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Sanctity of the Land and Sanctity of Time

Presented by:Ariel Finkelstein

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Torah Lesson written by: Nir Shaul

אמר החבר: הלא תראה איך קבלה הארץ שבתות, כמו שאמר שבת הארץ, ושבתה הארץ שבת לד’, ולא נתן רשות למכרה לצמיתות, כמו שאמר: והארץ לא תמכר לצמיתות כי לי הארץ. ודע, כי שבתות ד’ ומועדי ד’ אמנם הם תלויים בנחלת ד’.

The rabbi said: you see that the Land was given its Shabbat, it is said: “Shabbat of the Land,” [Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:6], and “The Land shall rest a Shabbat to the Lord.” [Ibid. 2] It is forbidden to sell it for ever, as it is said: “For the Land belongs to Me.” [ibid. 23] Be aware that the “Shabbatot of the Land” and the “Appointed times of the Lord” indeed are dependent upon the “Land of the Lord.”

[Kuzari 2:18]



Kuzari informs us that the sanctity of the Land and that of time are interdependent.

Two deeply connected novel concepts are presented:

 1) The sanctity of the Land increases at specific times. For example, during the Shemita year and Yovel the Land’s sanctity is so great that the fruit grown in the Land is imbued with sanctity. [Gemara (Talmud) Avoda Zara 62b]; and

2) Time changes are determined specifically by the position of the sun in relation to the Land of Israel.

The rabbi explains that necessarily, the day must commence at a specific point on the globe. Since, toward the end of the sixth day of creation, Adam was removed from the Garden of Eden and placed in the Holy Land at the time of commencement of Shabbat in the Holy Land, and since God chose the Land as the center of the world, it is sunset in the Land which ushers in Shabbat. Similarly, the consecration of the new month and all calculations of months and years are determined by the start of the day in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).

The first concept present by Kuzari has an additional influence: property sale in Eretz Yisrael is for a specified period only, since upon commencement of the Yovel year, which is holy, the land is returned to its original owner. The original owner of the land (a descendant of the Israelite who received the portion of land when the Holy Land was divided among the tribes) is its true owner and there is a connection between the land and its owner which requires the land being returned.

What is the connection between the sanctity of the Land and the sanctity of time? We shall examine each separately and thereby reach an understanding of the connection between them.


The Land is Sanctified with the Sanctity of Time and Sanctifies Am Israel

In the introduction to his book on the laws of Shemita, Shabbat haAretz, Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak haKohen Kook z”tl describes the unique relationship between the sanctity of the Land during the Shemita year and Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel). Rabbi Kook begins with the determination that “the effect which Shabbat (of the week) has on each individual Jew, is the effect Shemita has on the collective.” Rabbi Kook elucidates his comment: refraining from creative activity on Shabbat provides release from the yoke of daily life. During the week days, a person is necessarily troubled with mundane matters arising from the need to support oneself and his family. In the daily grind of life, it is not always easy to remain pure and holy. Therefore, God gave us a special day of the week, a day set aside for sanctity and rest. It is specifically through abstaining from creative activity and distancing ourselves from the practical world that Am Yisrael is able to recharge its spiritual batteries and return to its true nature, which is the aspiration to achieve justice and integrity and to reach the highest possible level of morality. “כי מי גוי גדול אשר לו אלוקים קרובים אליו” (“For what great nation is there that has God so near to it”) [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:7] Godly life has been imprinted in Israel and suits the nation. “כל מי שיש בו ג’ דברים הללו מתלמידיו של אברהם אבינו… עין טובה ורוח נמוכה ונפש שפלה” (“Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham … a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul”) [Pirkei Avot 5:19]

Kuzari [3:5] expands upon the concept of the spiritual purity which reaches every Israelite during holy times, referring to Shabbat as “the fruit of the week,” since it is the day which “was appointed to establish the connection with the Divine Spirit and to serve God in joy. All this stands in the same relation to the soul as food to the human body.” Kuzari adds that this is true of Rosh Chodesh, the holidays and Yom Kippur as well.

