“Truth will sprout from the Land…“ (Tehillim 85:12)
When Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk ז”ל wrote “…the Land of Israel has a soul…” what did he mean? 1
Soul implies life, awareness, individuality, and self-expression. But how can skies, mountains, rivers, or trees speak? The quest to understand the soul of Eretz Yisrael is the quest to know who we are and what we may become, as individuals and as a society.
The perception of beauty has a powerful effect. No matter what our culture or religious belief, beautiful things calm and heal our spirit. And although “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, studies in aesthetics have established that a universally shared perception of beauty is mysteriously hidden within landscapes.
In a subtle but powerful way, when Israel’s tradition, history, and topography converge they join forces to create a uniquely therapeutic, uplifting effect on every human soul. Israel’s landscapes are imbued with a special grace – חן – (chen) that sets them apart from all others.
The Hebrew word for beauty – יפי – (yofi) means a pleasant harmony created by the combination of diverse elements. So diversity is the secret. The soul of the Land has twelve distinct voices, and there are twelve separate gates to her heart, corresponding to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Through traditional Torah texts and close observation of nature, “Learning from the Land” explores the resonance between each of the 12 Tribes of Israel and the natural qualities of their nachala (inherited allotment) in Eretz Yisrael. This correspondence also relates to the particular spiritual qualities of the Hebrew calendar’s twelve lunar months.2
The various landscapes of Eretz Yisrael, when seen in the light of the Torah, become bright, clear mirrors in which we can catch glimpses of our potential. Through exploring, month by month, each nachala, may we learn to appreciate and, with Hashem’s help, incorporate the multifaceted beauty of the Land to become worthy of becoming part of her song – the expression of her soul.
קְחוּ מִזִּמְרַת הָאָרֶץ בִּכְלֵיכֶם
“Take, in your vessels [or musical instruments], the produce [literally ‘melodies’] of the Land…”
– Bereishis 43:11
מִכְּנַף הָאָרֶץ זְמִרֹת שָׁמַעְנו
“From the furthest reaches of the Land we heard song…”
– Yishayahu 24:16