This past Shabbat, which I spent in Yerucham celebrating my son Adin’s graduation, was the 40th anniversary of my husband’s Bar Mitzvah. (Egads, how could I be married to someone so old??)
I dedicate the following to him wishing him health and happiness for many more years.
Parshat Shlech Lecha, (which we read this past Shabbat) relates the story of Moses who, at the behest of the nation, sends twelve men of honour to
Canaan to go up and “see the country…. Whether it is good or bad; and what cities they live in…” These men, whom we call spies, were not really spies. They openly toured Canaan, asking questions, bringing back fruits. Basically they were wearing name tags, and everyone knew who they were. (This is opposed to the spies we read about in the Haftorah, who stole into Canaan quietly and hid out in the house of Rachav. Those names are never mentioned though Chazal say that they were Pinchas and Calev.)
The original 12 ‘spies’ went to see the country, and tell Bnai Yisrael about it. And when they returned, after a 40 day Egged tour of the country, ten of them said, “We came to the land… and indeed it flows with milk and honey: BUT the people are strong that dwell in the land….” “The Land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a Land that eats up its inhabitants….
Two spies, Kalev ben Ephuna and Yehoshua bin Nun disagreed with the other ten’s assessment of the Land. “The Land that we passed through to spy is an exceedingly good Land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a Land that flows with milk and honey.
Nonetheless, Bnei Yisrael chose to believe the other ten.
And why shouldn’t these spies be believed? These ten men were leaders of the people. They were the ‘presidents’ of the tribes. They were the ‘elite’ of the Nation, the intelligentsia. They were scholars, who sat and learned Torah all day. Indeed, some commentaries say that the spies said what they did, because they knew that when they entered the Land, they would not be able to learn all day, that they would have to work the Land. These ten men were great men!! And the people believed the majority, rather than the minority. That’s natural. But not always right.
We all know the end of the story. Bnei
had to wander the desert for 40 years before coming into the Land. The entire Nation that left Israel (except for Calev and Yehoshua) died in the desert. Egypt
Commentaries say that the sin of the spies was twofold. First, the spies spoke Lashon Harah (derogatory speech) against the Land and let the people know that they didn’t want to go and take what G-d had promised them. For this, the spies were stricken with a mysterious ailment, where their tongues swelled up and they choked to death.
The second sin was that the people did not believe in the word of G-d. Despite the miracles that they had seen – the plagues, the deliverance from
, the splitting of the sea, the events at Egypt Mt. Sinai, the manna, the well of Miriam – they still did not believe that G-d would give them the Land He had promised.
So, two sins – two punishments. However wandering in the desert wasn’t really a punishment. G-d simply felt that Bnei Yisrael were yet not ready to inherit the land. There had been complaints before, about the lack of water, food, meat, etc, and this was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. G-d felt that that generation would never be ready to go into the Land. If they were not ready to accept the Land, they should not receive it. So if the 40-year wandering was not the punishment, what was?
The real punishment for the sin of the spies still affects us today, more than 3300 years later. The spies returned from the Land and spoke to the people on Tisha B’Av. Since then Tisha B’Av has been a day of national mourning for the people of
, and a day when great tragedies have befallen us and still befall us. Israel
The so-called spies of more than 3300 years ago and the ‘spies’ of today say the same things. “Don’t go to the Land. It’s too dangerous. We can’t win over the terrorists.” How many of our ‘leaders’ – politicians, academicians, judges, the intelligentsia of our people – have said something similar to what Ariel Sharon said in 2004 “We had a dream that we could live in the whole Land of Israel, but now we know that we cannot”. And there are others who say “It’s better for us as Jews to live outside of
, where we can do more good.” Bad enough the Lashon Hara, but after the miracles we have witnessed – the redemption of the Land after 2000 years of neglect, the birth of an independent Jewish state, the ingathering of Jews from all over the world after 2000 years of exile so that today any Jew from anywhere in the world who is in physical danger because they are Jews has a place to come, the reunification of Jerusalem and the liberation of her holy places, the liberation of the holy places of Hevron, Beit Lechem, Shchem – how can we doubt G-d’s promise to give us this land? Israel
The State of Israel is facing many crises, one of which is ongoing terrorism. A far larger problem, however, is our doubt, our lack of belief.
It is time to undo the sin of the original spies. It is time to stand up and say in the words of Calev “Aloh Na’aleh!! Let us go up and possess the Land!”
One way to undo the sin of the spies who spoke Lashon Hara against the Land is to praise the Land; to publicize the daily miracles, the wonder and the beauty that is
And so, I’ve set myself a task. Every day until Tisha B’Av (Sunday, July 29) to match, more or less, the 40 days the spies were in the Land, I will, bli neder, write something good about Eretz Yisrael. It isn’t hard to find things but I’m lazy, so there might be some days without anything written.
I urge anyone reading this to take up the challenge too, if not in writing, than in talking, or learning, or telling your kids.
And maybe we can enable the words of the Prophet Zechariah to become reality: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the house of Yehuda (Zecharia 8:19). Speedily, and in our time.