Parashat Acharei Mot: Family purity—a mitzvah (settling) the land depends on
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Today we face a war against the forces of impurity that attempt to undermine the sanctity of the individual, family, and nation. It is precisely these issues that we have to face and overcome on our way to the next stage of redemption: prophetic revelation.
"For all those abhorrent things done by the people who were in the land before you, the land became defiled. So let not the land spew you out for you defiled it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you " (Levit. 18:27-28).
"Due to the sin of prohibited intimate relations … exile comes to the world and [the Jews are] exiled, and others come and settle in their place." (Shabbat 33a).
No punishments – yes consequences
Several years ago I taught at a yeshiva high school with an interesting educational philosophy. There were no punishments in the school, but nevertheless it wasn’t "hefker velt." The Rosh yeshiva's philosophy was that students were to be treated like adults. An adult who does not respect his workplace is not punished, but there are certainly consequences for his actions: he is simply fired. So while there were no punishments, there were clear consequences.
Our Sages, starting from the times of the Mishna and Talmud, through the kabbalists and the Maharal, and up to the sages of the recent generations—Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook, and contemporary Torah giants, all try to find a link between sin and Divine retribution. In this way it's not an unrelated punishment, the likes of "go, sit in the corner," but rather a direct consequence of the defect that the person created by sinning.
Moral conduct: a mitzvah that is not tied to the Land of Israel
The Mishna in tractate Kiddushin (1:9) teaches us: "And a mitzvah tied to the Land of Israel (=on the soil or crops growing in the soil) applies only in the Land of Israel," with several exceptions, listed there in the Mishna. In contrast, "those that are not tied to the Land – apply in the Land of Israel and abroad." The prohibition against giluy arayot, illicit intimate relations, mentioned in the verses above certainly have nothing to do with land or soil. If we were to hear that for violating mitzvot such as kila'im, matanot aniyim, terumot, ma'aserot, shemita, and yovel—all land-related mitzvot—the punishment would be exile from the Land of Israel, this would be understandable. This is a direct consequence: you violated the sanctity of the Land of Israel, so now you no longer deserve it. But how is immoral intimate conduct tied in any way to exile from the Land of Israel?
The land of prophecy
The relationship between the Land of Israel and the people inhabiting it is completely different from what can be found in all other countries. The Land of Israel is a land of prophecy. Prophecy is not merely the ability to tap into otherwise hidden information. That is an ancillary, and perhaps even marginal aspect of it. Prophecy is all about developing human abilities to the highest level possible, which leads to a remarkable degree of closeness to G-d.
Illicit intimate relations essentially harness the strongest human drive—given to mankind to facilitate the most awesome goal, the creation of a new human being—for a completely different purpose. One might say that it is the polar opposite of the intended goal: instead of using this force to give new life on earth, its misuse to fill one's base desires brings destruction to the world.
The result of a bond between those who engage in illicit relations and the Land of Israel is catastrophic. If the Land of Israel is conducive to develop human abilities to the maximum, especially to achieve intimacy, the expectation is that its inhabitants use these abilities for the purpose they were created: to achieve an intimate relationship with G-d. By doing so, they also elevate the entire world, and draw it closer to G-d. A person whose developed abilities for achieving intimacy are channeled to satisfy his base desires, even at the price of sowing destruction and devastation, such a person should be ousted from the Land of Israel, and the sooner the better. This is similar to the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, so they don't misuse the forces available there for evil.
It seems that the major battle the Jewish People faces today in our land, which we have merited to return to, is the battle against the forces of impurity that attempt to chip away at the sanctity of the individual, family, and nation. And it is precisely these issues that we, as a nation, must face and overcome so that we can proceed to the next stage of our redemption: prophetic revelation. The day "all of them, from the least to the greatest, shall heed Me" (Jeremiah 31:34), "for the land will be filled with devotion to the L-rd as water covers the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).