This week’s Torah portion begins with Moshe begging G-d to let him enter the Land of Israel. “Please let me pass over there and see the good Land on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon” (Devarim, 3:23).
As a rule, the Torah is very precise and sparse with its wording. Why then does the word “good” appear twice in this verse? Rabbi Shalom Gold from Jerusalem explains that Moshe was asking Hashem two things in his fervent petition. The first was permission to enter the good Land with the rest of the Jews. The second request was, “Please, Hashem, after I am in the Land, please grant me the blessing to continue to see the Land in a good light.”
This is a wonderful insight. What splendid advice for us today. We are always to see the Land of Israel in a positive light. Even though there are many problems in the Land, we are always to look on the positive side, with a good eye, and not with a negative orientation. In doing so, we rectify the sin of the Spies and their “evil generation” who chose to emphasize the difficulties and dangers they saw over everything else. In doing so they undermined the spirit and resolve of the nation, leading to the destruction of that generation in the wilderness. In addition, their ambivalence toward, and rejection of living in Eretz Yisrael planted of the seeds of national weakness that still haunts us today, prolonging the exile and strengthening our enemies who seek to uproot the Land from our grasp.
When the Spies saw the might fortified cities in Israel, instead of being thankful they would soon inherit these already built cities, they saw an insurmountable obstacle. When they saw funerals wherever they traveled, instead of thanking Hashem for keeping the local inhabitants distracted while they spied out the Land, they came back with the demoralizing report that the Land eats up its inhabitants at a ravenous pace. When they saw giants, instead of seeing that the Land contains the power for tremendous growth, they merely saw an invincible enemy.
Half filled or half empty? It all depends on your perspective.
What can we learn from this?
First we have to know that there is a yetzer (an evil inclination) to see the Land of Israel in a negative light. Just like there is a yetzer to steal, and a yetzer to say bad things about people, and to look at erotic pictures, and the like, there is a yetzer to see and speak about Israel derogatively. This is the yetzer that entered the eyes and hearts of the Spies, bringing destruction upon their whole generation, and eventually leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and our national life in the Land of Israel. The Gaon of Vilna points out that even Torah scholars can succumb to this yetzer. He states: “Many of the sinners in this great sin of ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ including many guardians of the 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 concepts and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion that has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the early and later Torah authorizes” (Kol HaTor, Chapter 5).
On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we all have to keep on guard and be careful that we don’t fall prey to this terrible yetzer.
For instance, while it is true that we have a government of short-sighted politicians in Israel today, thank G-d that we have a Jewish government after suffering under gentile rule for nearly two-thousand years.
And while our army has been misused as political tool of short-sighted politicians to foster the ideology of the Spies, thank G-d that we have a Jewish army with Jewish officers and soldiers after being persecuted and murdered by gentile armies for those same two thousand years.
And while our media is filled with journalists who have the same misguided mentality of the Spies, thank G-d that we have the satellites and TV equipment in place for the day when Arutz 7 takes over the reins and begins broadcasting Torah to all of the world.
And while our holy Jewish daughters don’t always dress as modestly as they should, thank G-d that they are marrying Jewish men and are not marrying outside of our faith like in every other country in the world.
And while taxes in Israel are high, thank G-d the tax money goes to Jewish schools and hospitals and yeshivot and to build highways all over the Holy Land.
And while you often have to wait on long lines in all sorts of government agencies and offices, thank G-d that the elbow in your rib is a Jewish elbow, and the impatient guy behind you is yelling at you in Hebrew.
And while the traffic jams in Israel are getting worse all the time, thank G-d you are delayed on your way to Jerusalem and not on your way to Manhattan. It seems to me that Moshe would have been happy to wait out the extra half hour.