Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

On Tisha B’Av, the generation of the desert chose to believe the Spies, who claimed that the People of Israel would not have the power to conquer the Land, “The entire community raised a hubbub and began to shout. That night, the people wept” (Numbers 14:1). As a result of their sin, it was decreed that all men of military age would die in the wilderness and not get to see ha’aretz ha’tova (the good Land), and only after their corpses fell in the desert were their children able to enter the Land with Yehoshua son of Nun and Calev son of Yefuneh, who did not participate in sin.

At that moment God said, ” ‘You have wept without cause: therefore will I decree that you have cause to weep for generations” (Sanhedrin 104b).

In other words, if the Sin of the Spies was not rectified, the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) would be destroyed, Israel would be exiled from their Land, and the Jews would mourn for generations on Tisha B’Av (Taanit 26b; Tanchuma, ‘Slach’).

The Root of the Sin

The root of their sin was that they did not understand the value of Eretz Yisrael, and did not love it, as stated: “They despised the pleasant land; they did not believe His word "(Psalms 106:24). One who does not love the Land dodges the need to fight for it, and tends to be easily convinced it is impossible to conquer and settle it. He will find many reasons to strengthen his position, but in truth, the main motive is that Eretz Yisrael is not important to him, and consequently, he is not willing to dedicate himself to its settlement.

This is true in all areas of life. For example, one who does not appreciate Torah study, will find it difficult to study it diligently, both in the early phase of learning the fundamentals, and also later on in life in the stage of setting times for Torah study, especially on Shabbat Kodesh.

Someone who does not value the importance of academic studies will be incapable of finding the inner strength to pursue their completion.

One who does not appreciate the significance of combat service will not be able to find the inner strength to withstand arduous training, preparing him to become a fighter.

A person who does not appreciate the value of family life will not be able to find the strength to seal a marriage covenant, and establish a family.

All these people will find a thousand excuses for themselves, but the real reason is – they simply do not want to.

Heresy in Belief in the Unity of God

The unique value of Eretz Yisrael is that in it, complete emunah (faith) in the One God is revealed. In other words, in Eretz Yisrael, emunah is revealed in all areas of life: in Torah, in work, in science, in art, in the life of the individual and the community, the Clal, and the state. On the other hand, the sin of avodah zara (idol worship) is that it divides and separates the world into different realms, and different idols. The greatest separation in the world is the separation between spiritual and material. Therefore, one who lives in Chutz L’Aretz (outside of Israel), in a place where there is no sacred inspiration of kedusha (holiness) in earthly life, is considered as one who serves foreign idols, and has no God (Ketubot 110b).

The sin of the Spies was that they thought that life in the desert was more sacred than life in Eretz Yisrael, and consequently, it would be better for Israel to remain in the desert, study in the ‘kollel’ of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Seventy Elders; in the morning, they would eat manna, and in the evening, slav (quail). However, the Torah commanded us to enter the Land, because the entire purpose of the Creation of the World is to reveal the belief in God’s unity in all areas of life, and to enjoy and rejoice in all the good that God created, and to further correct and perfect it. For this purpose, God chose his nation, Israel, to declare the glory of God by entering the Land, and fulfilling the sacred values ​​in all areas of life, and thus, the whole world will be rectified and redeemed.

The Terrible Price of the Sin of the Spies Nowadays

Today, just as in the past, the price of choosing not to make aliyah (immigrate) to Eretz Yisrael when possible, is grave. As I wrote three weeks ago, but is worth repeating a thousand times:

Nearly a hundred and twenty years ago, at the time of the establishment of the Zionist Movement, the Jewish people numbered approximately eleven million. The Arabs who lived in all areas of the Biblical borders, including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, numbered a little more than five million, while just a little more than half a million Arabs lived on both sides of the Jordan.

At that point, the Jewish nation had the opportunity to return to Eretz Yisrael, to flourish and multiply in it. However, almost all of the nation remained in the Diaspora, suffered the Holocaust, the rule of Communist oppression, and forced or voluntary assimilation.

Today, there about fifteen million declared Jews throughout the entire world, and in Israel, approximately seven million. In contrast, the Arabs in the vicinity of Eretz Yisrael grew from five million, to over eighty million.

