The Torah seems to describe an upward progression of Avraham’s prophetical vision. When the Almighty tells Avraham to leave his native Mesopotamia and travel to “the land that I will show you,” the Torah merely states that He spoke to Avraham. There is no indication that Avraham experienced any type of vision or that the experience amounted to anymore than a simple communication. Later on, however, when God promises Avraham that He will give his descendants the Land of Israel, the Torah specifies that He “appeared” to Avraham which implies that the latter communication was via a higher prophetic level. What changed? How did Avraham attain this higher level? Did he further develop his connection and closeness to the Almighty over the years that intervened between the two prophecies, or is there some other factor involved?
The Talmud contains a startling statement about the spirituality of living in the Land of Israel. It says that it is better for a person to live in the Land of Israel even in a weak Jewish community, rather than live outside its borders, even in a strong Jewish community. It explains, based on a verse in the Torah, that someone that lives in the Land of Israel is considered to “have a God,” whereas someone who doesn’t, does not “have a God.” What is the meaning of “having a God” and “not having a God?”
Rabbi Menachem Beker (1923 – 2012), author of a popular Israeli book on the weekly Parasha, explains this Talmudic statement based on the evolution of Avraham’s prophetic ability. He writes that God initially never appeared to Avraham not because of a lack of readiness on Avraham’s part, but rather because of his location. He would never “appear” to Avraham in a prophetic vision until he arrived in the Land of Israel. He merely spoke to him and commanded him. It was only after Abraham had fulfilled the command to leave his birthplace and had finally entered the Land that the Torah finally says that the Almighty actually appeared to Abraham. It was then that He notified him with the great promise of “to your descendants shall I give this land.” The Land of Israel is imbued with a unique spiritual power that enhanced Abraham’s capacity to experience prophecy. Although Avraham was apparently already worthy of the higher level of prophetic vision when he still dwelled in Mesopotamia, he never actually attained it until he had entered the borders of the Land of Israel.
The Talmudic statement that one dwelling outside of the Land of Israel is obviously an indication of the unique role of that land in Judaism. According to this observation, it also may reflect a general rule about attaining spirituality. The path to spirituality is one of developing our potential; actualization may not always be in our hands to complete. In both the Talmudic passage and the observation regarding Avraham, actualization could not be achieved without residing in the Land. In other spiritual quests, there may be other external impediments to attaining a goal. The important thing to remember is that we must focus on the process rather than the results. In some cases all it takes to get results is a geographic change, whereas in others we don’t know what the next step is. We must do our part to build up our potential; if our efforts do not always come to fruition, we need not despair – we just have to continue climbing.