Correcting the Sin of the Spies

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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Virtues of the Land of Israel

Our Sages said: “The mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is equal to all the mitzvoth in the Torah” (Tosefta, Avoda Zara 4:3; Sifrei, Re’eh 53). They also said: “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no God” (Ketubot 110b). Also, “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols” (ibid.).

Additionally, from a halakhic aspect, the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel is the only mitzvah for which we are commanded to endanger lives, seeing as on the one hand, we are commanded to conquer the Land, but conversely, the Torah does not instruct us to rely on miracles (Minchat Chinukh 425, 604; Mishpat Kohen 143).

Seemingly, this requires further investigation. Why does the material, physical land occupy such an important place in the Torah?

In truth, the entire aim of the world’s creation and the purpose of the Torah are to reveal the kedusha (holiness) in the physical world, and anyone who denies the virtue of the Land of Israel, contradicts the Torah’s divine plan. This was the sin of idol worshippers, who separated the world into various spheres, believing that matters of kedusha pertain to the spiritual world, whereas the material is detached from kedusha. This is entirely contrary to the Jewish faith in One God. And since in chutz la’aretz (outside of Israel) it is impossible to reveal kedusha in the material, a person who lives there is similar to an idol worshipper, because he is unable to reveal the Divine purpose in all areas of life.

The Sin of the Spies

According to this explanation, the catastrophic severity of the sin of the Spies, which was even graver than the sin of the Golden Calf, is understandable. We can also understand why the punishment of death was decreed on all the generation of the desert – including Moshe, God’s faithful shepherd – and why, as a result of this sin, both Temples were destroyed.

As long as the sin of the Spies is not rectified, its punishment still rests on our shoulders. Therefore, on the Shabbat in which we read the Torah portion Sh’lach, it is especially important to speak about the praises of Eretz Yisrael, as our teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, wrote:

“The foundation of the exile, and the baseness which continues to proliferate in this world, stem from the lack of understanding of Eretz Yisrael, its sublime value and wisdom, and from not rectifying the sin of the Spies who spoke disparagingly about the Land. We are called upon to do the opposite - to speak her praises and herald her magnificence and glory, her holiness and honor. We can only hope that after all our praises, we merit expressing even one iota of the proper transcendental desire due to “the Land of delight,” to the splendor of her illuminating Torah, to the genius of her illuminating wisdom, and to the Divine Inspiration which hovers upon her. (Iggrot HaRa’ayah, Iggeret 96).

Could There be Gedolei Torah who Oppose Yishuv Ha’Aretz?

Q: Rabbi, how is it that there are some gedolei Torah (eminent Torah scholars) who diminish the importance of Eretz Yisrael and the issue of Israeli nationalism, and even assail members of the National-Religious community, alleging they invented a new mitzvah – yishuv Eretz Yisrael, and a new religion – “nationalism”?

A: It is impossible for a gadol b’Torah to deny the supreme status of mitzvat yishuv ha’aretz and the importance of Israeli nationalism, just as it is impossible for a gadol b’Torah to deny the mitzvah of Shabbat. The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is one of the few commandments considered equal to all the other commandments; entire portions of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings deal with it, and in the Oral Torah, our holy Sages praised it immensely. The importance of Am Yisrael, as well, is explained at great length in all of the Torah, the words of Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim, including explicit references to situations where Jews were not religiously observant.

There might possibly be some people who are ba’kee veh’charif (proficient and sharp minded) concerning details of Torah, but if they deny the important status of mitzvat yishuv ha’aretz or the importance of nationalism, this is proof they have not understood the Torah properly. At best, it can be said that they are gedolim in understanding some of the details of Torah, but they are not gedolei Torah. And if they deny this mitzvah completely, they are not Torah scholars at all.

It should be pointed out that even among the most extreme haredim, only a handful reject the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz and the importance of nationalism. On the other hand, many of them diminish the importance of these mitzvoth.

How could they possibly not understand?

Q: How can you say that rabbis who have learned Torah extensively and are proficient and sharp-witted in it, are not gedolim b’Torah? Maybe we should say that if they maintain the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is not important, then this is the Torah truth, or at the very least, an important Torah-based opinion that must be reckoned with?

A: Indeed, it is possible that people who are proficient and sharp-witted in Torah do not understand exceedingly basic concepts in the principles of Torah. This is exactly what distinguishes a great Torah scholar from someone who is not. A great Torah scholar understands the fundamentals of Torah, the roots of the Torah from which the branches sprout, and consequently, he understands all the details correctly. A person who is not a gadol does not understand the fundamentals, and as a result, understands large parts of Torah superficially, without comprehending their significance.

Rabbi Teichtel HY”D

A fascinating example of this can be found in the introductory of the book by Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtel, may Hashem avenge his blood. He was considered one of the eminent Torah geniuses of his generation, proficient and sharp minded, and wrote a responsa in Jewish law called ‘Mishneh Sachir’. Nevertheless, he felt it was not a mitzvah to immigrate to Israel, and greatly dismissed the significance of non-religious Jews. Consequently, he strongly rejected cooperating with the Zionist movement, which was led by secular Jews.

