Rav David Samson
Rav David Samson Hezki Ezra

When the celestial Maggid appeared to Rabbi Yosef Karo on Shavuot night, he instructed Rabbi Karo and his study partners to make Aliyah so that their Divine conversation could continue. The Vilna Gaon explained that the reason the author of the “Shulchan Aruch” was able to have a Maggid was because he lived in Eretz Yisrael (Introduction of Rav Chaim Velozener to the commentary of the Gaon on “Safra Di Tzniuta”).

While the Maggid first appeared while the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Karo) still lived in Turkey, one of the reasons for its appearance was to command Rabbi Karo and his colleagues to ascend to the Holy Land, where the reception of Divine Enlightenment is pure.

The classic treatise on Jewish Faith, “HaKuzari,” written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, calls the Holy Land - the Land of Prophecy. He states: “Whosoever prophesied did so either in the Holy Land or concerning it,” (See Ch. 2:14; 4:10; 4:17).

For example, the Prophecy which Avraham Avinu received in Chutz L’Aretz (the Diaspora), -“Lech lecha!” - was to command him to go to Israel. Similarly, the Prophecy which Moshe Rabbenu received in Egypt and in the Sinai Wilderness was to take the Children of Israel out of bondage and to bring them to the Promised Land, as the Torah recounts when Hashem first appeared to him at the “Burning Bush,” as it says, “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of Mitzrayim and to bring them up out of that land to a Land good and large, to a Land flowing with milk and honey… (Shemot, 3:8).

In the healthy, normative state of the Jewish People, when they live in their unique Holy Land, phenomenon like Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration) and Prophecy are the natural norm. Our Sages inform us that in the time of King Saul there were two hundred prophets, called “zophim.” The Gemara states: “There were, as we have learned, (throughout history) a great many prophets in Israel, double the amount of people who left Egypt,” (Megillah 14a. Shmuel 1:1).

While Ruach HaKodesh can appear anywhere in the world, the home of Prophecy is in Eretz Yisrael. Our Sages stated: “The Divine Presence is not revealed abroad.” Therefore, when the prophet Yonah wanted to cease prophesying, he fled from the Land of Israel, as it says: “But Yonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish… he went abroad and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord ” (Yonah, 1:3, 1:10; Also, “Michilta d’Rebbe Yishmael,” Bo. And see, Moed Katan 25A).

In his writings on the Land of Israel, Rabbi Kook teaches: “It is impossible for a Jew to be devoted and faithful to his contemplations, logical reason, conceptualizations and imaginations when he is outside the Land of Israel, compared to their quality of faithfulness in Eretz Yisrael. Revelations of holiness, on whatever level, are clean in Eretz Yisrael according to their level, while outside the Land of Israel, they are mixed with abundant dross and impure husks,” (“Orot,” Eretz Yisrael, 1:4).

Similarly, the Arizal’s foremost student, Rabbi Chaim Vital, writes:

“And should (the seeker of Ruach HaKodesh) be outside of the Land of Israel, even if he is an absolute Tzaddik without any impediments of sin, behold the barriers of the defilement of Chutz L’Aretz (the Diaspora), combined with his personal sin of living outside of the Land of Israel, will prevent true and holy Divine Perception from reaching him”(“Shaarei Kedushah,” Part 4 Gate 3, Pg. 163, Gross Edition).

This axiom was reiterated by Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, commonly known as the Vilna Gaon, in an amazing story related by his greatest student, Rabbi Chaim of Volozion:

“I was once personally involved (with the magnitude of the Gaon’s Divine Revelation) when our Rabbi (referring to the Gaon of Vilna) sent me to my brother, the holy and pious giant of Torah, our teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, of blessed memory. Although younger than me in age, my brother is greater than I am in every way. The Gaon of Vilna commanded me to tell him in his name not to give audience to any angel or heavenly messenger that would shortly appear to him. The Gaon explained that even though the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Karo) had a “Maggid” appear to him, this was two-hundred years ago when the generations were purer and he lived in Israel. Especially here (in Vilna) outside of the Land of Israel it is impossible that an entire Divine Revelation will be purely holy without any mixture of foreign, unholy husks” (Introduction to “Safra D’Tzniutah”).

