The Land of Prophecy
By Rabbi David Samson
A foundation of Prophecy is that it occurs in Eretz Yisrael or for the sake of the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael. The Vilna Gaon said that the reason Rabbi Yosef Karo was able to have a Maggid (a Celestial Angel) appear to him to disclose secrets of Torah was because he lived in Eretz Yisrael, (Introduction of Rav Chaim Velozener to the commentary of the Gaon on “Safra Di Tzniuta”). While the Maggid first appeared while Rabbi Karo (the Beit Yosef) still lived in Turkey, one of the reasons for its appearance was to command Rabbi Karo and his colleagues to make Aliyah to the Holy Land, where the reception of Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Enlightenment) is pure.
The classic treatise on Jewish Faith, “HaKuzari,” written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, calls the Holy Land – the Land of Prophecy. He states: “Whosoever prophesied did so either in the Holy Land, or concerning it,” (“HaKuzari,” Ch. 2:14; 4:10; 4:17). For example, the Prophecy which Avraham Avinu received in Chutz L’Aretz -“Lech lecha!” – was to command him to go to Israel. Similarly, the Prophecy which Moshe Rabbenu received in Egypt and in the Sinai Wilderness was to take the Children of Israel out of bondage and to bring them to the Promised Land, as the Torah recounts when Hashem first appears to him at the “Burning Bush,” as it says, “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of Mitzrayim and to bring them up out of that land to a Land good and large, to a Land flowing with milk and honey… (Shemot, 3:8). It is also important to note that according to Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi the location of Mount Sinai lies within the borders of Eretz Yisrael.
In the healthy, normative state of the Jewish People, when they live in their unique Holy Land, things like Ruach HaKodesh and Prophecy are the natural norm. Our Sages inform us that in the time of King Shaul there were two hundred prophets, called “zophim.” The Gemara states: “There were, as we have learned, (throughout history) a great many prophets in Israel, double the amount of people who left Egypt,” (Megillah 14a. Shmuel 1:1).
While Ruach HaKodesh can appear anywhere in the world, the home of Prophecy is in Eretz Yisrael. Our Sages stated: “The Divine Presence is not revealed abroad.” Therefore, when the prophet Yonah wanted to cease prophesying, he fled from the Land of Israel, as it says: “But Yonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish… he went abroad and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord, ” (Yonah, 1:3, 1:10; Michilta d’Rebbe Yishmael, Bo. And see, Moed Katan 25A).
In his writings on the Land of Israel, Rabbi Kook teaches: “It is impossible for a Jew to be devoted and faithful to his contemplations, logical reason, conceptualizations and imaginations when he is outside the Land of Israel, compared to their quality of faithfulness in Eretz Yisrael. Revelations of holiness, on whatever level, are clean in Eretz Yisrael according to their level, while outside the Land of Israel, they are mixed with abundant dross and Kelipot,” (“Orot,” Eretz Yisrael, 1:4).
Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Vital writes:
“And should (the seeker of Ruach HaKodesh) be outside of the Land of Israel, even if he is an absolute Tzaddik without any impediments of sin, behold the barriers of the defilement of Chutz L’Aretz, combined with his personal sin of living outside of the Land of Israel, will prevent true and holy Divine Perception from reaching him, “(“Shaarei Kedushah,” Part 4 Gate 3, Pg. 163, Gross Edition).
This axiom was reiterated by Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, commonly known as the Vilna Gaon, in an amazing story related by his greatest student, Rabbi Chaim of Volozion:
“I was once personally involved (with the magnitude of the Gaon’s Divine Revelation) when our Rabbi (referring to the Gaon of Vilna) sent me to my brother, the holy and pious giant of Torah, our teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Zalmen, of blessed memory. Although younger than me in age, my brother is greater than I am in every way. The Gaon of Vilna commanded me to tell him in his name not to give audience to any angel or heavenly messenger that would shortly appear to him. The Gaon explained that even though the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Karo) had a “Maggid” appear to him, this was two-hundred years ago when the generations were proper and he lived in Israel. Especially here (in Vilna) outside of the Land of Israel it is impossible that an entire Divine Revelation will be purely holy without any foreign mixture,” (Introduction to “Safra D’Tzniutah”).
