The Dual Sanctity of Israel

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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Bo

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: May we sanctify the new month outside the Land of Israel?

God said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:1-2)

Rashi (Rosh Hashanah 22b, s.v. Tihei), in elucidating the position of the Sages, explains God’s message to Moshe and Aharon: “Let it be granted to you, the dignitaries of the generation, that I give to you the ability to accept the testimony so that you may sanctify the new month.” In other words, the right to sanctify the new month, as well as determining when to declare a leap year, may only be performed by the Torah leaders of the generation, akin to Moshe and Aharon.

However, it is puzzling how Moshe and Aharon could be licensed to sanctify the new months outside the Land of Israel. The Talmud (Berachos 63a-b) records a story in which the sages of Israel went so far as to threaten excommunication in order to prevent Rabbi Chanina from establishing the years and months in Babylonia. The Gemara justifies this extreme measure by invoking the verse “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3).”

The Minchas Chinuch (4:1) suggests that we can resolve this difficulty the same way the Talmud in Tractate Megillah (14a) initially justifies why the festive Hallel prayer is not recited on Purim:

Rabbi Chiya bar Avin said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcḥa said: If, from slavery to freedom, we recite songs [I.e. the Exodus from Egypt] from death to life, is it not all the more so [worthy of reading the Megillah to commemorate the miracle of Purim]? If so, let us also recite Hallel [on Purim]! Because hallel is not recited on a miracle that occurred outside the Land of Israel. The Exodus from Egypt was a miracle that occurred outside the Land of Israel – how are we able to recite songs [of praise]? As it is taught: Prior to the time when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, all lands were fit for songs to be recited; after the Jewish people entered the land, all the other lands were no longer fit for songs to be recited [for miracles performed within them].

While a major miracle that occurred anywhere in the world for the Jews would be worthy of Hallel, subsequent to conquering the Land of Israel, it was only deemed appropriate to recite Hallel over miracles that took place strictly within the borders of the Holy Land. (Note: The Gemara offers two other reasons which are not pertinent to our discussion: (1) The reading of the Megillah serves in lieu of Hallel. (2) Despite the Jews being saved from annihilation, they were still servants to Achashveirosh.)

Similarly, the Minchas Chinuch extrapolates that it was permissible to sanctify the Jewish calendar outside the Land of Israel prior to the Jewish conquest. Therefore, it was acceptable for both Moshe and Aharon to establish the months and leap years while the Children of Israel were traveling in the wilderness.

However, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (Ch. 8) indicates that it was forbidden to sanctify the months of the Jewish calendar even prior to entering the Land of Israel:

“And it came to pass after the death of Avraham, that God blessed Yitzchak his son” (Gen. 25:11), because he had been initiated in the principle of intercalation and had intercalated the year (therefore) He blessed him with the blessing of eternity. Yitzchak gave to Yaakov all the blessings and delivered to him the principle of intercalation. When Yaakov went out of the (Holy) Land, he attempted to intercalate the year outside the (Holy) Land. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Yaakov! You have no authority to intercalate the year outside the land (of Israel); behold, Yitzchak your father is in the (Holy) Land, he will intercalate the year, as it is said, “And God appeared unto Yaakov again, when he came from Paddan-Aram, and blessed him” (Gen. 35:9).

This passage would seem to contradict the Minchas Chinuch’s justification for Moshe and Aharon establishing the months and years outside the Land of Israel. Yaakov lived far earlier than the Jewish people’s conquest of the Land of Israel, yet God forbade him from intercalating the year outside the Holy Land nonetheless!

More recent scholars (based on the Radvaz, Sanhedrin 4:6) resolve this by positing that there are two facets that define the sanctity of the Land of Israel. (A) Firstly, and more fundamentally, the Land of Israel possesses inherent sanctity by virtue of God establishing its border when promising it to Avraham. (B) Secondly, on a functional level the Land of Israel enables the practice of Mitzvos haTeluyos b’Aretz – commandments that are exclusively performed in God’s chosen land. It was only the latter type of sanctity that became imbued within the land upon the Jews entering and conquering the land for God. However, the inherent sanctity of the Land of Israel exists independent of its governance. (See Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 16:6 and Hilchos Terumos 1:5 about how this distinction vis-a-vis the sanctity after the first versus second exile.)

Once the Jewish people had conquered the land, effectively activating its second level of sanctity, it became forbidden to sanctify the months and years outside of the Holy Land (save for extenuating circumstances). However, prior to the Jewish conquest, the Land only possessed its baseline level of sanctity, which while it would still make the Land of Israel the preferable location, it was not essential. Therefore, one the one hand, Moshe and Aharon were permitted to sanctify the new months in the wilderness – while on the other hand, it was understandable why God insisted that Yitzchak should reclaim the responsibility from Yaakov, as it was preferable to do so in the Land of Israel when the option exists. 

R. Yisrael Meir Kagan, “the Chofetz Chaim,” observes (Talelei Oros Haggadah p. 292) that in the Passover Seder song of Dayenu, we declare, “if God only granted us the Torah but did not bring us into the Land of Israel it would have been sufficient,” – however, the reverse, “had God brought us into the Land of Israel but did not grant us the Torah” would have been inconceivable. The Land of Israel is a sacred land. However, to merely possess the land is not sufficient. May we all merit to fulfill its unique commandments and ensure that Torah is studied throughout God’s country for the rest of time.

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria,, Mechon Mamre, and my own. Contact: [email protected] 

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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