculty, they facilitate and elevate it. Thus, wisdom can be achieved outside Eretz Yisrael, but prophecy cannot, since the imaginative function is blocked.
We presented the additional approach of Rabbi Shem Tov Gefen, who explains that the climate of Eretz Yisrael is the stimulus which activates the ability to prophesy.
May it be God’s will that we merit filling all the conditions necessary for the return of prophecy, and once again see prophets walking within our Land.