The Breach Began with the Sin of the Golden Calf

The breach that led to the Sin of the Spies began with the Sin of the Golden Calf, which occurred a year earlier on the 17th of Tammuz. Moshe Rabbeinu failed to descend Mount Sinai at the expected time; the people were left with doubts and the need to establish an alternative to the previous leadership. In the generation of the desert, the sin was in the placing of a golden calf designed to express faith in a tangible way; had Moshe Rabbeinu not come down from the mountain and prevented the breach, the people might have been scattered to fragments of pagan beliefs.

In recent times, the tide of modernity swept the world and the light of Moshe Rabbeinu’s Torah has hidden itself in the in mists of purity, and once again the tendency has arisen to seek a substitute, a golden calf. The righteous righteous stood on the watch of pure faith without seeking mediators, while maintaining hope and commitment to immigrate to the land. However, many have begun to look for alternatives or additions to the belief in uniqueness.

Some were dragged after golden calves of rationalism, liberalism, communism and various reforms. On the other hand, in the face of taking responsibility from the leaders of modernity, there were those who tried to preserve religion by inventing new ‘prohibitions’ as their golden calves: not to immigrate to Israel, not to enlist in the Israeli army, not to study science, not to engage in world settlement.

Even someone who has been privileged to immigrate to Israel, and in practice contributes to the multiplicity of the Jewish people and the settlement of the country – as long as his faith does not match his actions, and he considers the situation of the Jewish people in Israel to be the same as living in exile, needs to thoroughly examine his beliefs and repent.

Baseless hatred is equivalent to despising the Holy Land

Along with the sin of despising the Holy Land, there is also the sin of baseless hatred. Both stem from the same root – the pagan thought that the divine is revealed only in specific areas of life. That is why the settlement of the country is not valued, and there is estrangement from sectors of our people, leading to speaking with hatred or in a hostile way towards the haredim, settlers, secular, leftists, socialists and boycotting various circles such as the Reform and Conservatives.

Admittedly, settling the country and enlisting in the army involve difficulties. However, this is the challenge we face – discovering faith in all areas of life. The connection with all parts of the nation also involves difficulties and debates about the principles of the Torah and morals and our identity, but the Torah teaches us that the whole people of Israel were chosen to discover the belief in uniqueness, and even the wicked are called sons of God.

And he who is alienated from it, who does not respect the various sectors of the people, denies the belief in uniqueness and the Torah, because only by all Israel can the belief in uniqueness be revealed. And when we do not win, through the arguments and sins the words of the Torah are revealed, as we have learned, that even from the sins of Israel whole passages were written. It is found that the one who is alienated from groups in the nation seems to be uprooting passages from the Torah, because only by dealing with the positive element in sin, and in movements that advocate it, can repentance and correction be achieved.

Torah study on Shabbat

The root of the sin of the spies in the aspirations of holiness. For although it is very beautiful to speak highly of the revelation of holiness in life, in practice, preoccupation with the practicalities of living may distance a person from the Torah, and he may weaken in the study of the Torah and the observance of its commandments.

For this purpose God gave us the Sabbath, so that we would engage in it in the Torah along with the pleasure of the meals and rest, and by doing so we would discover holiness in both soul and body. And as the sages said (Pesachim 68b) that the Shabbat should be divided, “half for eating and drinking and half for the Beit Midrash.”

Likewise the sages said: “The Torah said before God: Lord of the Unvierse, when Israel enters the land, one person will rush to his vineyard and another rush to his field, and what will happen to me?" Hashem answered: “I have a partner for you and Shabbat is her name, the day they are idle from their work and can engage in you.” This response is not just an excuse to placate the Torah, but is intended to inspire us to deepen our understanding of the Land of Israel and the Sabbath. By studying the Torah on Shabbat out of pleasure and peace of mind, which derives from settling Eretz Yisrael, the words of the Torah will be revealed in their full meaning and blessings. So that settling the land and the work involved will not lessen Torah study, but add a dimension of understanding, increase Torah study and publicly sanctify heaven.

Therefore, we must make every effort to set aside half of the Sabbath to the Torah. The temptation not to engage in Torah study on Shabbat – is great. But this is what our lives depend on. This is the way to elevate our work, this is the way to fulfill the great vision of the people of Israel in discovering the belief in the uniqueness of the land.