Italians love Italy. The Irish are crazy about Ireland. And even New Yorkers love New York. So why shouldn't the Jewish people love the land of Israel? But our love of the land is different from any other nation and locale. The connection between the Jewish people and their land is unique in that our love for the land of Israel is matched, so to speak, with the land's love of its people.
When two people are in a loving relationship, the more one partner shows love for the second, the more the second reciprocates. The land of Israel is the "loving partner" of the Jewish people. Let's take a few examples of this idea in practice.
The Torah, in this week's Parsha, tells us that when we do Hashem's will by letting the land rest on the Sabbatical year (Shemita), then the land will give back to us. Jewish farmers are required every seven years to let the land lay fallow: no plowing, no pruning, no harvesting. (The special exemptions and guidelines of these laws are beyond the scope of this article.) Suffice it to say, for an agricultural society to have everybody at the same time not work the land is, at the very least, fairly risky. Even so, the Torah guarantees that the land will provide us with a bumper crop on the sixth year sufficient for the sixth, seventh, and eighth years.. As incredible as this promise sounds, there are many farms and moshavim (agricultural settlements) that through their fulfillment of Shemita laws have documented accounts of incredible productivity during the sixth year (compared to their normal yield and to those of surrounding non-Shemita farms).
Conversely, if we don't keep the Shemita properly and give the land its due year of rest, then, according to our Sages, we will suffer the consequence of exile from our land. Even if our exile seems to be caused by political and economic factors, the underlying spiritual cause will be that we didn't treat our "partner" properly.
The Talmud tells us that if a person was tried for a capital offence outside of the land and found guilty, he may end up with a retrial. Under what circumstances? If the defendant runs from the original court found outside of Israel and flees to Israel, we retry the case. Why? The reason is because of the merit of the land of Israel. It's possible, suggests the Talmud, that the offender's act will be seen in a different light due specifically to being in Israel. The land is "working" for its children.
If a person wants to become wise (and who doesn't?) the Talmud suggests traveling to Israel. Why? "The land of Israel makes people wise" the Sages tell us. We are told of a certain scholar who was praised for the wisdom he accrued in Israel. The commentaries make it abundantly clear that his wisdom came not from his teachers, per se, but from being in the land itself.
The bottom line is that Israel is not like any other country. We don't know how a land could have a "life of its own" but our history and laws reflect this reality. The question could be asked how did we merit such a unique land?
An incredible insight is presented by Rabbi Leff of Israel. The verse in Parshas "Ki Tisa" tells of the mitzvah that all Jewish males are required to go to Jerusalem three times a year, for the holidays of Pesach, Shevuot, and Succot. There they are to gain spiritual inspiration for themselves and their families to last the entire year. But there's one serious problem with such a command. Who's going to protect the women, children, and property? Won't the surrounding enemy nations figure out the holiday cycle and send in their troops when we are vulnerable?
The verse tells us not to worry. "For I shall drive out the nations before you and broaden your boundary: no man will desire your land when you go up to appear before Hashem, three times a year." Hashem will protect His people and His land. But there's something strange about the promise. Why does the verse say that "no man will desire your land"? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say Hashem will protect us? How do we know they won't want our land? Maybe they will want it, but Hashem will protect us anyway.
When Hashem decided to give the Torah, the Medrash tells us He first offered it to the other nations. They asked what was in it, and, when hearing a response that wasn't to their liking, they declined. The Jewish people, on the other hand, said "we will do, and we will understand (later)" (Naaseh, v'nishmah). We accepted the Torah with the full realization that Hashem's word must be the very best thing. In short, we wanted it and the other nations didn't.
The land of Israel is that one unique country made for fulfilling the Torah. Many commentators inform us that the place where mitzvot (the commandments) have their greatest spiritual impact is Israel. That's the purpose of this wonderful land. If so, in the same way the other nations didn't want the Torah, they also don't really want the place that was made for keeping the Torah. They don't want the "burdens" of doing what Hashem commands and they don't want to be in a land that facilitates that lifestyle. And If we see that the nations seem to want the land, the underlying reason is that we're not using the land as it's supposed to used, to live a life of holiness and purity. When we are living according to our lofty abilities, they won't want it in the same way they don't want the Torah.
For the Jewish people who do want to do Hashem's will the land of Israel allows us to reach our physical and spiritual potential. Not only is the land the best environment for keeping our beloved Torah, it actually "helps" us become who we are supposed to be.
The blessings for those keeping Shemita, finding merit for an offender, and gaining wisdom aren't random miracles that happened in our land. They are expressions of love between Hashem and the Jewish people. Because ultimately the Torah is His Torah and the land is His land. And in His infinite kindness He gave us both as the best way to come close to Him.
Whether we presently live in Israel or not, we should yearn to be in the place that will assist us to become the holy nation we truly are. May Hashem bring back all the exiled of His people back to His land speedily in our days.