Parshat Vaetchanan By: Rabbi Moshe Goodman, Kollel Ohr Shlomo, Hebron בס”ד
לשכנו תדרשו Inviting the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
And I Prayed Unto Hashem
We may say that the obligation to direct our prayers towards the Holy Land in halacha, as based on the prayer of Daniel, is actually rooted in our obligation to seek the Holy Presence in our Holy Land. By facing the Land of Israel in our prayers, when “the Holy Presence is before us,” we essentially connect ourselves to the primary resting place of this Holy Presence, the Land of Israel.
Indeed, the essential obligation to seek the Holy Presence in the Holy Land in our prayers and blessings explains why the Land of Israel plays such a prominent role within them. As we will demonstrate, every Jew is biblically obligated to connect to the Holy Presence of the Land of Israel and of the Temple in his prayers. In addition, every Jew is biblically obligated to bless Hashem in the Grace After Meals for the gift of the Land of Israel that God granted to the Jewish People, as it is stated: “And you shall eat and be satisfied and bless Hashem Your God for the good Land He has given you.”
This biblical obligation to face the Land of Israel and the Temple, thereby connecting to the Holy Presence of the Land of Israel and of the Temple, may be derived from the verse “serve Him with all your hearts” in the following manner. The Rambam discusses the biblical obligation to pray in the beginning of Hilchot Tefilla in the Mishneh Torah: “It is a positive Torah commandment to pray every day… Similarly, [according to the Biblical commandment alone] the number of prayers was dependent on each person’s ability. Some would pray once daily; others, several times. Everyone would pray facing the Holy Temple, wherever he might be. This was the ongoing practice from [the time of] Moshe Rabbenu until Ezra.”
On a simple level, we can explain that facing the Temple automatically means facing the Land of Israel, since the Temple, located in Jerusalem, is obviously located within the Land of Israel. However, it is clear from the source of the Rambam’s ruling (Berachot 30a) that there is actually a distinct obligation to face the Land of Israel itself, as derived by the Gemara from the verse in Shlomo HaMelech’s prayer “and they shall pray to You through their Land.”
Moreover, according to the Adnei Yad Hachazaka, Bnei Binyamin, and other commentators, both the requirement of facing the Temple as well as that of facing the land of Israel are indeed of biblical origin. With regard to facing the Temple, they explain that since the biblical source for prayer is the verse “serve Him with all your hearts,” it follows that this “service” (avoda) entails a connection to the Service of the Temple. With regard to facing the Land of Israel, they explain further that the proof text from Shlomo HaMelech’s prayer is actually only an allusion to a prior biblical obligation from the time of Moshe Rabeinu to do so. What is the reason for this biblical obligation?
Let us first clarify why facing the Temple is so deeply linked to the essence of prayer, and we can then better understand why the same is true for the Land of Israel as well. To “serve God” is interpreted by the poskim to mean that a basic intent that one is speaking before God’s Holy Presence is such an important requirement for prayer that without this intent, such a prayer is considered invalid. Based on this, it can be explained that an integral part of serving God through prayer before His Holy Presence is also associated with the primary manifestation of His Holy Presence in the Temple. Concerning the connection of the Land of Israel to the Beit Hamikdash, the Gemara (Chullin 92a), in addition to other sources, associates the entire Land of Israel with the “House of Hashem,” i.e., the Beit Hamikdash. Simply explained, the identification of the Land of Israel with the Temple is due to the dwelling of the Holy Presence in the Holy Land in the same manner as it does in the Temple, albeit to a lesser degree. Halachically speaking, this unique connection between the Temple and the Land of Israel can also be seen in the biblical commandments of the Omer offering and the Two Loaves offered in the Temple (on Pesach and Shavuot, respectively), which must be brought specifically from the Land of Israel (see Mishna Kelim ch. 1). Consequently, connecting to the Holy Presence of the Temple also involves connecting to the closely related Holy Presence of the Holy Land. We may say that just as the Land of Israel is key when connecting to the Holy Presence, so too Hebron, the roots of Israel’s connection to the Holy Land, is key for us when connecting to the Holy Land and the Holy Presence therein.
Real Stories from the Holy Land
In 1775, the Hebron Jewish community was rocked by a blood libel, in which Jews were falsely accused of murdering the son of a local sheikh. The community — which was largely sustained by donations from abroad — was made to pay a crushing fine, which further worsened its already shaky economic situation. Despite its poverty, the community managed, in 1807, to purchase a 5-dunam plot — upon which the city’s wholesale market stands today — and after several years the sale was recognized by the Hebron Waqf. In 1811, 800 dunams of land were acquired to expand the cemetery. In 1817, the Jewish community numbered approximately 500, and by 1838, it had grown to 700, despite a pogrom which took place in 1834, during Mohammed Ali’s rebellion against the Ottomans (1831-1840).
1. Rambam, Hilchot Tefilla 5:6
2. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 98:1
3. See Rambam quoted here. Moreover, even the Ramban who holds (in contrast to Rambam) that only prayer at times of misfortune is biblical also cites Shlomo HaMelech’s prayer mentioning “and they shall pray to You through their Land” in that context.
4. See also Rambam, Hilchot Tefilla 5:3.