Perhaps the greatest difference between the Land of Israel and the rest of the world is the holiness of the Land which permeates Jewish Life throughout Israel. Not only are the mountains and agricultural valleys holy, the air is holy as well. Nothing can be compared to it.
In America for example nothing is holy. The Rocky Mountains are not holy. The Mississippi River is not holy. The Everglades are not holy. Yankee Stadium is not holy. The Washington Monument is not holy. Mount Rushmore is not holy. Not even Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood is holy.
Halakhically, countries outside the Land of Israel possess the status of impurity. Israelis who are deeply connected to Eretz Yisrael report that they feel a terrible descent into spiritual pollution if they have to travel outside of the Land. This is because there is no holiness there. Maybe the gravesites of a few holy Rabbis. Other than that - zero.
How incredibly different the Land of Israel! The whole Land is holy and everything in it. For example, many Jerusalem families spent the days of Chol Moed touring the country.
Here is one day in our lives in Eretz Yisrael - the first day of Chol Hamoed. Let’s start with early morning prayers at the Kotel, a stone’s throw from the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the world. On our way up north, we pass the Mount of Olives, the holiest cemetery on Earth.
Before leaving Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, we can visit the burial site of Shimon HaTzaddik who lived at the end of the First Temple era. Then before heading north, we say a few prayers at the gravesite of the prophet Shmuel with its panoramic view of the Holy City which spreads out in all directions – the living fulfillment of our daily prayers for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Then we pass through the holy agricultural fields of Givon where Hashem stopped the path of the sun until Joshua could slay the enemies of Israel. Hooking up with the Modiin highway, we travel along the road which the Maccabees took on their way to reconquering the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Then we turn eastward along the winding highway through the holy Judean Mountains until we reach the valley leading to the Dead Sea where the story of Abraham and Lot unfolded. Turning north we pass Yericho where the walls came tumbling down. To our right we can see Mount Nebo where Moshe gazed at the Holy Land, pleading with the Almighty to let him enter the Land, even as an ant, and not as the Chief Rabbi and Commander of Israel, just to step foot in the Promised Land.
The mountains of Jordan, the inheritance of the tribes of Gad, Reuven, and Menashe accompany our journey all the way to the Kinneret where the holy Pool of Miriam can be found by those who know the secrets of Torah. On the way we pass the cone-shaped Mt. Sartaba where torches were waved on Rosh Chodesh to alert the Jews in faraway Syria.
To the side of the road, Israeli farmers, religious and secular, work in the fields, cultivating the Holy Land (limited this year due to shmitta laws, exciting in itself), a holy endeavor which the Chatam Sofer compared to the holiness of putting on Tefillin. Here, in the desert-like landscape, the fields of banana trees and the groves of date palms are not merely agricultural miracles but proof that Israel’s Redemption has come, as the Gemara and Rashi make clear, stating: “When the trees of the Land of Israel give forth their fruits in abundance there is no surer sign of the end of the Exile than this.”
Stopping in the holy city of Tiberias, we recite some festive, music-filled prayers at the holy Tomb of Rabbi Meir, the famous Sage of the Talmud and “Master of Miracles,” while picnickers grill chicken on kosher-for-Pesach barbecue grills, the holy aroma filling our souls like incense, Ketoret.
Refreshed, we are off to visit the gravesites of Rachel, wife of Rabbi Akiva, then to the tomb of the Rambam, then up the hill to the tomb of Rabbi Akiva himself, resting near the grave of the Ramcal with is panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan, where holy Israeli soldiers sacrificed their lives defending Israel from enemies, like the martyrs of Gamla two-thousand years before.
Even the short walk back to our car is holy, as our Sages inform us that with every four steps in the Land of Israel a Jew merits a higher station in the World to Come. [In America you can walk from coast-to-coast and all you will get is holes in your sneakers.]
To make a long and inspiring tiyul short, we head up into the mountains of the Galil to visit the holy city of Tzfat, burial site of holy Tzaddikim like the Arizal and Rabbi Yosef Karo. After a cool splash in the holy mikva of the Ari, we are back on the road to Meron for a holy picnic and prayers with Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. Lingering until Maariv and Sefirat HaOmer, we begin the long drive back to Jerusalem, listening to the wrap-up of the day’s event which transpired in our Holy Land, events, both good and outwardly bad, which make-up the unfolding of our Redemption in our Land, in fulfillment of the words of the Prophets of Israel and the promise of Hashem to bring His children back to His Holy Cherished Land. Finally, a night of holy dreams in the Holy Land where even sleep is a part of the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land. Give praise to God for His kindness is forever!