The Sin of the Spies - Today
The Sin of the Spies - Today
In this period of mourning the destruction of the Holy Temples, we must try our best to rectify the Sin of the Spies,  the root of all calamities. This week’s Torah portion, D’varim (Deuteronomy), repeats the story.

Our Sages said:On the Ninth of Av, it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the Promised Land (as a result of the Sin of the Spies, which took place on that day), the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Beitar was captured, and the city of Jerusalem was ploughed up” (Ta’anit 26b).

It is important to understand just what  the sin of the Spies was.  According to the pshat, the literal meaning of the verses, entering the Land of Israel in the spies' assessment would have involved risking their lives, and in order to save the lives of their children, it was necessary to remain in the desert. Should they have ignored the danger?!

Actually, however, their sin was that they looked at the cherished Land with abhorrence. Their basic attitude was that conquering the Land and settling it was a difficult matter – a serious “problem.” It would be better to remain in the desert – to eat bread from the heavens and the quail, and survive miraculously. Therefore, when they saw the giants and fortified cities, they made up their minds that it was impossible to conquer the Land, and "melted the hearts" of the people.

In the end, all of them were punished and delayed for forty years, “until the last of your corpses lie here in the desert”. They chose to protect their physical bodies, rejecting the vision of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and instead, remained dead corpses in the desert.

They did not understand. The Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) is not the problem of Jewish existence – the Land of Israel is the solution.

Jews in the Diaspora and the Question of Eretz Yisrael

There were Jews in the Diaspora who wished to forget about the Land of Israel – to stop feeling like foreigners, and assimilate into their societies. But the Gentiles did not let them forget the Land of Israel. “Jews to Palestine” they shouted at them. Many Jews believed that if they could just forget about their connection to Eretz Yisrael, everything would be fine; after that, they would be accepted among the nations, and be able to influence them with their Jewish values. The Reform movement even erased the Land of Israel and Jerusalem from their prayer books.

In the end, there was the Holocaust, or at best, Communist decrees, and it was no longer possible to immigrate to Israel.

Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it is the solution.

Students of the Vilna Gaon and the Precursor’s of Zion

The Vilna Gaon and his disciples began speaking about the importance of immigration to Israel and rebuilding the Land, but their words did not attract enough followers – the yishuv (settlement) in Eretz Yisrael was meager and poor. Even a generation later, when the gaonim Rabbi Kalisher and Rabbi Guttmacher aroused the public to immigrate to Israel and build it, only a few heeded their call, because the leadership and the people thought it was too difficult to immigrate to Israel and survive there. And in Europe, hardships and persecution increased on the one hand, and assimilation on the other.

Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it’s the solution.

Founding of the Zionism as a Rescue Movement

We were not worthy of having multitudes of Jews immigrate to the Land of Israel motivated by a desire to fulfill the mitzvah from the Torah and the vision of Redemption, and anti-Semitism greatly increased. And thus the Zionist movement was founded as rescue movement for the persecuted Jewish people.

From the onset, it was clear that the place of refuge for the Jewish people would be in the biblical Land of Israel, including the eastern side of Jordan. With the grace of God, the nations of the world also recognized this at the time of the Balfour Declaration and the decision of the League of Nations.

However, when the Zionist leadership saw that the claim to Eretz Yisrael initiated problems and required struggles with the Arabs and the British, it was decided to solve the “problem” of Eretz Yisrael by conceding the eastern part in exchange for a promise to settle the western side of the Jordan and the transfer of the Arab population to the eastern side.

And wonder of wonders – conceding the eastern side of the Jordan did not solve the problem. The pressures and rioting in opposition to the Jewish settlement increased, and instead of the Arabs moving to the eastern side of the Jordan, masses flocked the western side to enjoy the fruits of Jewish settlement. The problem gradually intensified and the British restricted Jewish immigration and allotted parts of our holy Land to the Arabs – as well as land purchased by Jews.

Because Eretz Yisrael is not the problem, but the solution; therefore, conceding the eastern side of the Jordan only exacerbated the problem.

The Partition Plan

Nevertheless, the Zionist leadership did not learn its lesson and continued to relate to the extent of Eretz Yisrael as a problem, and in order to prevent bloodshed during the riots (1936-1939), agreed to give up most of the area west of the Jordan, in accordance with the proposal of the Peel Commission.

Instead of receiving peace, security and unrestricted immigration to save Jews from the claws of the Nazi’s, the riots continued and the British imposed further obstacles to immigration to Eretz Yisrael.

For indeed, the Land of Israel is not the problem, it is the solution.

Either We Build, or Engage in Saving Lives

When the Jewish people are worthy – we engage in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, attempt to bring as many Jews on aliyah as possible, settle as much of the Land as we can, and in this manner, attain peace and security, prosperity and immigration, respect among the nations, and strengthen the Jewish spirit. When we are not worthy to engage in yishuv ha’aretz, we are forced to engage in pikuach nefesh (saving lives).

In recent generations, at least we can take comfort that by the grace of God, with all the troubles and dangers, we are privileged to make some progress in settling the Land – but with great difficulty and agony.

