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A Word to the Wise and to the Unwise as Well

By Tzvi Fishman
1/7/2011, 12:00 AM

Sometimes, even the most asinine, ranting and raving talkbacks have an iota of truth which forces us to explain, in greater depth, matters which people don't understand, or never learned.
Sometimes, even the most asinine, ranting and raving talkbacks have an iota of truth which forces us to explain, in greater depth, matters which people don't understand, or never learned. This is often the case with the Torah of Chutz L'Aretz, which focuses on the individual, and the private mitzvot he can perform in the Diaspora; rather than on the nation as a whole in all of its facets, including the ingathering of the exiles, Redemption, Jewish Kingship, and the supreme mitzvah of conquering and settling the Land of Israel, which our Sages have taught is equal to all the other commandments in the Torah.

For instance, bad mouthing the Land of Israel is a terrible transgression. This is how Rabbi Eliezer Melamed describes it in his book, "HaAm v'HaAretz," which I have the honor to be currently translating. He writes:    

THE SIN OF THE SPIES stemmed from their lack of love for the Land, as it is written, “They despised the cherished Land; they did not believe His word” (Tehillim, 106:24).  Consequently, they spoke disparagingly about her, as it says, “And they spread an evil report of the Land which they had spied on for the Children of Israel, saying, The Land which we have gone to spy it out is a Land that eats up its inhabitants” (Bamidbar, 13:32).

Here we see how Eretz Yisrael is distinguished from all other lands. For the prohibition of lashon hara, speaking with an evil tongue, applies solely to people, in order not to cause them grief. There is no prohibition to speak lashon hara about trees or rocks, for they feel no sorrow. However, concerning Eretz Yisrael, it is forbidden to speak lashon hara about it, for one who speaks negatively about her denies the Torah, which praises the Land. He also prevents the revelation of the Name of God in the world, which is revealed only through the Nation of Israel in Eretz Yisrael – the Holy Land. The punishment for speaking against the Land is particularly severe. Even the Jews who received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, who were called “the generation of knowledge,” were  harshly punished for speaking lashon hara and despising the Land. Death was decreed upon their generation, and the entry of the Children of Israel into the Land of Israel was delayed forty years.

Thus, it is told in the Talmud about the great Sages who would make every effort to prevent the Land of Israel from being seen in a negative light (See Ketubot 112A). If Rabbi Chanina, while walking in Eretz Yisrael, saw a stumbling block in the road, he would remove it. Rashi explains that he would clear roadways and repair obstructions because of his love for the Land. He would always seek out things that needed to be corrected, so that no one would speak badly about her roads.

Similarly, when they were conducting a Torah class outside, Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi would be careful to seat their students in the most comfortable place. In the morning, when it was a little cool, they would seat them in the sun. Towards the afternoon, when the sun became hot, they would seat them in the shade – so that no one would complain about Eretz Yisrael or about its climate.

Today, it is contingent upon us to rectify the sin of the Spies by praising the Land of Israel, and by thanking God for the wonderful present which He bequeathed to our fathers and to us. This is particularly applicable in our generation when millions of Jews, through the kindness of God, have merited to immigrate to Israel, build families, and settle the Land – something which was denied to generations of righteous and holy Jews in the past. Therefore, we are obligated to constantly praise Eretz Yisrael, to cherish her landscapes, to beautify her open stretches with trees and flowers, to rebuild her highways, and to construct attractive and comfortable homes. We must also constantly repeat the words of Yehoshua and Calev, who stood up against all the evildoers and said, “The Land is very, very good” (Bamidbar 14:7), thus countering and rectifying the deep blemishes left by the sin of the Spies. Consequently, more Jews will be inspired to make aliyah, and fewer will leave her borders, thinking to find a better life elsewhere.

We will finish this topic with the words of our teacher, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (Igrot Riyah, Letter 96): “The foundation of the exile, and the baseness which continues to proliferate in this world, stem from the lack of understanding of Eretz Yisrael, its sublime value and wisdom, and from not rectifying the sin of the Spies who spoke disparagingly about the Land. We are called upon to do the opposite - to speak her praises and herald her magnificence and glory, her holiness and honor. We can only hope  after all our praises, that we merit to express even one iota of the proper transcendental desire due to “the land of delight,” to the splendor of  her illuminating Torah, to the genius of her illuminating wisdom, for the Divine Inspiration which prevails upon her.”

Chodesh tov and Shabbat shalom.