Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

The beginning of the Sin of the Spies was that they were afraid about going to war over the Land of Israel. As long as God promised to fight for them, they were ready to enter the Land. However, when God commanded Moshe to prepare Israel for war and command all twenty-year-old men fit for service — “each one in his own camp, and each one designated by the banner for his division” – and they realized they would have to draw swords and fight the seven nations – they were afraid, and out of fear of being killed, asked to send spies.

The spies returned from spying-out the Land and said: “‘We came to the land where you sent us, and it is indeed flowing with milk and honey, as you can see from its fruit. However, the people living in the land are aggressive, and the cities are large and well-fortified. We also saw the giant’s descendants there. We cannot go forward against those people!” And they wept and complained to Moshe and Aaron, and said, 'We wish we had died in Egypt! We should have died in this desert! Why is God bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will be captives! It would be best to go back to Egypt!’ – to be slaves to Pharaoh.'" (Numbers 13-14)

The Sin of Faith

On a deeper level, their sin was in emunah (faith). It is a sin that causes many people to err; what seems to them to be emunah is actually heresy or idolatry, whereas what seems to them to be heresy is actually emunah.

To their mistaken understanding, emunah is revealed by way of miracles, while nature is alienated from emunah. Therefore, as long as God undertook to keep them alive by way of miracles, they were willing to be slaves unto Him. However, when they realized that they would have to conquer the Land by the commandment of God, they preferred to be slaves to Pharaoh. It was as if they said: God can be revealed in miracles beyond nature. However, nature itself exists alone and is ruled by the wicked such as Pharaoh, and if we have to return to the leadership of nature, then it is preferable to worship Pharaoh.

However, the Torah commands us to believe that God sustains and constantly revitalizes nature, and he commanded us to conquer the Land and settle it. And when we walk in his way, the blessing of God is revealed through our strength and the power of our hands, and good and blessing abound, and it becomes clear that God is God in heaven above, and on the earth below. This is what the Torah commanded, that after we enter the Land and conquer it and eat of its fruit and satiated by its goodness, we must remember that our power is from God. As the Torah says (Deuteronomy 8:18): “You must remember that it is God your Lord who gives you the power to become prosperous. He does this so as to keep the covenant that He made with an oath to your fathers, even as He is keeping it today,” and as our teacher and mentor Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook clarified according to explanation of Rabbeinu Nissim.

Israel’s emunah is revealed when man reveals his full power and the power of his hand, when he remembers that he has received everything from God, who commanded him to adhere to Torah and mitzvot, and to be a partner with him in settling the world, and perfecting it.

Small Faith versus Big Faith

Those who have lesser emunah, think that the more they annul the power of man, the more emunah they have. That is why they like to despise science, work, and yishuv ha’aretz (settlement of the Land). Therefore, in their opinion, there is no mitzvah to engage in yishuv ha’olam, to study sciences, or to settle the Land and enlist in the army.

However, by virtue of the sanctity of the Land of Israel, it becomes clear that the greatest Divine revelation is through nature itself. Therefore, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is “equal in weight all the mitzvot in the Torah” (Sefri Re’ah 53), and “anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who has a God” (Ketubot 110b). For from the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz it becomes clear that the preoccupation with yishuvo shel olam is the continuation of the word of God in the world, and is the revelation of the image of God in man.

And the study of the sciences is the study of Ma’aseh Bereshit (work of Creation). Thus, the entire world is enlightened in the light of God, and man is filled with the love of God and the desire to adhere to Torah and mitzvot, to add blessing to Israel and to the whole world.

Kibbutz HaGaluyot and Yishuv Ha’aretz

The miracle of kibbutz galuyot (the gathering of the exiles) and yishuv ha’aretz is accomplished with the mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) of the masses of Jews, and it is done by virtue of the Divine promise that all the immigrants, secular as well as religious, believed in, and fulfilled what is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 5: 3-5): ”God will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. God your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you. Even if your diaspora is at the ends of the heavens, God your Lord will gather you up from there and He will take you back. God your Lord will then bring you to the land that your ancestors occupied, and you too will occupy it. God will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors.”

On the one hand, it is the work of God, as written (Ezekiel 36:24): “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” And on the other hand, the work of man, who made aliyah and settled and fought, for otherwise, why did the Torah have to command Israel to settle the Land. The connection of Divine enlightenment with the act of man is the great emunah.

