Soul of the Holy City

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Last week, we described the miraculous capacity of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim to accommodate throngs of Jews beyond normal physical constraints. How can a physical space hold more than its natural capabilities? The Maharal (to Gittin 57a) explains that it is, in fact, impossible for a physical vessel to upend the natural order and contain more than its receptable. However, Eretz Yisrael does not operate on the principles of nature alone. Rather, the land is imbued with a miraculous spirit which allows it to transcend natural bounds while maintaining the illusion of natural cause and effect. This is why it is called the Eretz HaTzvi; the swiftness of the deer represents the ability to rise above physical lethargy and gashmi limitations. Other lands, in contrast, are thick and coarse, operating strictly on an earthbound regiment. 

The parable of the deer delves even deeper. When the deer is alive and possesses a non-physical soul, its hide can expand to incorporate more physical matter. Because it is imbued with a nefesh that is unbound by the physical realm, it can accomplish things that seem slightly beyond the physical realm. But when the deer is no longer alive, its hide is now fully physical and limited. 

Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem operate in a similar fashion. The “soul” of Eretz Yisrael is Bnei Yisrael. As the Maharal notes, the land is only “alive” when Bnei Yisrael inhabit it. This is why the very name of the land is intertwined with the name of the Jewish people. When Klal Yisrael reside within Eretz Yisrael, when the soul of the land is residing within her borders, her miraculous capabilities manifest themselves and transcend natural boundaries. 

But when the land is bereft of her soulmate, she “dies”. Her supernatural capabilities lay dormant just as the soil will not yield its plentiful bounty. As we know, the land of Eretz Yisrael laid desolate for years before Jews began to return to her in large numbers. 

So too, Jerusalem will only express her miraculous capabilities when the Jews return to her. This can perhaps shed light on an interesting distinction between the first and second temple. Hazal tell us that there were many miracles that occurred in the Beit HaMikdash and Jerusalem during the first temple period that did not occur during the second temple. There are many reasons for this distinction, but the Maharal’s comments reveal another layer. Perhaps the miracles of the Har HaBayit could not express themselves when so many Jews volitionally remained in Bavel instead of ascending to Eretz Yisrael with Ezra. When the soul of Jerusalem partially remains in exile, she will remain dormant.  We must remember that Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim are incomplete without every single Jew. Each Jew is an essential part of the nefesh that imbues the Holy Land and Holy City with their transcendent nature. May we merit to see the complete return of Jerusalem’s soul, speedily in our days.

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