By Rabbi Dovid Markel
In Parshat Achrei Mot there is an interesting correlation between a statement at the end of the Torah portion and the libel of the spies that scouted Eretz Yisroel to investigate how to conquer it.
At the end of the parsha, the Torah describes the heinous actions of the Canaanites and warns Israel not to follow their ways. The verse (Vayikra 18:24-28) states: “You shall not defile yourselves by any of these things, for the nations, whom I am sending away from before you, have defiled themselves with all these things. And the land became defiled, and I visited its sin upon it, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But as for you, you shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, and you shall not do like any of these abominations neither the native, nor the stranger who sojourns among you… And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you. ”
The Torah enumerates that the holiness of the Land of Israel cannot digest sin and will vomit out those that are sinners.
Interestingly, the spies, in their description of the land, portrayed as well the land as one that eats its inhabitants, saying (Bamidbar 13:32), “The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants.”
Indeed, the Midrash (Kohelet Rabba 1:4) uses this verse to describe that the land has all the properties that man does: “All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in man, He created in the land…Man eats, and the land eats. This is expressed in the verse (Bamidbar 13:32) ‘[it] is a land that consumes its inhabitants.’…Man vomits, and the land vomits. This is implied in the verse (Vayikra 18:28) ‘And let the land not vomit you out.’”
While other lands perhaps might not vomit out the Jewish people for their sins, Rashi (ad loc) describes the Land of Israel as one with a sensitive stomach: “This can be compared to a prince who was fed obnoxious food, which could not stay in his intestines; so he vomited it out.”
Perhaps what this allegory informs us of, is that while Israel is still edible—in their sin—they are not edible to the stomach of a prince. Even in sin, we are not completely abhorrent, but we cannot be fully digested, consumed and enveloped in holiness.
Being consumed by the land
This, however, teaches an extreme quality of the land in a situation where we are worthy: We do not merely live in the Land of Israel—we become consumed by it! While the spies were frightened by the implications of such a land, in truth we should embrace it and appreciate the awesomeness of this idea.
When one lives properly in Israel, they become digested and consumed by holiness! “It is a land that consumes its inhabitants;” we are not separate entities from kedushat ha’aretz, but becoming consumed by the holiness of the land adds to the holiness of the people worthy of dwelling there!
This is one aspect of the holiness that is bestowed on Israel when they merit to live in the Land of Israel.
Consuming the land
Another aspect is described in Kuntras Sh’lom Yerushalayim from the Kotzker Rebbe, Reb Yisroel Morgenstern, the grandson of Reb Mendele’ of Kotzk.
Reb Yisroel was a tremendous Chovev Tzion, and authored a work to encourage rabbinical leaders of his time to place efforts on purchasing land in Eretz Yisroel so that individuals could work on and perform the mitzvot of the land. He firmly believed that doing so would herald in the redemption.
In the second chapter of his work revolving around the verse quoted above (Vayikra 18:28) “And let the land not vomit you out,” he describes a quality in the Land of Israel that is not found in other lands.
On the verse (Devarim 11:12) “A land the Lord, your G-d, looks after; the eyes of Lord your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” the commentators explain how the Land of Israel is unique.
While other lands are under G-d’s intermediaries of nature, the Land of Israel merits to the direct hashgacha and oversight of the Almighty. When produce grows in the Land of Israel, it is not merely natural, but is sprouted through a specific providence of G-d that is not apparent in other lands.
This explains the Talmudic statement (Kesuvot 110b): “Whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a G-d, but whoever lives outside the land may be regarded as one who has no G-d.”
While the physicality of other lands conceals the G-dliness within it, the land of Israel does not conceal the holiness within the physical, and the very land is called “holy.”
Reb Yisroel of Kotzk employs the above statement to explain the unique quality of living in the Land and consuming its produce.
Usually it is difficult for man to escape his corporeality and earthiness. Man is a composite of matter and soul, and it is extremely challenging for man to escape his physicality to become completely holy.
However, when one lives in the Land of Israel and consumes produce of the land of which the mitzvot of the land were performed on them—they are literally consuming holiness! Living and eating the produce of the land refines man in a way that is unattainable in any other place.
When man’s physical life-force and sustenance is one that is a veritable mitzvah and a piece of holiness, the very physicality of man becomes one that is utterly sanctified. This in turn creates a reality where a person is completely sanctified.
A reciprocal relationship
Man’s living in the Land of Israel is a reciprocal relationship in which he consumes the land, the land consumes him and the cycle continues.
When one lives in the Land of Israel in a proper manner, and eats the produce in which the mitzvot have been done with, the holiness that can be achieved through that is unimaginable.
A person living in Eretz Yisroel digests holiness and is digested by holiness. May we indeed merit to live properly in the Land and be able to properly perceive the holiness that is apparent in it!