Anticipating tomorrow’s celebration of Israel’s 60th year, I went back to my favorite book, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, to review what Rabbi Steinsaltz teaches about the Holy Land.
Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:
“The Holy of Holies is a point situated in our world and other worlds at the same time.
As such it is a place subject to the laws of all the worlds, and so outside the ordinary laws of time and place.
That is why the Holy of Holies was barred to all men, except for the brief entry of the high priest of Israel once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
As may be surmised, the holiness of this place is made manifest only when everything is as it should be, when the Temple stands at its appointed location, and when everything in the Temple is so perfectly ordered and arranged that it is pervaded by the Shekhinah (Divine presence).
Since, however, the site chosen (by prophetic revelation) is that one place in space where such a divine connection can be made at all times, the holiness of the site persists even when the Temple itself is no longer there.
So that even though this holiness may not be manifest now, the possibility of its manifestation is eternal.
From the Temple site the circles of holiness extend even farther into space, becoming fainter as they recede from the Holy of Holies to the Temple Court, from the Temple Court to the Holy City of Jerusalem, from the Holy City of Jerusalem to all of the Holy Land, and then, of course, beyond.
Each of these bounded spaces implies a wide range of obligations and privileges.
The holier a place is, the more strict is the general obligation—in addition to all the more specific obligations devolving upon those who live, or like priests, function in a sanctified area—to relate to it in a certain way.
Though the potential for holiness persists for ever, it is true that the holiness of the Land of Israel cannot be adequately manifested unless all the constituents of the circles of sanctity radiating from the center in Jerusalem are in their proper places.
Thus, when the Temple is not standing, all the aspects of holiness that grow out of it become vague and uncertain, some of them sinking into a state of only latent sanctity, indicating no more than a possibility and a starting point.
The holiness of the Holy Land has nothing to do with who the inhabitants are or what they do; it is a choice from on high, beyond human comprehension.”
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From “Holiness,” The Thirteen Petalled Rose.