Only following the tragedy of the  Holocaust were we able to find the strength to establish the State of Israel. Only because the Arabs continued to attack us with a lust for murder and destruction, were we able to liberate portions of our homeland and began to settle Judea and Samaria.

This is the significance of what our Sages said concerning the Redemption:

“If they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, it will come in its due time” (Sanhedrin 98a) – if they are worthy – through the joy of building the Land; if not – through difficult and horrible suffering.

The Moral Predicament

Certain morally-conscientious people throughout the world argue against the State of Israel: “You are robbers, for you have forcefully conquered the Arab’s land” (in which they never had a state).

There are also morally-sensitive Jews who argue “occupation corrupts”. They believe that if not for this messianic affinity to Judea and Samaria all wars would cease, the world would consider us enlightened, and Israel would be the exemplary society they dreamed of establishing. For that to happen, first we need to get rid of the “problem” of the “territories” (a derogatory name for Eretz Yisrael).

In actual fact, the Arabs were granted broad autonomy in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, but instead of peace – hatred and terrorism towards us increased tremendously, anti-Semitism spread throughout the world, and international pressure against Israel intensified.

Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it is the solution.

If we are worthy – we settle the Land for the sake of the mitzvah. If not – we are forced to conduct repeated wars, and only through suffering are we privileged to slightly expand Jewish settlement.

The Problem of America and the Entire World

Even the United States and the rest of the Western countries have a serious problem with the Land of Israel. A little sarcasm is due: If not for the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, world peace could have been achieved long ago, the Muslims would have calmed down, and democracy would flourish in all countries. Instead of this, the world is forced to hear about more houses being built in the settlements.

And as long as Jews continue to build in the settlements the international media is forced to cover it, and does not have time to report about the millions of murdered people in Islamic countries, and about the hundreds of millions of starving and sick people in Africa. As long as the settlers keep behaving with horrendous violence by scribbling graffiti against the Arabs, world leaders and the U.N. are unable to find time to solve the problems of international terrorism, nuclear weapons, and global conflicts.

And here, they were able to begin solving the “problem”; they succeeded in expelling Jews from Gush Katif and freezing construction in Judea and Samaria. But for some odd reason tensions are on the rise, the Muslims are not satisfied, and anti-Semitic incitement is growing. Countries are collapsing in blood, fire, and pillars of smoke.

Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it’s the solution. 

Through the building of Eretz Yisrael, nations who desire justice and peace could have sent a clear message to all the various terrorists that violence, falsehood and evil do not pay. This is the correct way for the West to put all evil regimes in their place. This is the way to bring peace to the world.

The War in Gaza

And so, we arrived at this complicated war in the Gaza Strip.

Had we been worthy – we would have engaged in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, building and expanding Gush Katif. We would not have sinned in the Oslo Accords, and not have granted the Arabs any collective rights in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we would have to deal with international pressure and threats from the Arab enemy, but handling such pressure would have been relatively easy. It could even have been a constructive and reinforcing struggle.

But since we were not worthy, we sinned in the Oslo Accords and the destruction of Gush Katif, we entered a complicated war in Gaza in order to save Jewish lives from the fires of Muslim terror, and our precious soldiers are forced to sacrifice their lives in the defense of the people and the country.

The Only Way to Win is Settling the Land

If the government continues to ignore the vision of yishuv ha’aretz, we cannot win the war. For the Arabs know that the key issue concerns the sovereignty over the land, and as long as they remain steadfast and their claims receive international attention – they win. Even if we kill thousands of their soldiers and citizens and destroy thousands of their houses, specifically on account of that, they will receive more funding to build their military strength.

And thus, we will have to go from one military operation to the next, to bend, twist, and confront international pressures – because the Arabs will always have demands, and there will always be more terrorists to violate the peace.

The only way to win is by returning to the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz. If as a result of the war in Gaza the government comes to the realization that further talk about withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is forbidden and must expand the Jewish settlements, this war can then be depicted as somewhat of a victory.

If the enemy knew that as a result of the war the government would decide to build tens of thousands of homes in the settlements of Judea and Samaria, they would realize they have lost.

If they heard that the Israeli government intends to occupy Gaza, to rebuild the destroyed communities, to encourage the emigration of refugees and enemies of Israel, their dream of victory over Israel would fade, international pressure would gradually diminish, and the swamp of terror would eventually dry up.

The Role of Individuals

During the period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, each individual should make an effort to rectify the Sin of the Spies by building the Land. Anyone who can join the settlements in Judea and Samaria is called to do so. Those who cannot move there for family reasons, or because they fill other important functions in education or in the community, are called upon to encourage those who can, to rise up and join the settlements.

Of course, those standing guard over the communities on the Golan Heights and the Negev, the Galilee and the Arava, should remain where they are. This call is directed to the residents of central Israel, who, without losing their jobs, can fulfill the great mitzvah of saving our nation from the existential danger of the establishment of a terrorist state in Judea and Samaria.

Because settling the Land is the solution, and in the building of Eretz Yisrael we will find comfort.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.