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Spies Without and Within

By Tzvi Fishman
1/31/2008, 12:00 AM

In response to SK’s hysterical question, which we indeed already addressed at the beginning of this blog and in our book, “Torat Eretz Yisrael,” the indisputable Torah giant, the Gaon of Vilna, had this to say in his famous treatise on Israel’s Redemption, “Kol HaTor,” Chapter Five:

“This sin of the Spies (of misleading the Jewish People against the paramount importance of the settlement of the Land of Israel) hovers over the nation in every generation. How strong is the power of the realm of evil (the Sitra Achre) that it succeeds in hiding from the eyes of our holy fathers the dangers of the impure and evil husk (kelipah) of exile; and in the time of Mashiach, the realm of evil attacks the guardians of the Torah with blinders. Many of the sinners of this great sin of, ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ and also among them many guardians of the Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the Spies, in adopting many false ideas and empty claims; and they cover their ideologies with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Eretz Yisrael no longer applies in our day, an opinion that has already been disproven by the giants of the world, the early and later authorities of the Torah (the Rishonim and Achronim).

This understanding is also found in the writings of the holy Torah sage, Rabbi Eliahu Guttmacher, printed in the beginning of the book, “Em HaBanim Semaicha,” Pg 13; also quoted in the Responsa, “Nefesh HaChaya,” of Rabbi Eliezar Vax, at the end of Responsa 1:

“We can see how important this matter is of settling the Land of Israel, so much so that the impure forces (kelipot) attack even the biggest Tzaddikim to negate this great thing. For the whole power of the kelipah depends on the exile. With the cessation of exile, the kelipah comes to an end.”

HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, the son of Rabbi Kook and head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was often asked by students how leading Torah scholars could make a mistake in such a serious matter as the Redemption of Israel and the mitzvah of settling the Land? He answered that Gedolim (great Torah giants) and Tzaddikim could also make occasional mistakes, as seen in the opposition of many Eastern European rabbis to Hashem’s returning of the Jewish People to Israel in the years before and after the Holocaust.

In spite of the great reverence that HaRav Tzvi Yehuda felt for all Torah scholars, he wanted his students to understand that even the Sages of Torah can err.

He would explain that the fourth chapter of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus, 4:13) deals with special kinds of sin offerings. Situated between the offerings of a High Priest who sins, and a King who sins, are the laws of the sin offering for the whole congregation. The tractate Horiot explains that this is case where “the majority of the Great Sanhedrin makes a mistake” in deciding the law which causes the majority of the congregation to transgress. We see here that the Torah itself recognizes the possibility that the majority of the greatest Torah scholars can make a mistake.

HaRav Tzvi Yehuda illustrated this with the example of the tragic sin of the Spies who rebelled against Hashem in the wilderness after the Exodus by refusing to continue on to conquer and settle the Land of Israel. They were the outstanding Torah scholars of their time, the heads of the Sanhedrin, the chiefs of the tribes, all important men, yet they erred in placing their personal feelings ahead of Hashem’s command to conquer the Land of Israel, and this brought about a great Divine wrath and the death of the generation in the wilderness (See, “Mesillat Yesharim,” Ch.11, in the discussion on Honor).

Everyone has a choice. He can join the ranks of the Spies and encourage people not to go on aliyah to Israel, nor to settle in all of its borders, or he can join the ranks of Calev Ben Yefuna and Yehoshua Ben Nun and become a builder of the Jewish Nation in Israel.

Any more questions?