I apologize from the beginning, but it’s time once again to read the Torah portion, Shelach, this Shabbat, the portion that tells the sad and tragic story of the Spies. What can I do? I didn’t write the Torah. Perhaps it would be better to forget this disgraceful episode in our history when the Jewish People rebelled again Hashem in the wilderness by refusing to make aliyah. But apparently, by keeping it in the Torah, and having us read about it year after year, Hashem wants us to learn its lessons.
If there are readers who have a chip on their shoulder about not living in Israel, and know in advance that they will be offended by what I have to write, then please, don’t read this blog. There are many interesting articles to read on the Internet. Be my guest and read them instead.
Our Torah portion has two main themes: the saga of the Spies, and the commandment of wearing tzitit. Before we explain the connection between them, let’s give a capsule summary of the episode of the Spies for readers who may not be familiar with the Torah portion.
After the Exodus from Egypt, before entering the Promised Land, Moshe sent Spies out on a surveillance mission to check out the nature of the Land, its fortifications, and the strength of its inhabitants. To carry out the undertaking, he chose the leaders of the tribes, the premiere Torah scholars, the most important men in the community, confident that they would return with superlative praises for Hashem’s Holy Land that would inspire the nation to continue on with their journey. But the very opposite occurred. Instead of seeing the good in the Land, they saw the negative, and their report of great fortified cities and giant enemies undermined the will of the Jewish people. Two valiant men, Yehoshua and Calev, believers in Hashem, argued with them, declaring that the Land was indeed a good Land, and that Hashem would surely lead them to victory, but the whining report of the other Spies traveled from house to house, demoralizing the spirit of the camp until the people refused to journey on to Israel. Their disobedience of G-d, and their refusal to abide by His command to make aliyah, brought about the death of the entire generation, who were doomed to another forty years of wandering in the wilderness, until a braver generation could arise, born into freedom, a new type of Jew who didn’t know the fear of the gentile that comes from being a minority in gentile lands.
That’s the story, right? I didn’t exaggerate. I didn’t change things. Everyone can read it for themselves. I won’t even bother to make comparisons to today. See what a good boy I am!
So what does this tragic tale have to do with the commandment that follows right afterward, that a Jew wear fringes on his four-cornered garments, called tzitzit? First, here is the commandment:
“And the L-rd spoke to Moshe saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make fringes in the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of each corner a blue thread; and it shall be to you as a tzitzit, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the L-rd and do them [INCLUDING THE MITZVAH OF LIVING IN ISRAEL] and that you not go after your own heart and you own eyes after which you go astray; that you may remember and do all the commandments [INCLUDING THE MITZVAH OF LIVING IN ISRAEL] and be holy to your G-d.”
This commandment tells us that we are supposed to wear tzitzit. It tells us that we are to remember and do all the commandments. And it warns us not to go after our own desires and eyes which lead us astray. (Bemidbar, 15:37).
This was the cardinal mistake of the Spies. They went after their own desires, preferring to live in galut, rather than in Eretz Yisrael. They went after their eyes, seeing only the enemy fortresses and giants, rather than relying on Hashem.
There are two types of vision; an external superficial vision that sees only surface matters, and a deeper inner vision that sees the inner essence. The Spies saw only the outer contours of the land, the walled cities, the formidable warriors, the funerals wherever they went, reporting that “It is a land that eats up its inhabitants.” In contrast, the inner vision, the vision of Yehoshua and Calev, is a vision of faith. It is a vision that understands that the Land of Israel, the Land of Hashem, is not just another geographic region, like any other country, with mountains, and streams, and valleys, but that the Land of Israel is as inseparable to the mission of the Jewish People as the body to the soul. Outside of the Land of Israel, the Jewish people are like the dry, scattered bones of Ezekiel’s famous prophesy. Only into the Land of Israel, on our own holy soil, can the Israeli Nation come alive and lead the world back to the service of Hashem, even if there are problems, even if this takes time until all of the Jewish People rally to fulfill the will of their Maker.
The Spies were sent to spy out לתור the Land. The mitzvah of tzitzit comes to rectify this sin, as it says, “that you not go after תתורו your own heart and you own eyes after which you go astray.”
Today, like in the days of the Spies, there are a handful of people who only see the surface matters when they look at Israel, the political corruption, the proliferation of foreign ideologies, the lack of inspired leadership (as if these exist anywhere else!) Instead of seeing the inner Israel, the Israel of faith, the Israel of Yehoshua and Calev, the Israel that Hashem commands us to live in, EVEN IF THERE ARE GIANTS IN THE LAND, they see only the problems. Like the Spies, in choosing foreign habitations, they despise the cherished Land. Like the Spies, they speak out over the Internet, spreading their slander to home after home, discouraging others from following G-d’s eternal command that a Jew should always live in the Land of Israel.
“Remember!” Hashem commands them. “Look at your tzitzit! Don’t follow what your eyes see! Don’t worry about the problems! Rise up to MY vision! Follow ME! Live in My chosen Land!”
Yes, there are many Jews who would like to come to Israel and can't, for a variety of justified reasons. We are not addressing them here. Rather, we are referring to those who could, but choose not to, and actively discourage others from coming. May Hashem guard us from their poisonous counsel. Amen.
A Jew wearing tzitzit in the Land of Hashem