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The Reason

Based on a shiur by Dayan Shlomo Cohen

In Parshat Bereishit, the Torah mentions a river that came out of Gan Eden which split into four rivers: Pishon, Gichon, Chidekel, and Parat (known today as the Euphrates). Later on in Devarim, the Torah refers to the fourth river Parat as the Great River. Parat is listed last on the list because it was the smallest of the four rivers. Why then does the Torah call it the Great River? Rashi explains that in Devarim the river of Parat is mentioned together with the land of Israel as being one of its southern borders. Therefore it was called the Great River.

Rashi notes that this can be compared to a slave and a king. Since the slave is a servant of the king he has to be respected. If the Torah calls a river great because it was mentioned in connection with Eretz Yisrael, how much more so are all those who merit to live or visit the land. Eretz Yisrael has the quality of elevating all those who are connected to it to higher levels. Chazal tell us that a prophet can only prophesy in the land of Israel. When the prophet Yonah ran away to Tarshish his plan was to leave Eretz Yisrael so that he’d fall spiritually and not be able to receive prophesy. This teaches us the remarkable power of the land.

The Gemara in Nedarim tells the story of a group of Jews who were on their way to Israel. When they arrived in the land, there was a murder among them. One of the travelers was the Amora Ulla who went to speak to the great Rabbi Yochanan. Rabbi Yochanan was shocked to hear the story. How could a Jew murder another Jew in Israel? Rashi explains that he was really asking, “How can it be that a Jew could get so angry that he would come to murder in Israel?” The Gemara explains that the murder happened when the travelers hadn’t yet crossed the Jordan River. They were in captured land that was now considered Israel, but they hadn’t actually reached the Promised Land. Rabbi Yochanan said, “Now I understand. That place is not as holy as the land of Israel.” We see the incredible sanctity of Eretz Yisrael and the great impact it has on its inhabitants.

The Rambam explains that Hashem appoints a special angel over each country, whose mission is to bring all the prayers of its people to Him. But in Eretz Yisrael there are no angels. Every prayer goes straight to Hashem.

If this is all true, why are there murders in Israel today? Why don’t we sense the exceptional holiness of the land? The Midrash in Devarim Rabah explains, Moshe asked Hashem, “Why is it that Yosef’s bone will merit to be buried in Israel while I will not merit to enter the Holy Land? Hashem answered, “He who praised and was proud of the land will be buried there. He who did not, will not.” After the incident between Yosef and the wife of Potifar, she said, “A Jewish man was brought here to make fun of us.” Yosef replied, “I am a Jew who was taken away from the land of the Jews.” He praised the place from where he had come. Therefore, he merited to be buried in Israel.

In contrast, when Moshe met Yitro, his daughters told their father, “An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds.” Moshe did not immediately counter, “I’m a Jew.” He was in danger. He had just run away from Pharaoh and couldn’t reveal his identity. So he remained silent. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz says it was not a punishment. It’s a metziut, an undisputed fact, that one who doesn’t praise his identity and his land cannot merit to be buried in the Holy Land. Only one who appreciates and values Israel, can sense its holiness and merit to live and be buried there.

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