Eretz Yisrael as well, writes Rabbi Kook, prepares the nation which dwells within it to reveal its true essence. The sanctity of the Land is manifest during the holy year of Shemita and strengthens the nation’s yearning to achieve sanctity. “The Sabbatical year is a necessity both for the nation and for the Land.” On the national level, Shemita provides a year of peace and of kindness, a year free of strife over property, freedom from (agricultural) work to relax, a year of quiet allowing for dealing with Torah and sanctity. The Land as well requires Shemita. Observance of mitzvot benefits the Land, while doing the abominations of the nations within the Land leads to the Land vomiting out its inhabitants: “ושמרתם את כל חוקותי ואת כל משפטי ועשיתם אותם, ולא תקיא אתכם הארץ אשר אני מביא אתכם שמה לשבת בה” (“And you shall observe all My statutes and all My ordinances, and fulfill them, then the Land, to which I am bringing you to dwell therein, will not vomit you out”) [Vayikra 20:22]

Since the Land has an increased level of sanctity during these special periods, Shemita and Yovel, her fruit has a special sanctity as well. The Torah’s declaration concerning Yovel, “וקראתם דרור בארץ לכל יושביה” (“Proclaim freedom throughout the Land for all who live on it”) [Vayikra 25:10] is certainly appropriate. The sanctity of the Shemita years derives from that of Yovel, as the Gemara (Talmud) states: “Count the years of Yovel in order to sanctify Shemita.” [Gemara Arachin 32b] Concerning Yovel, the posuk (verse) specifies the year’s sanctity “For it is Yovel, it shall be holy for you.” [ibid. 12] Land within Israel may not be sold permanently, since the Land is sanctified by Israel’s dwelling within her, each in his proper place. As a result of the greater sanctity of the Land during Yovel, each Israelite must return to his home and to his natural portion of Eretz Yisrael.

Changes of Time Depend Upon Eretz Yisrael

The appointed times may be determined exclusively by Sanhedrin HaGadol (the Great Court) of Eretz Yisrael, when the Sanhedrin sat in Jerusalem, as Rambam states in Sefer haMitzvot [Positive Mitzva 153], there is no possibility of calculating months and years except within the Land.

Rambam adds:

Here we have one of the great roots of our faith … that today, outside the Land, we are able to determine the months and say “A particular day is the beginning of the month, such and such a day is a holiday” is in no way a result of our own calculations, but because the Sanhedrin HaGadol (Great Court) of Eretz Yisrael already established that day as Rosh Ḥodesh or as a holiday… I shall add an explanation. Suppose we were to assume, for example, that the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael disappeared – which God forbid, since He has promised that He will not altogether wipe out and uproot the remnant of the nation – and that there was no court there, and that outside the Land there was no court which had received ordination in Eretz Yisrael: in that case our calculations would be of no use to us whatsoever, because we are not empowered to make calculations outside the Land, “For out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” [Isaiah 2:3]

Rambam establishes that determining the appointed times is a Divine matter. There are numerous implications of the decision when the holidays fall, determining the fulfillment of many mitzvot and influencing study and fulfillment of Torah. Therefore, the determination of the appointed times must be related to the power of the Land. Chazal (Our Sages) on the Gemara Sanhedrin understood the verse “But only to the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 12:5] to mean “Whatever inquiries you have must be made in His dwelling place” [Gemara Sanhedrin 11b]. All religious inquiries must be made at the place where God manifests His Shechina, Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). This is the source for the determination that the calculation of months and years may be made only by the Sanhedrin while it sat in the Temple Mount.

