<I>Devarim</I>: G-d Works in Obvious Ways

Great scholars can miss the significance of events

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen,

 Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
INN:YH
"They took in their hands from the fruit of the Land and brought it down to us; they brought back word to us and said, 'Good is the Land that HaShem, our G-d, gives us!' But you did not wish to ascend, and you rebelled against the word of HaShem your G-d." (Devarim 1:25-26)

Moshe rebukes the Nation of Israel not for their sin, but for that of their parents who had perished in the desert. Only through relating this story and creating a sense of responsibility within his people does Moshe give them the opportunity to appreciate and correct the sin of their fathers. In order for Israel to correct past crimes, however, it is
The spies were the Torah giants of their generation.
first necessary to internalize what took place. And in order to appreciate this lesson from Moshe, we must understand who the "they" are that he speaks of in these verses.

"Yehoshua son of Nun and Calev son of Yephuneh, of the spies of the Land, tore their garments. They spoke to the entire assembly of the children of Israel, saying, 'The land that we passed through, to spy it out - the land is very, very good. If HaShem desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. But do not rebel against HaShem! You should not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread. Their protection has departed from them; HaShem is with us. Do not fear them!'" (Bamidbar 14:6-9)

The "they" are Yehoshua and Calev, two of the twelve tribal leaders sent into Canaan in order to spy out the country and report back to Israel. But Yehoshua and Calev were the minority opinion. The spies were the Torah giants of their generation. For reasons of pekuach nefesh (preserving life), the majority of rabbis argued against entering the land. It was the minority, Yehoshua and Calev, who asserted that Israel must ascend to their country and wage a war of liberation, not taking into consideration the superior military force of the Canaanite giants. This being the case, the question is asked how following the majority of rabbis over a seemingly irresponsible and adventurist minority opinion could be called rebelling against the word of HaShem - especially when Israel has been instructed to generally follow the legal opinions of the rabbinic majority.

There is a general assumption in many circles that the decisions of great rabbis must be inspired by Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Spirit), which by definition must be infallible. Although this belief is based more on fantasy than on a real understanding of Torah, it has nevertheless managed to transform many students of Torah into obedient robots - not daring to even respectfully question the opinions of leading scholars.

"If the entire assembly of Israel shall err, and a matter became obscured from the eyes of the congregation, and they commit one from among all the commandments of HaShem that may not be done, and they become guilty; when the sin regarding which they committed becomes known, the congregation shall offer a young bull as a sin-offering, and they shall bring it before the tent of meeting." (Vayikra 4:13-14)

The Talmud explains that these verses instruct Israel regarding a situation where the Sanhedrin (high court of Torah authorities) commits a mistake and, due to their error in deciding the Law, a majority of Israel transgresses a commandment. The Torah is clearly recognizing the possibility of a situation in which the Sanhedrin itself can lead the nation astray. And if the Sanhedrin can make such a grave mistake, then certainly modern scholars can err in this regard.

The first Mishnah in Tractate Sanhedrin states that Israel are not meant to follow the majority if that majority is transgressing. This is based on the verse in Shemot 23:2, which states, "Do not be a follower of the majority for evil."

The Gaon of Vilna illuminates, in Kol HaTor (the Gaon's teachings on the process of redemption), how even great scholars can miss the significance of events taking place in their times:

The sin of the spies... hovers over the Nation of Israel in every generation.... How strong is the power of the Sitra Achra that it succeeds in hiding from the eyes of our holy fathers the dangers of the klipot; from the eyes of Avraham, the klipah of exile... and in the time of the Mashiach, the Sitra Achra attacks the guardians of Torah with blinders.... Many of the sinners in this great sin of, "They despised the cherished Land," and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the spies, that they have been sucked into the sin of the spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already disproven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the Rishonim and Achronim. (Kol HaTor, chapter 5)

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook was once asked by the newspaper Maariv how Torah leaders in his day, like those in the times of Yehoshua and Calev, could err by their
The Sanhedrin itself can lead the nation astray.
opposition to settling the Land of Israel. He answered:

When one believes that the redemption of Israel and the coming of the Mashiach must appear miraculously from out of the heavens in a way which transcends the natural order of life, then one fails to see the hand of HaShem in all of the events of the world. The redemption is not obligated to appear with obvious miracles, nor does it have to be absolutely natural. Both miracles and natural world developments belong to the Almighty's domain. The Rambam explains that the appearance of Mashiach is also a natural historical process, which is revealed by the ingathering of the Jewish people to Israel, and even through wars. The redemption of the Jewish people that comes to pass in a natural way is also from the Almighty.

An assumption exists among many Torah scholars that Israel's redemption is meant to occur miraculously all at once. But redemption could also be a process that develops gradually through natural events. To only recognize HaShem's hand over the supernatural is to place limitations on His greatness and to remove Him from the natural events that take place throughout history (from man's perspective). One must be careful not to reject the way in which G-d has chosen to bring history to its goal of ultimate perfection. The Torah giants must work to broaden the nation's general perception of HaShem so that Israel may understand the actions He expects of us in this generation of universal redemption.
 
Yehuda HaKohen is a show host on IsraelNationalRadio.


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