Fishman Tsvi
Fishman TsviCourtesy

This week’s Torah portion of Va’ethanan begins with Moshe begging Hashem to allow him to enter the Land of Israel:

“I beseech Thee, let me go over and see the good Land that is beyond the Jordan, that good mountain and the Lebanon.”

I once heard Rabbi Sholom Gold of Har Nof ask an interesting question. Why does Moshe repeat the word “good” in the verse? Rabbi Gold answered that Moshe was actually asking two things from Hashem. First, he was asking for permission to enter the good Land. Second, he was asking for Hashem’s blessing that once he was in the Land, he would continue to see the Land in a good light.

Rabbi Gold explained that there is a yetzer hara (evil inclination) that causes a person to see the Land of Israel in a negative perspective. The Spies are the classic example of this tragic transgression. Even though they were outstanding Torah scholars and leaders of the tribes, they came back from their tour of Israel with a critical report, highlighting the dangers they encountered. Instead of emphasizing the good of the Land, they succumbed to their yetzer hara and emphasized the things which they subjectively experienced as bad.

For instance, having seen many funerals during their trip, they reported that it is a land that “devours its inhabitants.” Rashi explains that in reality, Hashem was doing them a favor, arranging that there would be many funerals so that the Jews could go about their mission undetected (Bamidbar, 13:32). Rather than seeing that the Land of Israel was indeed good, as Hashem had promised, the Spies interpreted events in the Land as bad, in order to justify their personal desire of remaining in exile where they thought that they could sit and learn Torah in comfort, enjoying the manna which miraculously fell every day, without their having to work for a living, or play a part in the mitzvah of conquering the Land (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch 11, in the discussion on Honor; also Zohar, 3:158).

This same corrupted vision continues today on the part of all of the lovers of the galut who spend their days criticizing Israel: “This is no good, and that’s not holy enough, and this is secular, and that is dangerous, and there are too many taxes, and we don’t want to serve in the army, and they knock down Jewish homes, and they are pushy on lines,” ad infinitum. They self-righteously proclaim, “Until all of these terrible things are corrected, it is suicide to go on aliyah,” thereby reenacting the sin of the Spies.

Seeing the Land of Israel, and what goes on there, in a negative light is a pernicious sickness of which most people aren’t even aware that they are guilty. On the contrary, they think they are doing a mitzvah by rejected Hashem’s Chosen Land with all kinds of halakhic gymnastics and shallow excuses. They don’t realize that they are embracing the very same sin as the Spies.

As the Gaon of Vilna writes: “Many of those who sin in the great transgression of speaking out against the Land of Israel, as it says, ‘They despised the cherished Land,’ and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the Spies in their many false ideas and empty claims….” (Kol HaTor, Ch.5).

This does not mean that one cannot point out problems with the State of Israel, or with government policies, or with the biased media, etc. However, in doing so, the criticism must come forth from the fundamental confirmation that this is our one and only Land, and come hell and high water, we won’t betray our love for it with an allegiance to any other lover.

Thus, to protect himself against the terrible spiritual illness of slandering the Land, Moshe praises the Land of Israel throughout the Torah portion, stressing over and over again that it is indeed a “good Land.”

The Sages of the Talmud followed Moshe’s example. At the end of tractate Ketubot, it is related that Rav Hanina would clear away debris from the roads of Eretz Yisrael, so that no one would speak derisively against the Land of Israel. When teaching their students, Rav Ami and Rav Asi would move from the shade to the sun, and from the sun to the shade. Rashi explains that they would move into the sun when the shade was too cold, and into the shade when the sun was too hot, so that no one should speak a bad word about the settlement of Eretz Yisrael.

How important it is, then, to view the settlement of Israel in a positive light. Thinking otherwise is a grievous sin.

Of course, a “good eye” is important in looking at everything in life, especially with our families, our wives, our children, and our friends. The Mishna teaches that a “good eye” is the trait of our Forefather, Avraham, and its opposite, the trait of the wicked Bilaam (Avot, 5:19).

But, here, I have to make a personal confession. There is one thing I simply cannot look at with a good eye, and that is the exile. True, until the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a positive value of sorts in the exile, in that via the punishment of galut, and its sufferings, our sins were atoned, in the same way that a sinner must serve time in hell, G-d forbid, in order to be purged of his transgressions. Plus there was to be an educational value in the exile. Our being a persecuted minority among the gentile nations was to teach us to appreciate the importance of our own holy, Jewish Land.

But, tragically, something went wrong. Instead of loathing the exile, many of our brethren fell in love with it, and refuse to leave, even though Hashem has mercifully brought us back to our Homeland with miracles and an incredible national rebirth that has amazed all the world.

What is this tragedy analogous to? To a rebellious child who is sent to sit in the bathroom in punishment for his wayward behavior. Finally, when the door is unlocked, the child announces that he prefers to stay in the bathroom rather than return to live in the house. True, there are sweet smelling soaps and perfumes in the bathroom to camouflage the stink, a marble sink counter, designer spotlights, and a wall-length mirror, ferns, and even television, but it is life in a bathroom all the same.

May Hashem cure us of the evil of seeing the settlement of the Land of Israel in a negative light, and may we merit to rectify the sin of the Spies by loving the Land, seeing it with a good eye, and coming to live in its borders in accordance with the will of the Almighty, as stated again and again and again in the Torah. Amen.

Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."