Because the channel of imagination is the faculty of the mind that is used to receive Divine Revelation, if it is not functioning properly, or if a person is located in a place where spiritual static abounds, then the messages received will be tainted by dross. In Israel our imaginations are pure and healthy. In contrast, outside of the Land the channel of imagination is sullied with the mixture of impure forces which roam freely throughout the polluted spiritual realms of the nations.

In another essay in “Orot,” Rabbi Kook sharpens the distinction between the spiritual worlds of Eretz Yisrael and the lands of the nations. He writes:

“The imagination in the Land of Israel is lucid and clear, clean and pure, and ready for the revelation of Divine Truth, and for the embodiment of the high, uplifted will of the idealistic trend which is found in the higher echelons of holiness. It is prepared for the explanation of Prophecy and its lights, for the enlightenment of Ruach HaKodesh and its illumination.

"In contrast, the faculty of imagination which is found in the land of the nations is murky, clouded in darkness, in shadows of defilement and pollution. It cannot rise to the heights of Kedushah (holiness), and it cannot form the foundation for the influx of Divine Light that rises above all of the baseness of the worlds and their oppressive straits.

“Because the intellect and the imagination are bound up together, and act and interact one upon the other, the intellect which is outside the Land of Israel is also incapable of being illuminated with the light which exists in the Land of Israel. ‘The air of Eretz Yisrael causes wisdom’" (“Orot,” 1:5).

Regarding the Land of Israel, the Torah tells us: “It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually upon it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Devarim, 11:12). Hashem Himself reigns directly over the Land of Israel. To govern the rest of the world, Hashem has set ministering angels over the nations (See Ramban, Achrei Mot, 18:25). When King David had to flee Eretz Yisrael to a place ruled by the Philistines, he said, “They have driven me today from my share in the Lord’s inheritance and have said, ‘Go, serve other gods’” (Shmuel 1, 26:19). The Gemara asks: “Could it be that David worship foreign gods?” Certainly not. The Gemara explains, “Any Jew who lives outside the Land of Israel is like someone who has no G-d” (Ketubot 110B).

This means that if we had a Geiger counter that could measure the Divine Presence, in the Land of Israel the meter would crackle like crazy, while outside of the Land the crackle would hardly be heard and the dial would point toward the lower end of the scale.

Does this mean that if you don’t live in Israel you can’t connect with Hashem? Not at all. Even though the Vilna Gaon bemoans the impure level of Ruach HaKodesh outside of Israel, levels of Ruach HaKodesh can appear there.

What then is the secret? How were the Vilna Gaon and other Tzaddikim able to attain high levels of Ruach HaKodesh in the spiritually polluted environment of Chutz L’Aretz (the Diaspora)? The answer lies in wanting to live in Israel. The Vilna Gaon genuinely yearned to ascend to the Land of Israel. He pleaded with tears for his students to make Aliyah and begin to resettle the Promised Land in order to advance the Redemption of Israel. He himself left his possessions behind and set off for the Holy Land without his wife and children until he was mysteriously prevented (see the Letter of the Gra to His Wife upon His Departure for Israel).

If a person yearns to dwell in the Land, and if he is truly regretful in not being able to reside there, then a part of the spiritual light of Eretz Yisrael will shine upon him. This is not the same as actually living in Eretz Yisrael, but it’s enough to tune into a channel of Ruach HaKodesh which is available to all those who truly seek to unite their lives with the blessing that emanates forth to the world from Zion.

Thus, Rabbi Kook writes: “According to the magnitude of an individual's yearning for and connection to Eretz Yisrael, his contemplations become clear due to the foundation of ‘the air of Eretz Yisrael’ which hovers over everyone who desires to see her. ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.’"

(For an in-depth explanation, see the book, “Lights on Orot,” Chs.4-6, by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman).

Rabbi David Samson is Rosh Yeshiva of YTA, the Yerushalayim Torah Academy, and the founding dean of the King Solomon Academy online school. He is author of four popular books on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, and the recent books “Contact” about Prophecy and Divine Inspiration, and an English translation of Rabbi Kook’s “Rosh Milin” on the Hebrew letters, all available at Amazon Books. He also teaches classes in Jewish Meditation.