When approaching the tragic episode of the spies we can take two almost opposite interpretations of the rationale behind the tragic chain of events as described in this weeks parasha. “Dor Deah”
The first interpretation would be to compare the reality in the “Midbar” to the envisaged reality in Eretz Yisrael.
Though at first glance one would assume that Am Yisrael would be only too happy to make the transformation of a “wandering people” to a people with a state; when one delves slightly deeper into the reality of the midbar, the resulting conclusion is quite the opposite.
In the midbar, Bnei Yisrael received manna daily, there was an infinite supply of pure drinkable water. There was absolute protection from both natural and human dangers, by way of the cloud of glory, and pillar of fire. Even on the spiritual plain, the Mishkan was in close proximity to everyone, the entire day could be spent in “study” and spiritual progression; who could ask for more?
On the other hand, upon entering Eretz Yisrael, the manna is to stop immediately. From henceforth the people will need to plough, sow, and reap. They will need to pray to Hashem for water, not only for drinking but also for the good of their crops. They will be nervous of natural disasters that could wipe out their sustenance over night. From the moment they enter Eretz Yisrael, there will be a war of unknown limitations. There are thirty-one Kings; areas must be conquered cultivated and settled. The Mishkan will be situated in one area far away from many of the people. When will there be time for spiritual growth? Who will have time for studying the Law, when there are battles to be fought, when there is a wage to be brought home?
When looking at the situation from this perspective, it is not hard to comprehend the rationale of the ten spies. All “were men”, they were all men of stature, believing leaders of Am Yisrael. Surely it is better to remain in the idyllic midbar? Who needs the aggravation of Eretz Yisrael?
Rav Zevin points out quite beautifully, that the immediate juxtaposition of the laws of wine libations, and challah come as a direct answer to the seemingly logical rationale of the spies. Having sealed the fate of the spies, and of the generation that willingly followed their leadership. The Torah describes how, when we eventually enter the land, we should bring wine libations to the Mikdash. Following this we are told how to be mafrish challah.
What is the relevance of these two specific halachot to the events immediately preceding them?
Rav Zevin suggests, that in wine libations, we are essentially taking the holy wine and pouring onto the mizbayach from where it will flow down into the depths of the earth.Challah, on the other hand, is symbollically taking the food from the earth, and making it holy.
The spies envisaged a life without challenges, a life where food and drink were delivered to ones door step; a life where spirituality knocked at your door and entered, without you even having to arise from your chair.
The Torah answers this rationale immediately in two ways.
Firstly, the people are granted their wish. They are left in the midbar for the rest of their lives. It will not take them too long to discover that the reality that they saw as idyllic was quite the opposite.
Yet in addition to this, the Torah takes the precaution for future generations that may well side with the rationale of the spies. We are given the two to instruct us that the mission of man is to bring holiness from on high down to this earth – as expressed by wine libations, yet at the same time elevate the physical elements of the world to holiness as is described through the mitzvah of challah.
The spies saw reality for themselves as passive recipients of holiness, they understood the midbar to be an ideal, and after the realities of over two hundred years of slavery it is not surprising. They honestly believed that they could not fulfill their spiritual mission in life by being involved in the day-to-day realities of this world.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Torah immediately responds. The ideal is not to sit passively in the midbar. The task is to enter the Land, to conquer to plough sow and reap. The task is for man to bring holiness into the world, and alternatively to bring the world into holiness. Only through this medium will man progress spiritually.
When interpreting the rationale of the spies in this manner it is not difficult to see parallels with the reality that we face today. How many times have we been told that in truth it is easier to develop spiritually in the Diaspora than in Eretz Yisrael. It is easier to make a living, health standards are higher, the culture is better, and all in all it is a peaceful way of life. A man can, at the end of the day, return from work and enter the Bet Midrash, without the turmoil of terrorism in the back of his mind. A man can open up his mail without a “Tzav miluim” that will take him to the front line for at the least thirty days a year, away from his family, away from his stability. A man can open up the newspaper, and read about the real problems of inflation and unemployment, as opposed to opening up the newspaper to the faces of young men and women cruelly murdered whilst going about their daily business.
I have been told on more than one occasion that certain places in chutz laaretz are better than Yerushalayim, very much in the same way that the Meshech Chochmah was amazed to find elements of the religious community in Germany who had replaced Jerusalem with Berlin.