During the events of the Holocaust, he reassessed the issues of the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel and found that he had erred, and wrote an entire book about this – “Em Habanim Semeikha”. The book itself testifies to the author having been an indisputable genius, exceptionally knowledgeable, and exceedingly sharp. Even had he sat in a large library, he would have had to have been extremely talented to write such a phenomenal book. However, the majority of the book was written from his remarkable memory, while escaping and hiding from the Hungarian authorities who collaborated with the Nazi’s. It turns out that all the thousands of sources gathered from all fields of Torah cited in his book, he had previously learned and remembered by heart, but had not contemplated them properly.

In the introduction to his book, he wrote: “I must confess the truth and declare my sin. I, too, despised the rebuilding of the Land, because I heard unqualified statements made by many haredim, which became firmly implanted in my heart. I did not concern myself with this matter at all, because I was preoccupied with learning, teaching, and writing volumes on the Talmud and its commentaries, as well as responses to questions regarding the word of HaShem. I only delved into this halachah after we suffered afflictions in this bitter exile. HaShem enlightened me, and I saw that I and all those who opposed this movement were mistaken. I admit and say, "That which I previously told you was mistaken," just like Rava and other great Talmudic Sages did. When rabbis admit their mistakes, they are praiseworthy. Thank God, I have no qualms about publicly expressing the truth that is in my heart” (Pri Ha’aretz edition, pg. 21).

He also cites eminent Torah scholars of the generation who encouraged immigrating to Israel and, for the sake of the mitzvah, even cooperating with the non-religious – those same Jews he had previously ignored, since that was the acceptable practice in his surroundings.

Rabbi Teichtel’s book, ‘Em Habanim Semeikha’ is one of the most important books written about Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, and highly recommended.

The Value of Work

Out of the recognition of the significance and sanctity of the Land of Israel, the importance of physical labor can also be understood, because by way of work, an individual becomes a partner with God in the betterment of society. True, even in chutz la’aretz work has importance, but since revealing divinity in chutz la’aretz is remote, with the main goals of countries and governments being merely to increase their wealth, honor and power, consequently, a person working in chutz la’aretz unavoidably gives his energies to foreigners, or in the language of the kabbalists – to the sitra achra (the side of impurity).

This was exactly what happened to the nation of Israel throughout its long exile. The contribution Jews made – against their will – helped increase evil in the world. In Spain, for example, the Jews assisted the development and prosperity of the country, but in the end, with all its accumulated wealth and power, the Jews were dreadfully persecuted, until they were condemned to annihilation and expulsion. Their property remained in the hands of the evil Spanish empire, permitting them to continue oiling the wheels of their wicked regime.

This was also the case in modern Germany. Jews participated in the country’s development, elevating it to the status of the most highly developed country in the world in terms of science, cultural, and economics. But when an economic crisis arose amid the two World Wars, the Nazi Party came to power, choosing to solve Germany’s economic problems by confiscating Jewish property. Thus, against their will, the Jews rebuilt the German economy, and indirectly helped erect the gruesome, murderous beast.

In chutz la’aretz, it is understandable that the economic development of a particular country is complex, and although the necessity of earning a living cannot be criticized, it is difficult to define it as being ‘sacred’. But in the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, where everything – whether directly or indirectly, whether knowingly, or unknowingly – is designed to reveal the word of God in the world, working is a mitzvah.

Once the kedusha of working in Eretz Yisrael is revealed, its importance spreads to chutz la’aretz as well. According to the degree of each country’s connection to the Land of Israel and to the Jewish nation, consequently, will their commerce and industry be blessed. These issues are lengthy and incredibly accurate. We pray that the United States and the European countries assist the Jews returning to their Land, as God spoke through His servants the Prophets, thereby meriting the blessing of their efforts.

The Words of the Chatam Sofer

In a similar vein, the Chatam Sofer [Rabbi Moshe Schreiber (1762-1839)] wrote in his chiddushim (novellae), regarding the words of Rabbi Yishmael that a person needs to work, that he was referring specifically to Eretz Yisrael.

“The reason being that, in this case, working the land and producing its holy fruit is itself a mitzvah – the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, settling the Land of Israel. It was in this context that the Torah commands us, “You shall harvest your grain.” And Boaz [who was a leading scholar of his generation] winnowed barley in the threshing floor at night to fulfill this mitzvah. Just as one would not say, ‘I will not wear tefillin because I am currently busy studying Torah,’ so too, one cannot say, ‘I will not harvest my crops because I am busy studying Torah. But when we are scattered among the nations of the world due to our many sins, the more one works in this world, the more he destroys his service of God. In such a case, Rabbi Yishmael would agree with Rashbi (who holds that one should minimize working as much as possible, and study Torah instead). And on this we rely on Rabbi Nehorai (Kiddushin 82a): “Rabbi Nehorai said: I abandon every trade in the world and teach my son only Torah” – namely, in chutz la’aretz” (Sukkah 36a).

(There is an edition of this Gemara, in which the chiddushei of the Chatam Sofer are omitted from page 34 onwards, so the publishers wouldn’t be forced to print these holy words. Apparently, there are certain types of haredim (fearful) who, out of their enormous “fear”, deny the Torah, and despise the words of its Gedolim).

*This article was translated from Hebrew. To read the original article, click here: