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Ha'Aretz Asher Areka: Part 3

In this next part of the series of excerpts from Rav Shnayor Burton's sefer, read Rav Yaakov Emden's explanation for why we face Yerushalayim when we daven.


By virtue of the obligation to turn to the Land of Israel as the direction of prayer, Rabbi Yaakov Emden developed an obligation for “every Israelite to make an absolute and firm commitment in his mind to ascend and reside in Eretz Yisrael… and to desire to merit and pray there before the King’s palace.” This is, in fact, nothing more than an adaptation of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi’s words in the Kuzari: The king accused the sage and said that “Your bowing and kneeling in the direction of it is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship.” Meaning that making Eretz Yisrael the direction of prayer is not a meaningless act, some magical charm that causes prayers to be accepted.

The meaning of turning to Eretz Yisrael in prayer is the assertion that it is the house of our lives, the life of our soul. The longing for it is the core pillar of our spiritual life, and thus so important for prayer, for turning to Hashem. Thus, R’ Yaakov Emden concluded, turning toward Eretz Yisrael in prayer will not be effective for those who are found “where there is no claim of complete unfeasibility” not to go there. It follows, therefore, that in the obligation to turn to Eretz Yisrael in prayer lies a moral and spiritual obligation to return there, and as soon as possible.

After these words of truth, it becomes clear that it is a mistake to think that the obligation of residing in Eretz Yisrael depends solely on an explicit command. If redemption depends on loving the land, and if every true and sincere turning towards Eretz Yisrael in prayer is no less than the expression of longing for the land, it is incumbent upon us to love it, long for it and dwell in it as much as possible.

It would be possible to summarize the argument in a simpler way: after all, the Sages said, “Anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael remains without sin”; and that “Anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a God, and anyone who resides outside the land is like one who does not have a God” (Kesubos 110b). Don’t such statements direct to action based on the foundations of the entire Torah – accepting Hashem as God, loving Him, fearing Him, and being careful to avoid sin? However, these statements need an interpretation in order to understand them; and as will be explained in the next chapter, an obligation generated not by virtue of an express and absolute command – but by virtue of an understanding of the general intent of the Torah – such an obligation depends on the level of a person's understanding. That is why I saw fit to rely mainly on the words of the later sages who interpreted the matter, thereby creating a great and holy obligation for everyone who understood their words well. To the extent that their words are deeply felt, an automatic obligation is generated to return to Eretz Yisrael.


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