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Monday, January 17, 2022

Parshat Ekev – Blessing on the Land

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By: Rabbi David Bibi

The portion of Ekev which we read this week, makes numerous references to HaAretz – and Moses was not referring to the Israeli newspaper of the same name, but rather to the Aretz of the land of Israel.

We begin with Moses assuring us that if we “observe … then Hashem will bless you …. On the land’. We continues some verses later with the pasuk we uses as the basis for Birkat HaMazon or what we refer to as the “Grace after meals”. There we note that it says ‘you will eat and be satisfied, and bless Hashem on the good land’. There are a number of other references to the land. And then in Chapter 11, we find the second paragraph of the Shema which we read multiple times each day. Vehaya Im Shamoah – “If you observe the Mitzvot …… In order that your days and those of your children will be long … on the land that Hashem swore to your fathers to give to them.”

This morning we were discussing a point brought by the Arizal relating to how our tefilot when said in Eres Yisrael are different from Tefilot said in Galut and how we relate to Hashem differently based on where we are. Thinking about the discussion, I recalled many years ago, when I chatted about this point with my youngest children, Moses and Mariyah. At bed time each night we would review the perasha, section by section. They asked, “Does it mean that a person can only be blessed with long life while living in the land?”

At the time, my go to source was an excellent website called Torah Tots. Together we read the story as posted which is based on what the Talmud writes in Berachot page 8A. . I quote from the Torah Tots website:

The Talmud relates that when they told Reb Yochanan that there were elderly people in Bavel, he was surprised, seeing as from the above posuk (verse) it is clear that longevity is restricted to “the land” which refers to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), and not the Diaspora. But when they informed him that the elders of Bavel would arrive in shul (synagogue) early to daven (pray) each morning and stay there late into the evening, he understood that it was through their attachment to the shul that they merited old age.

The Kli Yakar points out that the question still remains. For when all’s said and done, the Torah writes “on the land” etc., (referring to Eretz Yisrael) and the shuls of Bavel were not in Eretz Yisrael. And what is the significance of being in shul at early and late hours?

The Kli Yakar answers this question with a Talmud in Megilah (29a), which states that every shul is an integral part of Eretz Yisrael. The Talmud quotes Reb Eliezer, who says that the shuls in Bavel will one day be relocated to Eretz Yisrael. In that case, concludes the Kli Yakar, it is correct to refer to them as part of Eretz Yisrael, and a Jew who davens in shul is actually standing in the Holy Land. Those people who lived in the shul, so to speak, and who grow old, are people who are growing old in Eretz Yisrael.

One of the miracles that will occur during the final redemption is that all shuls and batei midrash (houses of study) will be flown to Eretz Yisroel.

The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohain Kagan of Radin; 1838-1933) took this literally, as recounted by a Jew who lived in a small town where the shul had no floor, just a wooden frame built directly on the ground. Distraught by this lack of respect, the Chofetz Chaim came to the town, gathered the people and gave the following drasha (speech).

“Chazal (our Sages) tell us that all the shuls of the Diaspora will be brought to Eretz Yisroel when Moshiach comes. What for? Do you think just the empty building will be taken? Of course not. All the people that daven in that shul will be assembled there, and the building with all its congregants will be lifted up and carried to Eretz Yisaoel. But if there is no floor, the building will go, while its congregants will be left behind!”

Needless to say, the effect was electrifying, and the people fixed up the shul with lightning speed.

Thus, the Kli Yakar concludes, whoever rises early to go to shul and stays in shul late gives more honor to the house of Hashem. Therefore Hashem “prolongs his days … on the land” because it is as if he spends the best part of his days in Eretz Yisrael.

I was sitting with a client today. She is the wife of an esteemed Talmid Haham. She suggested that we need to recognize the changing world we are living in. Where generations passed often only dreamed of the land of Israel, today we can be there in a matter of hours. As I type this, my son Moses is on a flight back from Israel. People commute from Israel. And more so, we chat via IPhone or Skype or a myriad of other possibilities. We are so connected.

When we can’t enjoy ourselves in the Holy Land itself and when we are physically not in front of the Kotel, we can still be there in a way. We have a transport device available to all of us. We can step into the transporter and instantaneously be in the presence of Hashem. We can step into Jerusalem, into the old city, to the temple mount, the temple and even into the holy of holies. The transporter is our local Synagogue and Yeshiva. They have the power to take us directly to holy of holies.

The thought makes us pause. How would I behave if I were the high priest on Yom Kippur about to enter the holy of holies? How would I treat the place? How would I care for the place? We should ponder the though every time we step through the doors of the Synagogue. See you all in Jerusalem!

Rabbi David Bibi is the Rabbi of the Sephardic Congregation of Long Beach and has taught in many community Synagogues. He has written and edited a weekly newsletter “Shabbat Shalom from Cyberspace” for 19 years, and can be reached at [email protected]

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