Because the imagination is the faculty of the mind that is used to receive Divine Revelation, if it is not functioning properly, or if it is a place where spiritual static abounds, then the message received will be tainted by dross. In Israel our imaginations are pure and healthy. In contrast, outside of the Land the channel of imagination is sullied with the mixture of impure forces which roam freely throughout the polluted spiritual realms of the nations.
In another essay in “Orot,” Rabbi Kook sharpens the distinction between the spiritual worlds of Eretz Yisrael and the lands of the nations. He writes:
“The imagination in the Land of Israel is lucid and clear, clean and pure, and ready for the revelation of Divine Truth, and for the embodiment of the high, uplifted will of the idealistic trend which is found in the higher echelons of holiness. It is prepared for the explanation of Prophecy and its lights, for the enlightenment of Ruach HaKodesh and its illumination.
“In contrast, the faculty of imagination which is found in the land of the nations is murky, clouded in darkness, in shadows of defilement and pollution. It cannot rise to the heights of Kedushah, and it cannot afford a basis for the influx of Divine Light that rises above all of the baseness of the worlds and their oppressive straits.
“Because the intellect and the imagination are bound up together, and act and interact one upon the other, the intellect which is outside the Land of Israel is also incapable of being illuminated with the light which exists in the Land of Israel. ‘The air of Eretz Yisrael causes wisdom,’” (“Orot,” 1:5).
Regarding the Land of Israel, the Torah tells us: “It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually upon it from the beginning of the year to its end,” (Devarim, 11:12). Hashem Himself reigns directly over the Land of Israel. To govern the rest of the world, Hashem has set angels over the nations. This means that only in the Land of Israel can a person be assured that his prayers and Divine Worship will ascend straight to Hashem. In a manner of speaking, in Chutz L’Aretz prayers and Torah study ascend only to the level of the angel which governs over the foreign nation. In effect, a person is worshipping something other than God. This is why King David said when he had to flee Eretz Yisrael proper to a place ruled by the Philistines, “They have driven me today from my share in the Lord’s inheritance and have said, ‘Go, serve other gods,’” (Shmuel 1, 26:19). The Gemara asks: “Could it be that David worship foreign gods?” Certainly not. The Gemara explains, “Any Jew who lives outside the Land of Israel is like someone who has no G-d,” (Ketubot 110B). In his Commentary on the Torah, the Ramban attributes this interrupted connection with Hashem to the fact that a person who leaves the Land comes under the jurisdiction of the Celestial Minister which Hashem had placed to govern there, and he is thus no longer under the direct providence and watchful eyes of Hashem, (Ramban, Achrei Mot, 18:25).
Does this mean that if you don’t live in Israel you’re out of the game? No! Even though the Vilna Gaon bemoans the impure level of Ruach HaKodesh outside of Israel, we wouldn’t mind having his level of Ruach HaKodesh while living in Vilna.
What then was his secret? How was he able to attain such a high level of Ruach HaKodesh in the spiritually environment of Chutz L’Aretz? The secret lies in wanting to live in Israel. The Vilna Gaon genuinely yearned to ascend to the Land of Israel. He pleaded with tears for his students to make Aliyah and begin to resettle the Promised Land. He himself sold his possession’s and set off for the Holy Land without his wife and children until he was mysteriously returned midway (see the Letter of the Gra to His Wife upon His Departure for Israel).
If a person yearns to dwell in the Land, and if he is truly regretful in not being able to reside there, then a part of the spiritual light of Eretz Yisrael will shine upon him. This is not the same as actually living in Eretz Yisrael, but it’s enough to tune into a channel of Ruach HaKodesh which is available to all those who truly seek to unite their lives with the blessing that emanates out to the world from Zion. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes: “According to the magnitude of an individual’s yearning for and connection to Eretz Yisrael, his contemplations become clear due to the foundation of ‘the air of Eretz Yisrael’ which hovers over everyone who desires to see her. ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her,’” (For a more in-depth explanation, see the book, “Lights on Orot,” Chs.4-6, by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman, found elsewhere on this website).