Centrality of the Land of Israel
What is so special about Israel? Why couldn't God make everything happen in America or some other country? If you say the answer is that "the history of the Jews happens there," then why couldn't it all have happened in some other place?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Theodore Herzl entertained a plan for the Jews to live in Uganda, and a 19th century American diplomat named Mordechai Manuel Noah launched a "Jewish Homeland" on a small island near Niagara Falls. Yet God chose the Land of Israel as the chosen land, and Jerusalem as its spiritual focus. Why?
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes in "Eye of the Universe":
"If you look at a map you will see the geographical location of the Land of Israel virtually guaranteed that it would play a key role in the tides of civilization. The Old World consisted of two great landmasses, Eurasia (Europe and Asia) and Africa. It was impossible to travel from Eurasia to Africa without passing through the Holy Land. Therefore, every conqueror, every civilization that passed from one continent to the other had to pass through the Holy Land and come in contact with the Jew. The Land of Israel thus interacted with virtually every great civilization, and all of them were, to some degree, influenced by the teachings of the Torah.
Besides being a gateway between north and south, the Holy Land is part of the keystone link between east and west. There are mountains in Israel where a cup of water spilled on the western slope will eventually flow in the Atlantic Ocean, while one spilled on the eastern slope will flow into the Pacific. In the past, most caravan routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific passed directly through the Holy Land. The Land of Israel was therefore literally the crossroads of civilization."
On a much deeper level, however, we see Jerusalem not only as a center of civilization, but also as the very center of the world. The Talmud says that creation began in Jerusalem, and the world radiated outward from this place. Medieval maps show Jerusalem at the epicenter of Asia, Europe, and Africa. The world flows into this spot, and all life's forces resonate here. From this place, the whole world is cast into perspective.
The centrality of Jerusalem – and particularly Mount Moriah – has continued throughout history. Cain and Abel – and later Noah – brought offerings to God at this place. Abraham came to Mount Moriah and bound his son Isaac upon an altar; this is also where Jacob dreamed of the ladder. (Maimonides – Beit HaBechira 2:2)
King David purchased this very plot of land to be the site of the first Holy Temple, which was built by King Solomon in 825 BCE. Although 400 years later enemies of the Jews destroyed the Holy Temple and drove the Jews from their land, the Jews returned 70 years later to rebuild the second Holy Temple on the very same spot. Although the Romans destroyed this Temple in 70 CE, they left the remains of the retaining walls standing.
The holiness of this spot flourishes today, as millions of visitors come to pray at the famous Western Wall. The name Jerusalem has two parts: Yira, which means "to see," and shalem, which means "peace." This is the place of peace where God is seen.
Elsewhere, God is a theory, but in Israel, God is seen and felt as a tangible presence. Elsewhere we grope for insight. In Israel we achieve clarity.