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Eretz Yisroel and the Beis HaMikdash is Higher than all other Places
Does High and Low Apply to Spherical Objects?
In our sugya the Gemora cites a verse in Yirmyahu (23:7) “…Who brought Bnei Yisrael up from the land of Egypt” and a verse in Devarim (17:8) “…then you shall arise and go up unto the place which the Lord thy G-d shall choose” to demonstrate that Eretz Yisrael is higher than any other land, and that the Beis HaMikdash is the highest point in Eretz Yisrael. The wording of the Gemora seems to indicate that Eretz Yisrael is physically higher. In fact, the Yam Shel Shlomo (Kiddushin Chap. 4, 1) goes so far as to say that if someone standing in Eretz Yisrael says, “I vow to go up to Chutz La’aretz,” the vow is considered to be made in vain and is invalid. Leaving Yerushalayim or Eretz Yisrael is always referred to as “going down.”
Many commentators maintain that our Gemora should not be interpreted literally. The Chasam Sofer (Responsa, Part II, Y.D. §234) stresses this point, writing, “…in fact, those who are somewhat familiar with the world map can see otherwise…actually the world is round, and high and low do not apply to spherical objects; from any given point one sees the skies high overhead and low on the horizon, forming a dome. Someone who approaches from a point on the horizon appears as if he emerged from a deep pit, and high and low do not apply.”
Furthermore the Maharal of Prague (in his book on Talmudic Aggados and in Tiferes Yosef, Chagiga 3b, s.v. Eizehu) writes that the Gemora is referring to the spiritual loftiness of Eretz Yisrael, and not to its physical height.
It is interesting to note that the Chasam Sofer (ibid) writes that Eretz Yisrael is said to be “higher than all other lands” because Creation began from the even shesiya [foundation stone] located on Har HaBayis (see Rashi, Sanhedrin 26b, s.v. veshesiya). Thus all eyes are raised to Eretz Yisrael and Har HaBayis because mankind lifts its gaze to the spot where the ground beneath its feet was first created.