“ויקן את חלקת השדה אשר נטה שם אהלו מיד בני חמור אבי שכם במאה קשיטה”
And he (Yaakov) bought the part of the field where he had pitched his tent from the sons of Ḥamor, the father of Shechem, for a hundred kesitas.
[Bereishit (Genesis) 33:19]
The posuk (verse) mentions this purchase) to inform us of the lofty trait of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), (that) having a portion of the Land is as having a portion of the World to Come. Avraham ibn Ezra
Ibn Ezra’s comment requires elucidation. After all, Eretz Yisrael is a physical, tangible place, composed of soil, sand and rocks as are all other lands of the world.
We know that Chazal (our Sages) speak at length of the advantage of living within the Land and fulfilling mitzvot within her, what is novel in ibn Ezra’s comment is the idea that the very act of owning a portion of the Land is virtuous. It seems that ibn Ezra includes even one who does not dwell in the property he owns in the Land; mere ownership is comparable to holding a portion of the World to Come. How are we to understand this?
In addition, we must understand why land ownership in Eretz Yisrael is comparable to having holdings in the World to Come. What is the connection between Eretz Yisrael and the World to Come?
Elucidation of the Concept of the World to Come
In order to clarify things, we must first understand the unique matter of the World to Come.
Chazals’ statement: “כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא” (“All Israel has a portion of the World to Come”) [Mishna, Sanhedrin 10:1] is well-known.
The Torah warns that the punishment for violating various sins is that “הכרת תכרת הנפש ההיא מישראל” (“That soul shall be completely cut off”) [Bamidbar (Numbers) 15:31]. Chazal understood the repetitive use of the root word “karet” (“cut off”) to mean that the soul will be cut off from this world and from the World to Come.
These sources and numerous others in the Torah and in Chazals’ teachings, convey the concept of the importance of the World to Come and the fact that that world is connected to eternity, to life which does not end and which is not subject to death. The converse is that one who violates these serious sins which ruin his soul and cause spiritual death, will lose his place in the World to Come. Committing serious sins severs the connection of the soul to eternal life, and therefore, the sinner is no longer able to enter the World to Come.
Significantly, Chazal refer to the World to Come as “a world which is wholly long.” [Gemara (Talmud) Ḥullin 142a] Indeed, the essence of the World to Come is its being above the limitations of time and of space, and thus Chazals’ definition accurately conveys its fundamental nature.
The Collective Israel – Specifically Within Eretz Yisrael
The Gemara Horayot 3b states that the obligation to offer the sacrifice of a young bull if the majority of Jews sin based upon an incorrect decision of בית הדין הגדול (the Great Court) [Vayikra (Leviticus) 4:13-21] is in effect only if the majority of Jews living within the Land sinned based upon the incorrect decision. The Jews of the Diaspora are not counted in this matter. The Gemara explains the underlying reason: this sacrifice is offered only when “A matter was hidden from the eyes of the congregation,” [posuk 13] and “Only those who dwell within the Land are considered the congregation, while those living abroad are not.” Thus, the definition of Israel as a congregation is inherently linked to their presence within the Land.
An additional source which conveys the same concept is Zohar [Vayikra 92b] which understands the verse “Who is like your nation Israel, a nation one in the land” [Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) I 17:21] to mean that Am Yisrael can be considered a single nation (“a nation one in the Land,” understanding “Land” with a capital L) only when it is within its own Land.
The Relation Between the Individual and the Collective
In order to clarify the matter, we can compare the Collective Am Yisrael to a large tree with many branches. If we remove a branch from the trunk, in short order it will dry out and die. The source of vitality of the tree and all of its branches is the trunk and the roots. The branch’s connection to the trunk allows it to live and survive, and turns it from an insignificant detail into part of a larger and significant entity. Instead of a lone branch, it is part of the tree.
Similarly, each individual Israelite has a soul which constitutes his basic existence. However, this soul does not stand alone, but is connected to the general soul of the entire Am Yisrael which is known as “Knesset Yisrael” (The Congregation of Israel). This great and unified soul is the source of all the individual souls of Am Yisrael, and provides vitality and existence to each individual within Am Yisrael.
The sanctity of this collective soul is lofty and sublime, and is the conduit through which God reveals His existence within the world.
Revelation of the Divine Presence (Shechina) in the Land of Israel
The place in which this collective soul resides and is manifest is Eretz Yisrael, the land which was created especially as the residence of Am Yisrael and the place from which the nation will reveal the glory of God in all aspects of its life. Within the Land, the Shechina is revealed in the peak of its glory within the Beit Hamikdash (Temple in Jerusalem), the “Place that He desired for His habitation.” [Tehillim (Psalms) 132:13]
It therefore follows that when an Israelite acquires possession of any area of the Land, he has acquired an indelible connection to the sanctity of the Land and to the Shechina which dwells therein and from which his individual soul stems. Through the practical connection with this sublime sanctity, the private soul connects to the collective soul of Israel which is manifest within the Land, and achieves eternal life which neither ends in this world nor in the World to Come.
Death and annihilation are possible for an individual, but the collective “never dies” [Gemara Temurah 15a]. The connection to Eretz Yisrael binds the individual soul with the collective soul of Israel with a strong bond, such that the individual soul merits life which death does not rule. This eternal life is the realization of the concept of “Life in the World to Come.” Therefore, one who purchases land in Eretz Yisrael is considered as having purchased a portion of the World to Come. Ownership of a portion of the Land conveys ownership of a portion of the world of eternity.
The Practical Meaning for Us
It is related that during Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak Kook’s enforced stay in London during the First World War, he once took a short trip outside the city, accompanied by his personal assistant. It was clear from Rabbi Kook’s facial expression that he was preoccupied with various matters. The assistant, wishing to provide some relief from Rabbi Kook’s tension, attempted to draw his attention to the scenic surroundings, the hills and rivers and other natural wonders in the area, but was unsuccessful. After a number of such attempts by this assistant, Rabbi Kook exclaimed emotionally “How can I enjoy these hills, which are inanimate and do not speak at all. They are totally unlike the hills of Eretz Yisrael which are full of vitality and express an abundance of sanctity and vitality.”
With his great sanctity, Rabbi Kook was able to feel the “living pulse” of the Land and experience the spiritual power which exists within her, and he thus felt the lack of vitality abroad.
Even simple people such as we can feel the distinction between Eretz Yisrael and abroad. It is true that most of us are not on the level of being unable to appreciate the beauty of nature outside Eretz Yisrael, but we do have the ability to absorb the sanctity of the Land through our senses and our feelings, and thereby arouse within ourselves admiration not only for the external beauty of the Land but especially for the understanding that the Land’s beauty reflects the presence within her of the Shechina on the highest level. This realization brings the soul to the highest level of sanctity.
In Eretz Yisrael the individual’s soul is strongly connected to the collective soul and therefore its power to affect the collective is immeasurably greater than the power of individual souls outside the Land. This implies a greater responsibility of Jews living within the Land than those living abroad.
Internalizing this point will allow us to guide every aspect of our lives within the Land, both as individuals and as the collective, towards the goals of building the nation and bringing about its redemption. May we be partners with God in revealing the glory of His Shechina upon us and upon all living beings, speedily in our days.