The Torah and the Land
In the second chapter of the Shema we recite each morning and evening, we repeat Hashem's warning that turning away from Him to worship idols will result in being exiled from the land He has given us. This is immediately followed by the commandments of tefillin and mezuza.
This connection is explained by the Midrash (Sifri Ekev) with a parable:
“A king became angry with his wife and sent her off to her parents' home. As he banished her, he instructed her to continue wearing her royal jewelry even while she was away so that she would be familiar with them when she eventually returned to his palace.
“In similar fashion Hashem instructed His beloved people as He banished them from His palace, Eretz Yisrael, to continue being distinguished with their mitzvahs so that they would be familiar with them when they returned.”
Tefillin and mezuza are mitzvahs which are not dependent on living in Eretz Yisrael, unlike the many mitzvahs relating to agriculture, and they are as incumbent upon a Jew outside of Eretz Yisrael as upon one in the land. Why, then, is this connection made between these mitzvahs and the land?
The answer lies in the unique spiritual status of Eretz Yisrael, which is directly ruled by Hashem without the involvement of angels or any other heavenly forces. Mitzvahs fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael therefore have the ultimate spiritual quality, whereas those fulfilled outside of the land are of only secondary quality. This is communicated in the statement of our Sages (Sifri Re'eh) that living in Eretz Yisrael is equivalent to all the mitzvahs of the Torah.
This unique status of Eretz Yisrael is also expressed in the land's sensitivity to sin. The Torah warns us that Eretz Yisrael is not like other lands and it will vomit out those who contaminate it (Vayikra 18:25). When the Kuttim (later known as the Samaritans) were brought to Eretz Yisrael by the Assyrian conqueror Sancheriv to replace the Ten Tribes he had exiled, they continued to worship idols, and Hashem sent lions to devour them (see Melachim II chapter 17). In their native land they were not punished in such swift fashion, but Eretz Yisrael cannot tolerate idolatry.
Hashem sanctified the nation dwelling in His land by commanding them with mitzvahs, and warned them that if they contaminate this land with idolatry or licentiousness, the land will vomit them out.
“Love of the Land” is therefore not expressed by merely mouthing patriotic slogans, but by maintaining a standard of loyalty to Hashem's Torah, and living according to the moral standards set by the Torah — which will grant us the privilege of remaining in our beloved land with security and sanctity.
- Adapted from Nachmanides’ Commentary on Vayikra 18:25