|THE DESIRE OF KINGS
This week’s parashah enumerates the blessings that Moshe Rabbeinu gave the Children of Israel before he died. Many of these blessings contain clear references to the special qualities – both spiritual and physical – of Eretz Yisrael.
The last verse in Yosef’s blessing states, בכור שורו הדר לו וקרני ראם קרניו בהם עמים ינגח יחדו אפסי ארץ והם רבבות אפרים והם אלפי מנשה (33:17). Rashi explains that this refers to Yehoshua, a descendant of Yosef, who will conquer many kings. On the words בהם עמים ינגח יחדו אפסי ארץ – With them (his horns) he will gore nations together, to the ends of the earth, Rashi writes:
TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: Is it possible that the thirty-one kings [whom Yehoshua conquered] were all from Eretz Yisrael? Rather [the explanation is]: There is not a single king or ruler who did not acquire for himself a palace and a portion in Eretz Yisrael, because it is precious to all of them, as it says, – The inheritance coveted by the hosts of nations (Yirmiyahu 3:19).
The Midrash asserts this concept (that gentile kings covet the Land of Israel) even more forcibly: “Any foreign king who did not acquire a city in Eretz Yisrael was not considered a king” (Midrash Tanchuma, Re’eh 8); or “Any king… who did not acquire a piece of land in Eretz Yisrael would say, ‘I have done nothing’ ” (Sifrei, Eikev). The latter Midrash uses this to explain why several places in Eretz Yisrael (like Mt. Chermon) have more than one name in the Torah: “It is because four (or three or two) kingdoms contended with each other, each one saying, ‘Let the place be named after me.’ ”
R. Yehudah HaLevi sums up this idea in his monumental work, the Kuzari:
Contemplate how much effort people from other nations – like Persia, India, Greece, etc. – expended to have sacrifices and prayers offered on their behalf in that great House [the Holy Temple]. [And contemplate] how much money they spent on that place, even though they espoused other religions…
Furthermore, see how much they honor the Land even today, despite the fact that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is no longer apparent there. All religions make pilgrimages to the Land and covet it until this very day. Only we [the Jewish people] are unable to do so due to the exile and bondage in which we find ourselves. (Kuzari 2:20)
Perhaps a thousand years ago, when R. Yehudah HaLevi lived, we were unable to fully demonstrate our love for Eretz Yisrael, but what is our excuse today? Not only can we visit during the three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh Regalim), we can actually live here and benefit from the Land’s special qualities all year round.