The Faith of the Pioneers

The secular chalutzim (pioneers) as well, even though they stopped keeping the mitzvot between man and God, out of a fervent emunah in the people of Israel and their heritage, gave their lives for immigration, settlement and protection of the Land. The Tanakh illuminated their way, and the tradition of Israel instructed them to immigrate to Israel and build, and be built in it. When they went into battle to defend the people of Israel returning to their Land, they had the intention of following in the footsteps of Moshe, Joshua son of Nun, and King David, and sanctified themselves in the sanctity of Clal Yisrael, merited correcting the Sin of the Spies, and to be key partners in the establishment and development of the State of Israel.

Even from a narrow religious point of view, it turned out that those who corrected the Sin of the Spies were right, for in the State of Israel the percentage of observant Jews is the highest, and the percentage of assimilation is the lowest.

Rabbi Wolbe and the Six Day War

On the other hand, the story is told in the book ‘Matnat Ani’ (p. 86) of the leaderships of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, Mashgiach of the Be’er Ya’akov Yeshiva: “We were sitting in the shelter of the yeshiva after the morning prayers when the Six Day War broke out. On that day, pessimism abounded throughout all of Israel. The feeling was that we were about to face very difficult days. The Rebbe (Rabbi Wolbe) also thought so, and even sent a group of young men abroad to open a branch of the yeshiva there, and even sent his manuscripts with them.”

“After a while, when we were sitting with him, he told us he wanted to tell us what he was thinking at the time, when the alarm sounded and we sat in the shelter. This is what he thought: that he was willing to die for the sanctification of Hashem, and the sanctification of Hashem of his death would be when it turned out that the Zionists could not build a state. Apparently, he thought that the establishment of the state by the Zionists was a Chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s Name), and for that he agreed to give his life to die.”

Righteous who do Not Believe

About such matters, our mentor and teacher Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda said, “tzaddikim (righteous) who do not believe.” They are meticulous in many mitzvot, but do not believe. God has commanded Israel to settle the Land, so that it will be under the sovereignty of Israel and not under the sovereignty of other nations – and they deny it. Nor do they believe the words of the prophets who said that the great Chilul Hashem is the exile of Israel, as written (Ezekiel 36:20):

“And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people, and yet they had to leave his land”. Nor do they believe that the great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s Name) is the return of the people of Israel to their Land, and the settlement of the Land, as written (ibid., 23-24): “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.”

And they do not understand that precisely from this, out of derech eretz sheh’kadma le’Torah (decency that comes before Torah), a true process of repentance will develop, of tzadikim ma’aminim (righteous believers).

Torah Study on Shabbat

Indeed, there is a great accusation concerning yishuv ha’aretz – lest out of preoccupation with nationality, we forget the root. For just as forgetting the value of the Land of Israel is the Sin of the Spies, forgetting the Torah is like the Sin of the Golden Calf.

Similarly, our Sages said: “The Torah said before God: ‘Master of the World! When Israel enters the Land, this one will run to his vineyard, and this one will run to his field. What will be with me’? God said to the Torah: ‘I have a partner for you, whose name is Shabbat, and on that day they will be free from their work and will thus be able to engage in the study of you(Tur, OC. 290). Indeed, the question is great: how can one seriously study Torah when one has to engage in the yishuvo shel olam?! God replied, saying that we should study Torah on Shabbat, and by doing so, our practical lives will be enlightened and guided by the Torah, and from this, we will gain an understanding of the Torah in its entirety. In other words, the removal of the accusation from the preoccupation of yishuv ha’aretz comes by studying Torah on Shabbat.

This is of utter importance to us! If one asks how one can go to the army, to work, to academia, and continue to progress faith-wise and Torah-wise, the answer is – Torah study on Shabbat. If we practice from a young age until old, to study a lot of Torah on Shabbat and holidays, and set times for Torah study every day, we will be able to fulfill all the ideas in the Torah.

The Patients that all Doctors Said Would Die

Another example that expresses little emunah is a sentence that “tzadikim” people like to say about patients who have recovered: “All the doctors said he would die, and behold, by the grace of God, against all the rules of science and medicine, he is alive!” This sentence infuriates honest believers. First, because it is usually a lie. When the facts are accurate, it turns out that usually the doctors knew how to evaluate the chances, and nothing happened that goes beyond natural causes.

Second, this sentence expresses small emunah – as if to say that God’s grace is revealed only in a miracle, in what goes beyond nature, whereas ordinary life is not from God. After all, all nature is a Divine creation; man’s wisdom is from God, and the wisdom of the physicians is part of his sacred blessing. The first blessing in the Amidah (standing/silent prayer) is about the wisdom with which God has favored man, and when this wisdom is revealed, can it be denied?! Every morning we thank God in Birkot Ha’Shachar (the Morning Blessings) and in the Pesukei De’Zimra (verses of the Psalms) for all the good that God has created in the natural world, which are truly the greatest miracles, yet those who have little emunah inadvertently deny it.

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