“Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:17
There are matters that we can know by learning about them – by reading a manual or taking a course. But then there are matters that cannot be fully known except through experience – by intimate and direct interaction with the source.
The Land of Israel is one of these. We can read all the books in the world about it. We can watch video clips or talk with people who have been there, but to really taste of the holiness of Israel, we need to place our feet upon its sacred soil.
On one level, we experience the power and beauty of Israel from the moment we land. We feel proud being in a country where people speak Hebrew and follow the Jewish calendar. We are moved by the experience of seeing all the sites from our ancient history suddenly come alive. We are energized by the vibrant and dynamic young society that has developed. We are inspired by the vital and creative Jewish/Israeli culture that is flourishing in the land.
But all this is only on the surface. They are impressions of the mind and the emotions. There is another level of understanding that comes through prolonged contact. It is a knowledge that gradually seeps into us over a long period of time. It is an inner wisdom that arises in the soul. It is a truth that reaches to the essence of who we are and where we come from. This truth awakens the memory of the power of the Temple within us. It reminds us of the promise that we made on Mount Sinai long ago.
After God told Abraham that he would give the land of Israel to his descendants, after he had promised that they would be as numerous as the grains of dust of the earth, God asked Abraham to walk the length and breadth of the land of Israel. God asked Abraham to do this because He wanted the very life of the land to permeate into the depth of Abraham’s soul.
We have not returned to the Land of Israel so that we can become a normal nation among nations. Nor have we come back to Israel simply to be a place of refuge for all of the world’s Jews. We have not returned in order to build an ideal society or to revive our cultural heritage. We have been brought back after two thousand years of exile in order to fulfill a mission in the Plan of God.
The world has changed a great deal in two thousand years, and so have we. We will not discover our Divine mission by simply trying to return to a role that was given to us nearly four thousand years ago. Nor will we be able to work out our path by jettisoning all the hopes and dreams that have carried us through the long years of exile. Everything that was said will find its fulfillment, but in a new light and with a fresh meaning that reflects the reality in which we live today.
We will not discover this new meaning and understanding by looking outward – by comparing ourselves to or by imitating other nations. We will only find the way forward by “walking the land” and looking deep into ourselves.
In Halacha (Jewish Law), walking around an area is one way of making a chazakah, an established claim. By walking through the Land of Israel, we attune ourselves with its spiritual vibration. By walking through the Land of Israel, we make it our own.
So much has happened to us in the past seventy years that we have forgotten how to listen to the land. We have forgotten how to harness the spiritual power of Eretz Yisrael. We have forgotten how to hear the still, small voice speaking to us.
There is a power and a beauty to walking the Land of Israel. We can feel the Divine livingness of the land rising up through our feet. The power is tangible in the air. It emanates from rock, shrub and tree. It penetrates into us with every step that we take.
But more than anything else, it is the inner process that takes place as we walk the land that is crucial. Walking through the land moves us beyond the outer reality of day-to-day life; it liberates us from the thoughtforms and emotions that permeate our consciousness during the daily struggles to keep ourselves, and our country, strong and alive. By communing with the land we gain clarity of thought and purity of mind – essential qualities if we hope to uncover the spiritual heart of Israel.
The Talmud tells us that each day there are bat kols (heavenly voices) that call out to us from the heavens. These Divine pleas are heard with an extra clarity in the Land of Israel. They exhort us to live by a higher aspiration and find a greater purpose for our country. They tell us to stop searching for answers outside ourselves and look deep within instead.
When Cain murders his brother Abel, the Torah tells us that God confronts Cain with the words, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
The land takes up the energy of all of our actions. It echoes all of our thoughts and feelings back to us. It reflects who we are and how we treat each other. It is a mirror in which we can see ourselves.
The Land of Israel shows us both our highest aspirations and our lowest instincts. It reflects our ability for great effort and sacrifice, but also our capacity for tremendous selfishness and greed.
This is one level of the bat kol that is calling out to us from the land, telling us how to move forward as a people and a nation. There is another more profound level on which this “heavenly voice” is speaking to us as well. We access this revelation by walking the lands of the inner realms. We discover its beauty by exploring the hills and valleys of the Kingdom of Heaven. We grasp its truth by establishing a living link with our Divine essence. We see its vision by awakening the higher consciousness of our true Self.
To hear this ruach kodesh – this voice of the Holy Spirit – we must undertake strong spiritual work and inner purification. To hear this voice, we need to delve into the realm of meditation and prayer. To be ready for this Divine communication we need to build a center point of holiness and sanctity within us. To receive this higher inspiration we must rise above our lower selves.
God told Abraham: “Arise and walk the land in the length of it – leorecha – and in the breadth of it – lerochva.”
The Hebrew word orech can have the meaning of both length and fullness as in Psalm 91: 16 “orech yamim azbiahu”, “I will satiate him with long life”, or literally “long days.” “Orech yamim” means more than just a long life; it also implies a certain quality of living where each day is full and meaningful.
The Hebrew word rachav has the meaning of both breadth and expansion. Rebbe Nachman speaks of harchavat hadaat – the expansion of consciousness.
To walk the length of the land, then, means to develop a depth of outlook on life and a fullness of experience. To walk the breadth of the land is to expand our consciousness and broaden our point of view.
The prophet Isaiah foretold a time when the land would be “filled with knowledge of God.” Rav Abraham Isaac Kook saw the State of Israel as the first step in the birth of a new teaching and consciousness where the aspirations or “song” of the individual resonates with the song of the nation, the song of all of humanity and the song of the universe.
Some of us were born in Israel and walk the land naturally. Others have come to the Holy Land from afar and walk the land through much effort and sacrifice. Still others live outside of Israel and walk the land through the pain of separation and longing. We all can walk “the length and breadth of the land” in our interior pathways. Each of us can take this journey of the spirit and discover a new vision for ourselves.
Copyright © 2009, by Yoel Glick