Touring the Holy Land

A week or so ago I was speaking to Rabbi Robert Pilavin of New Jersey about his congregation’s upcoming trip to Israel.  Some of the participants have been to Israel, while others are first-timers.  Planning the itinerary is a challenge, he remarked, as there are certain sites which are “must-sees” for one’s maiden voyage to the Holy Land, while those who have seen them before may be willing to forgo them in order to see something less-frequented.

All said and done, a trip to Israel is something that everyone I know would look forward to with relish, although recent current events sometimes leave one with a less-than-sanguine feeling.

I am fortunate to have visited Israel a few times, and have toured most of the famous sites, as well as many of the lesser-known locations.

One thing that most people comment about Israel is its remarkable beauty.  Such a tiny country contains an extremely diverse geography, from the Negev desert in the south, to the Galil and Golan mountain ranges in the North.

The Torah portion for this week, Eikev, contains a description of the qualities of the Land of Israel.  The accolades include:

“The Land… is a land of (arable) mountains and plains, and it is watered by rains from the skies, a land which G-d, your G-d, cares about.  The eyes of G-d Almighty are continually upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Deut. 11:11-12).

It is common for us to point out the striking beauty of the Holy Land.  Everyone seems to have a favorite city or place, and the common denominator seems to be, “Israel is so beautiful!”

A person could spend days, even weeks, walking the streets in awe, snapping photos at every turn, admiring the fig trees and grape vines, and gazing at the Mediterranean Sea.

Yet all of this could distract one from Israel’s true beauty: the physical beauty of the Land is merely reflective of its spiritual beauty.

Off all the lands and countries on this planet, only regarding Israel does the Torah testify, “The eyes of G-d Almighty are continually upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

One who is fortunate enough to live in Israel should certainly strive to live their life in accordance with the inner spiritual beauty of the Land.

And what of us, Americans, who from time-to-time are fortunate enough to visit, bringing back memories and a digital memory card of photos?

When visiting the Holy Land, we should recall that it is the “land which G-d cares about,” and we should not treat it as just another tourist attraction.  Our visit should be imbued with consciousness and awareness of what constitutes the essential beauty of Israel.

A mere visit should impact who we are, as the Talmud (Bava Batra 158b) states, “the air of the Land of Israel makes on wiser.”

If Israel is merely a tourist attraction – one of many in the world – this does not contribute to the future of our Land.  A higher consciousness when visiting will imbue our day-to-day activities when we return from a visit with greater meaning, purpose, and a greater commitment to Jewish values.

With our greater commitment and dedication, we will merit the coming of Mashiach, when we will all return to the Holy Land, and be able to appreciate its physical and spiritual beauty.