With the beginning of the new seder, we start learning about the different sources (avot) of tumah (impurity) and their varying intensity. This is followed by the ten levels of impurity that apply to a person (1:5). Juxtaposed to that, the Mishnah then teaches us about the ten levels of kedusha (sanctity) as they apply to land.1 It begins (1:6) with the distinction between Eretz Yisrael and the rest of the world and proceeds to identify the areas within the land that have higher levels of kedusha.2
Granted that Eretz Yisrael has kedusha but how so? The question is not how Eretz Yisrael got its kedusha – that alone is a subject that has much discussion. The question is how is it expressed? The land does not glow so what makes it qualitatively more kadosh?
The Mishnah writes (1:6):
… Eretz Yisrael is more kadosh than all the lands. What is its kedusha? The [produce for] Omer3, Bikurim4 and Shtei Halechem5 are brought from its land as opposed to all other lands.
At first, one may think that the kedusha is linked to those mitzvot which can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael. However, this does not appear to be the understanding of the Mishnah which presents a very small subset of those Mitzvot. Why are only those few mitzvot selected?
The Mishnah Achrona answers, mitzvot being dependant on Eretz Yisrael is not considered kedusha for the land. He explains that while it is true that performance of mitzvot sanctifies a person this is not true by land. Instead, the fact that the produce used for these offering could only be brought from Eretz Yisrael is indicative of its kedusha.
In a similar vein the Gra excludes Bikurim from the list as he understands that it is an obligation of the land which albeit only occurs in Eretz Yisrael. The fact however that Omer and Shtei Halechem can only be sourced from Eretz Yisrael is due to its Kedusha.
We find therefore that kedusha is expressed differently in land than in people. By people kedusha is a function of the performance of mitzvot. By land, by Eretz Yisrael, while many mitzvot can only be performed there it is not due to its kedusha. What is more indicative of its kedusha is that its produce, and only its produce, can be used for these offerings.
1 The Maharsha explains that this juxtaposition follows the principle that “ze le’umat ze asah ha’elokim” – that for every level of impurity a level of kedusha was created.
2 The Mishnayot seems to list more than ten locations. The Bartenura (1:9) cites the Geonim who explain that Eretz Yisrael is not counted in the list of kedushot presented by the Mishnah. This is because the Mishnah here is only interested in those locations that show honour to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. All the other locations listed in the Mishnah have some forms of restriction with respect to forms of impurity or people that may enter these areas, whereas Eretz Yisrael does not. Consequently since Eretz Yisrael does not share this form of kedusha it is not counted in the list.
The Gra flatly rejects this idea and directs the reader to the Rambam who explains that one of the other areas listed in the Mishnah is actually not included in the count. The Rambam explains that the Ezrat Nashim is not included as it was only given the level of sanctity described in the Mishnah after Gezeirat Yehoshafat before which the Mishnah was taught.
3 The barley offering offered on the second day of Pesach before which new harvest could not be eaten.
4 The first fruits that were brought to the Beit Ha’Mikdash and given to the kohanim.
5 The two loaves brought as a communal offering on Shavuot.
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