He who believes in Israel can meet its challenges

Those who do not love the Land or believe in its significance will say that defending it is impossible, citing demographic predictions, while those who see settling the Land as a mitzvah will find the practical solutions to maintain our hold on it.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, | updated: 13:09

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

The Sin of the Spies – The Root of the Destruction

As is known, the Sin of the Spies is the root of the destruction of the Land and the Temple. On the ninth of Av, the generation of the desert chose to believe the Spies, who claimed that Israel would not be able to conquer the land: “The entire community caused the outbreak of mayhem and began to wail. All that night, the people wept.

All the Israelites complained to Moses and Aaron. The entire community was saying, ‘We wish we had died in Egypt! We should have died in this desert! Why is God bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will be captives! It would be best to go back to Egypt!’ The people started saying to one another, ‘Let’s appoint a [new] leader and go back to Egypt” (Bamidbar 14: 1).

In the wake of their terrible sin, it was decreed that all men of military age would die in the desert and would not be able to see the good Land. Only after their bodies fell in the wilderness would their sons be able to enter the Land, along with Yehoshua Bin Nun and Calev ben Yefunah, the two spies who did not participate in the sin.

At the same time, the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: ”You have wept without cause: therefore will I give you a reason to  weep generation after generation.” (Sanhedrin 104b), It was decreed that the Temple would be destroyed, and Israel to be exiled from their land (Ta’anit 26b; Tanchuma Shelach) on that date, many years later.

What Sin did the Spies Commit?

Seemingly, the incident of the Sin of the Spies poses a difficulty: what sin did they actually commit? After all, the spies were sent to explore the land, to see whether the people living there were strong or weak, whether the inhabitants of the country were few or many. And behold, according to their best judgment, they concluded that the Canaanites living in the land were aggressive, the land’s cities were large and well-fortified, and if the Israelites were to try and conquer the land, the men would fall by the sword, and the women and children would be sold as slaves.

This was their assessment, so what choice did they have – to sit silently and watch while the people of Israel strode to their destruction? They were morally obligated to warn against the danger! And even if the Spies and the people erred in judgment, should the punishment have been so severe – to the point where all of them would die in the desert, the Jewish nation’s entry into the Land be delayed for forty years, and if their sin was not rectified – on that same day, the two Temples would eventually be destroyed?

When there is No Faith, Excuses Abound

The Spies were punished not for a mistake in judgment, but for the fact that they did not understand the value of the Land and did not love it, as it is written: “Moreover, they despised the pleasant Land, they did not believe His word” (Psalms 24:24). Consequently, they misjudged and exaggerated the power of the Canaanites facing Israel. For that reason, when Yehoshua and Calev tried to save them, they declared at the outset: “The Land is very, very good.” Only afterwards, out of a recognition of the value of the Land, did they call upon the people to strengthen their faith in their ability to defeat the Canaanites (Numbers 14: 9).

A person who does not love the Land hates the need to fight for it, and subsequently convinces himself that it is impossible to conquer and settle it anyway, and finds a thousand reasons why this is the case. However, the main reason is – he simply does not care about the Land of Israel, and all his reasons are merely excuses. No one is willing to invest time and effort in something he does not value.

For example, a person who does not value the importance of university studies will be incapable of finding the inner strength to pursue their completion. Someone who does not appreciate the significance of combat service will not be able to find the inner strength to withstand arduous training, preparing him to be a fighter. One who does not appreciate the value of family life will not be able to find the strength to seal a marriage covenant, and establish a family. Each one will find a thousand realistic reasons why the time is not right to study, to enlist in the army, or to get married, but the real reason is – they simply do not want to.

The Position behind Israel's Security Policy

Even today, it is a fact that the main characteristic of most of the leftists who support the withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is that the love of the people and the Land is not central to their lives, and their belief in God is weak. Like the Spies of old, today they also candidly claim that in order to save the State of Israel, we must withdraw from Judea and Samaria and establish a Palestinian state. They also claim that if we continue to settle in Judea and Samaria, we will endanger the State of Israel because it will lose its Jewish identity, or it will become an undemocratic country that the whole world will distance itself from as if it is a leper, until it can no longer exist.

On the other hand, those who believe in God, the Giver of the Torah, and the love of the People and the Land is central to their lives, tend to believe that settlement in Judea and Samaria will strengthen the State of Israel, and any withdrawal will weaken it, and endanger its existence.

Underlying the Debate over Morality

Not only that, but belief and values ​​also influence moral attitudes. The leftists are convinced that expelling Jews from the settlements is moral, but it is immoral to expel Arabs even in return for appropriate compensation. The extremists in the left think the settlement of the land is a crime. On the other hand, the rightists are convinced that the Jewish people have exclusive right over Judea and Samaria, and under certain conditions it might even be possible to expel Arabs.