Kuzari as well explains the connection between the sanctity of time and of the Land. Towards the commencement of the world’s first Shabbat, Adam was placed in the Holy Land, the place of Torah. It was there that Adam began marking time and determining the onset of night, based upon his observation of the (apparent) movement of the sun from within the Land. All subsequent generations continue measuring time based upon Adam’s precedent. While the sun set at different times throughout the earth, Adam determined that with its setting over the Land, Shabbat entered. The sun continues to set further west, determining the commencement of Shabbat outside the Land. Kuzari stresses that Adam’s precedent is appropriate, since Eretz Yisrael is the place of Torah.

The Connection Between Kuzari’s Two Points

We may offer the following explanation of the connection between the sanctity of the Land and that of time: everything in the world exists in the dimensions of time and of space. The dimension of time provides the character of a particular day and of a particular season, as the Gemara refers to the “influence of the day” [Gemara Pesaḥim 68b]. There the Gemara refers to Shavuot, quoting Rabbi Yoseph’s comment that were it not for the day of Shavuot, he would not be a Torah scholar. The dimension of space, as well, casts its influence, with the particular qualities of a place influencing what is found in that place. Since time is determined by the movement of earth relative to the sun, it is necessarily determined by a particular place, while relative to another place it will be a different hour or even a different day. Thus, holy time is determined in accordance with a holy place. Conversely, the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael is sanctified through time which has been sanctified by Am Yisrael.



We noted two aspects of the connection between the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael and the sanctity of time;

1) Sanctified times allow Am Yisrael to sanctify itself, both from the perspective of the holy times themselves which provide rest from mundane activities and the opportunity to recharge spiritual batteries, as well as from the perspective of the Land which reaches a higher level of sanctity at these times and allows Israel to return to its natural traits.

2) Determination of time vis-a-vis establishing the appointed times and the commencement of their sanctity for Israel can be done only in the place of sanctity, since this determination is a Divine matter.

Thus, Kuzari asserts that the sanctity of the Land and that of time are closely intertwined.

The Time of Redemption and the Land’s Level in our Days

The time of redemption too is a sacred time. The time of redemption will be a time of rectification for the world, ushering in a pure world, free of improper desires and of injustice, a world throughout which God will be revealed, and here will be grace and mercy among all men and towards everything in the universe. Chazal (Our Sages) [Gemara Sanhedrin 99a] taught: “כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח, אבל לעולם הבא- עין לא ראתה אלוקים זולתך (ישעיהו סד, ג)” (“All the prophets prophesied (all the good things) only in respect of the Messianic era; but as for the World to Come “The eye has not seen, O Lord, beside you.” [Isaiah 64:3]). That is, the prophet prophesied many good things about the Messianic era, but these will be exceeded in the World to Come, which is an exclusively spiritual world. Maharsha comments that this is learned from the verse “ביום ההוא יהיה ד’ אחד ושמו אחד” (“On that day shall the Lord be one, and His name one”) [Zachariah 14:9] – at that time, God will be completely connected to His world. Eretz Yisrael as well will be sanctified at the time of redemption, to the point where are Sages teach “All non-fruit bearing trees of Eretz Yisrael are destined to produce fruit” [Gemara Ketubot 112b]. This will be due to building the Land and the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) and having all of Am Yisrael in their proper place within Eretz Yisrael.

Thank God, in recent generations Am Yisrael is returning to its Land; there is a process of redemption. The world has become gentler and more ethical as a result of this process. If a century or so ago there was no discussion of ethics and every kingdom devoured its neighbors with no fear that the world would intervene and people could be executed unjustly and without trial, in our days the world has changed.

Israel has returned to being the world center of Torah, with the number of Torah students vastly increased. Given that with the Temple’s destruction, the flavor departed from the Land’s fruit [Gemara Sota 49a], nonetheless, in our times the fruit of the Land has returned to being flavorful. Farmers have testified that wheat grown in Israel is three times as large as ordinary wheat, and wine produced in Israel is more healthful for the heart than wines produced elsewhere.

May it be His will that we see the completion of the process of redemption and recognize the sanctity of this special period and may the sanctity of the Land be evident to all. Amen.

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