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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
Rashi, the famed eleventh …

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Home » Israel, Toldot

Toldot : Israel and Beyond

Submitted by on October 15, 2004 – 7:02 pmNo Comment | 2,866 views

Our Pasha extols the virtue of Abraham. (1) “He kept my charge, my commandments my decrees and my laws.” The great Commentator Rashi, (Shlomo Yitzchaki, Scholar and author, eleventh century France) explained that Avraham kept all the commandments that were later given at Sinai, including the minute details, the decrees that defy understanding and the rabbinical injunctions.

This interpretation Prompted Nachmanidies, (Moshe ben Nachman, philosopher and kabbalist, twelfth century Spain) to ask why Jacob, who studied in the same academy as his grandfather Abraham and presumably kept the commandments including the prohibitions against incest, was wed to two sisters at once?

Nachmanidies suggested that our Patriarchs kept the commandments only while they lived in Israel. Yaakov married his wives outside of Israel and though he eventually returned it is interesting to note that Rachel, one of the two sisters to whom he was married, passed away immediately upon the family’s return to Israel.

We don’t claim to know why Rachel passed away at that particular point, but the reader will recall that Rachel was the second sister to marry Jacob. It is possible that Jacob consented to the second marriage only because he prophetically knew that she would no longer be alive upon his return to Israel. (2)

Many classic commentators agree with this view. Even Rashi, who did not suggest that the patriarchs only observed the commandments while living in Israel, agrees that our obligation to observe the commandments, is primarily applicable while we live in Israel.

He argues that our purpose in observing the commandments outside of Israel is to preserve the tradition, so that we might return to it when we eventually return to Israel. (3)

Ministering Angels versus the Land of Everything

In a separate passage (4) Nachmanidies explains the unique quality of our land and why it is distinguished as the primary location for observance of the divine commandments.

(5) G-d appointed an angel to preside over every nation. This angel is the medium through which G-d’s blessing flows to the nation.

According to Jewish law it is sufficient for a Non-Jew to accept G-d through the medium of his ministering angel. He is not obliged to maintain an exclusive faith in G-d. He is permitted to deify any being of his choice, including his own ministering angel. This, with the caveat that he must he accept G-d as the supreme deity – the source and creator of his chosen deity.

Israel is the only country over which G-d presides directly without the mediation of ministering angels.

This direct relationship is reflected in the Torah’s description of Israel as the “land of everything.” (9) Nachmanidies teaches that this word has hidden meaning. It refers to the essence of G-d’s creative power that incorporates the potential for “every possible creation.” This essence of G-d’s creative power is invested in the land of Israel, the land of “everything,” without the intervention of ministering angels.

The People and the Land

The Torah tells us that our Patriarch Abraham was also blessed with “everything.” (10) This means that Abraham merited the same relationship with G-d as does the land of Israel. Nachmanidies taught that we, the people of Israel – children of Abraham, inherited this direct link to the essence of G-d. Neither the Jewish nation nor the Jewish land require the services of mediating angels.

Our relationship with G-d is independent of the land's relationship with G-d. Yet when we are present in our land the two relationship streams are merged and grow exponentially. When the separate sparks of nation and land coalesce, they thrive and blossom in unprecedented ways.

This explains the classic view that our Mitzvot obligations are primarily in Israel. As our relationship with G-d intensifies in Israel so does our obligation to his commandments. There are in fact many commandments that are only practiced in Israel. Person-based commandments, such as Shabbat, are universally practiced but land-based commandments, such as Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, are practiced only in Israel.

The Day Will Come

Rashi’s contention, that our purpose in observing the commandments outside of Israel today is to preserve the tradition for our eventual return to Israel, might now be understood in an entirely new light.

A time will come when the entire world will enjoy the unique relationship with G-d that is enjoyed by Israel today. Our sages taught that in the messianic era the land of Israel will expand to cover the whole of the world. This means that G-d will manifest a direct relationship with all countries, and invest his “everything” within them, as he does with Israel today. It follows that at that time our Mitzvot obligation will be equally manifest the world over.

In light of the above it is possible to argue that we must preserve our tradition today not only for the purpose of our eventual return to Israel but in anticipation of Israel’s expansion to the whole of the world.

Furthermore: Our Mitzvot not only anticipate this time but also help to hasten its arrival. Every time we observe a Mitzvah outside of Israel we divine a little bit of the extant, but as of yet dormant, “everything” spark within that location. As soon as the sparks reach critical mass they will be fully activated and the Moshiach will finally come.


  1. Genesis 26, 5.
  2. ibid.
  3. Deuteronomy 11.
  4. Leviticus 18.
  5. Daniel 10 13.
  6. Our patriarch Jacob alluded to this when he woke from his famous dream on the temple mount and cried out, “I am standing upon the gate of heaven!” (7) Why did he refer to the temple mount as the gate of heaven? Because the entry gates to the temple were precisely aligned with the entry gates to heaven. When we enter the temple we enter G-d’s domain. It is an immediate link that requires no mediating angels. (8)
  7. Genesis 28.
  8. Midrash Rabba 69.
  9. Deuteronomy 8.
  10. Genesis 24. See Nachmanidies there for further insight.