Dina & Barry Kornblau with their family after making Aliyah to Jerusalem just in
Dina & Barry Kornblau with their family after making Aliyah to Jerusalem just inCredit: Nefesh B'Nefesh

Whether you are a budding baal t’shuva or a fummer from birth, if you want to get close to Hashem the place to do it is in the Land of Israel.

The book “Mesillat Yesharim” (Path of the Just) is one of the most universally acclaimed books about Judaism. In the first chapter, the book’s author, the Ramchal, states that the purpose of life is to get close to Hashem. Everything else, he says, is pure vanity.

In the book, “The Kuzari” another classic of Jewish Faith, the gentile king chastises the Rabbi saying that if Eretz Yisrael is truly the Land of Hashem as the Torah Scholar maintains then the Rabbi is amiss in not going to live there. In shame, the Rabbi agrees. Indeed, at the end of their discourse, the Rabbi sets sail for Israel, saying that a Jew’s service of Hashem can only be perfect in the special place designed for that purpose. (Note that the author of “The Kuzari” and the author of “Mesillat Yesharim” both made Aliyah.)

The Zohar relates that Avraham searched to discover Hashem in the place where he lived. Hashem’s first words to Avraham were “Lech lecha!” If you want to come close to me then go to the Land I will show you. Only there will you understand what I have to tell you.

Further examples should be superfluous. After all, the entire narrative of the Torah centers around the establishment of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. The Spies in the Wilderness who did not want to live in Israel were all destroyed. Hashem labeled them “rebels” in rejecting life in the Holy Land.

The point is – if you want to truly get close to Hashem, the place to do so is in His Cherished Land, which, the Torah attests, He gazes upon from the beginning of the year till the end. Our holy Forefathers longed for the Land of Israel and demanded to be buried there when they were forced to leave the Land. The center of our daily prayers is the ingathering of the exiles to Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of David. Year after year, we yearn “Next year in Jerusalem.”

The simple fact is that the Land of Israel is holy and the rest of the world is not. Even non-Jews recognize this. As the old joke goes, in America is a long distance phone call to Hashem, while in the Holy Land it is a local call.

Rabbi Kook, in the beginning of his book “Orot” presents a deep explanation of this phenomenon. Briefly, the lands of the Gentiles are surrounded by spiritually-polluted “husks” which block out Hashem’s Presence. Thus the prayers of a Jew in the Diaspora don’t ascend in their full purity and power. Also, as the Talmud teaches, Torah learning is impaired. And, as “The Kuzari” teaches, the Jewish People’s highest talent, prophecy, only occurs in the Land of Israel or on behalf of it.

On a personal level (and many Israelis will tell you the same), whenever I visited my parents in South Florida before they made Aliyah, the moment I landed I felt that there was no kedusha (holiness) in the air. I had the overwhelming feeling that there was no “fear of Hashem” (yirat Shamayim) – the same feeling which Avraham experienced when he went to the territory of Avimelech.

Indeed, when King David was forced to leave Eretz Yisrael proper, he says, “I have been banished from the Land of Hashem to serve other gods.” The Talmud questions: “Could it be that David worshipped idols?” The Talmud answers that a Jew who leaves the Land of Israel is like one who worships idols. Similarly, in his commentary to the Torah, Rashi states that a Jew in the Diaspora is like a person with no God. (Get angry at Rashi, not me.)

All of this is because the manifestation of Hashem outside of Israel is on a much lower level than it is in the Holy Land. Rabbi Kook explains that the reason Jews in the Galut don’t feel this is because of the barriers caused by the spiritual husks in Gentile lands darken and distort the connection between a Jew and Hashem, and because the Torah learning in the Diaspora does not delve into the secrets of Torah where all of these mystical matters are explained. Therefore Jews in the Diaspora don’t miss not having their own sovereign Jewish Homeland and all of the other most exalted facets of Torah which apply to the Jewish Nation as a whole.

Now I can anticipate readers in Brooklyn and Monsey jumping up from their chairs in strident protest. “What about the Rebbe?” they asked. “He wasn’t close to Hashem?"

Certainly the Rebbe was close to Hashem. But how many Rebbe’s are there in America? He was unique. One in millions. Who can compare themselves with the Rebbe? His greatness derived from the exaltedness of his soul, his unbounded love for the Jewish People, and for his deep immersion in the secrets of Torah.

So for regular Jews like you and me, if you truly want to get close to God, come to live in the Land of Israel.