In times of war, the leftists tend to oppose serious harm to the Arabs on the assumption that the Arab position is right. On the other hand, right-wingers support all out attacks on them, on the assumption that they are the evil side of the conflict and that they should be punished accordingly.

Moreover, the moral-faith assessment influences the assessment of reality: in the opinion of the leftists, if we deal with the Arab enemy with a hard hand, the security situation will worsen, and in the opinion of rightists, the situation will improve.

The Debate over Numbers

Even concerning the demographic numbers, which seemingly depend on reality, belief and values have an influence. The extreme left (including officers from the Civil Administration) estimates that about five million Arabs live in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip; the moderate leftists believe that they number slightly more than four million (Prof. Della Pergola); right-wingers believe that their number is slightly more than three million (Yoram Ettinger), and extreme right-wingers believe they number about two million.

If this is the debate over the numbers of those living today, all the more so does the belief-based position affect extrapolationss about the future. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, left-wing demographic experts have estimated that within twenty years the Arabs will become a majority, and right-wing experts believe that the Jewish majority will grow.

Humorously, the settlers say that it is not worth prolonging arguments with left-wingers, because every half hour the debate continues, the number of Arabs rises by half a million. With the mercy of Heaven, after the debate is over, reality returns to itself and the exaggerated numbers dissipate into thin air…

Redemption in Reality

In reality, it is also possible to make mistakes on the other side – to ignore the difficult problems in reality, and to think that the main thing is to believe that if we really want to settle the country urgently, it will be possible to skip over all the problems and everything will work out miraculously.

But this, too, is a grave sin (as the Ma’apilim did after the Sin of the Spies). This is because both reality and nature are Divine creations, and ignoring the problems of reality and natural difficulties is heresy. In other words, those faithful to the People and the Land must recognize reality as it is, not change the numbers and not bias the assessments to suit their faith, aspirations, and hopes.

The main purpose of the mitzvah of settling the Land is to reveal the faith within the earthly life, within a rational framework. This is also the goal of the entire Torah, to be fulfilled in the Land, within the framework of the natural laws, without relying on miracles, and thus it will be revealed how walking in the ways of God adds blessing and life.

The mitzvot related to the family bring blessings to the family, the mitzvoth related to livelihood and morality lead to economic success, the mitzvoth associated with the nation advance the nation, and so forth in all the areas of life that mitzvot deal with.

Returning to the settlement of the land: Inspired by faith and its guidance, we must seek practical and moral ways to settle the Land even within our complicated reality. Since reality is complex and given to change, in joint efforts we can find the rational ways to settle the Land, and after our plans are completely realistic – we can hope for God’s help.

Redemption Little by Little

Since redemption must come through natural reality, rationally, it develops and progresses gradually, without any skipping over stages. As the Sages said: “Such will be Israel’s redemption: at first it will be little by little, but the longer it continues it will grow and grow”(Talmud Yerushalmi Berachot 1: 1). In other words, even though everything begins with God, “the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it…”, the goal is that everything be revealed through us, as the verse continues: “…who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it” (Isaiah 42: 5).

If the goal were to reveal the faith in God by skipping over all the laws of intelligence and nature, redemption would have to come at once, while scrapping reality. However, the complete faith is revealed in the heavens and in the earth, and in the complete redemption, both the earth and nature are redeemed, the intellect and emotions, and all human qualities are redeemed. To this end, the process of tikkun (correction) is gradually accomplished through human actions.

This is what was said in the Zohar: “When the Holy One, blessed be He, will raise them up and bring them out of the Exile, then He will open for them a slight, very thin opening of light, and then open a slightly larger opening, until the Holy One, blessed be He opens the Upper Gates to the four directions of the world” (Va’yishlach 170:1 Tirgum). In this way, Israel will be able to absorb the value of Torah and the mitzvah of settling the Land, and to participate fully in its fulfillment, until the entire world is redeemed.

The Tikkun – the Refining of Faith

The Spies denied the process of redemption of the Land; they did not believe that it was possible to act according to the Torah to change reality for the better. They thought one of two things: Either God will perform a miracle for us and redeem us, or there is no way to overcome the difficulties of reality.

The correction of the Sin of the Spies and the redemption of Israel and the world depends on the refining of faith. On the one hand, recognizing the greatness of God in the destiny of the people of Israel and in the significance of the Land. And on the other hand, in the recognition that the word of God must be revealed through rational, natural reality without any skipping over stages.

This is the essence of the commandment to settle the Land, and therefore it is equivalent to all the commandments.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.



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