Yet the Torah tells us quite the opposite. The Torah tells us that only the people of Zion will truly progress spiritually; that even though the activity required of us day and night, the physical and spiritual strains of living in Israel seemingly reduce our ability to reach the Almighty. The opposite is the real truth. The fact that every step we take is on the holiest place on earth, the fact that every dealing that we have has a direct influence on the Jewish people. Even the taxes that we pay are funding the State of Israel and ensuring the continuity of our independence. When we open our Tzav miluim, we are in real terms continuing the very ethos of Calev – “Aloh naaleh”. We put on our uniforms knowing that with that very act we are expressing the truest form of independence that Am Yisrael has had since the days of the Makkabim. The spies, according to this first interpretation were not irreligious Jews.
Quite the opposite, they were believing Jews who sought to advance spiritually through their actions. Yet they did not see that their very actions stunted their spiritual growth.
To my mind the message of this parasha could not be clearer, there is one place and one place only for Am Yisrael, the midbar is a station and not a destination. Yet unfortunately, even many of those who have “religious” reasons for not living in Eretz Yisrael at present seem to have turned their relative midbar into a permanent reality.
The mission of HaAm She yoshev BeTzion must be to cry out as Calev did, to turn to our brothers in the Diaspora with the words “Aloh Naaleh”.
Upon their return, the spies showed a great love for Eretz Yisrael, they brought first fruits home (here I am clearly not following Rashi’s interpretation which suggests that the spies when bringing the first fruits to show the people was in fact to deceive Bnei Yisrael of their true intentions), they were excited invigorated and uplifted by their journey through the promised land, but they were scared.
Their arguments were strong. “The Land is really quite beautiful, but we cannot conquer it, we cannot prosper there. The enemy is too strong, the living conditions too hard.”
In this interpretation, far from seeing the midbar as an ideal destination, as was suggested above, the spies simply cannot fathom as to how they can possibly succeed in reaching the ideal of living in Eretz Yisrael.
The Piacezna Rav notes in “Aish Kodesh”, that when replying to the claims of the spies, Calev avoids almost all of their arguments. He simply says – “Aloh Naaleh” – we can surely go up, Hashem will ensure our victory. Calev offers no concrete solution to the problems posed; he simply shows absolute faith in Hashem that the people will succeed in their task.
In essence here we have a clash between the human search for rationale, for logic, for explanation, for solution, and ultimate faith in Hashem. The Aish Kodesh explains, that Calev purposely avoided dealing with the logistics of conquering and settling the land, because they were irrelevant. Even if Calev were able to debate the spies, answering them point for point, that was not his intention. Calev wanted to instill in the people a deeper understanding that it is not logistics that will ensure their success in Eretz Yisrael, but their belief and trust in Hashem.
To my mind, it is certainly of no coincidence that non-compliance to the laws of shmitta is directly connected to the punishment of exile. Shmitta, when fulfilled to the exact letter of the law, reflects absolute belief in Hashem. To leave ones fields, abandoned to the masses. To rely on ones sustenance for an entire year to come from Hashem, demands an incredible level of faith.
Yet the message seemingly given to us by the Torah, is that if you do not have the faith in Hashem required to perform shmitta kehilchata, then you do not have the required faith to live in Eretz Yisrael.
Thus, when the people regret having not listened to the words of Yehoshua and Calev, and in fact attempt to enter the land, they fail abysmally. Living successfully in Eretz Yisrael requires a madrega of faith in Hashem, the generation of the midbar did not have that faith, and it was therefore not relevant for them to enter the land.
Once again, it is not difficult to find similarities with the predicament we find ourselves in today. With over half of world Jewry still living in the Diaspora, there are many supporters and believers in Eretz Yisrael. Many many Jews visit Israel regularly, they enjoy their trip, they are spiritually uplifted, they truly love Israel, yet nevertheless they return “home”-“It is simply not practical” – either for security reasons, or financial reasons. Even in Israel itself, there are many who tell us daily that to settle in this place or that place is not logical, that to live in Hebron amongst so many Arabs does not make sense.
In truth they are right – it doesn’t make sense, but who said that it had to make sense? Does the State of Israel make sense? A country with a population of around six and a half million Jews surrounded by over twenty neighboring enemy countries, whose joint populations number millions upon millions, most of who would prefer us not to be here – does that make sense? Did it make sense in the early 1900s to come and settle the land when we were outnumbered then as we are in Hebron today? Did “Der Judenstaat” by Theodore Herzl – make sense in 1897?
Let us consider the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the actions in Entebbe, in Ethiopia, the list is, baruch Hashem, endless.
The truth of the matter is, that the State of Israel exists today (Bezrat Hashem), exactly because Am Yisrael took the words of Calev literally – Aloh Naaleh.
There is no real difference between the settlers in today’s maachazim, and the settlers of Degania, and of Bet Alpha, between the heroes of Tel Chai, and the builders of Yesha. What they have in common is “Aloh Naaleh” – is the implicit understanding that we must strive forward and build the land, that we must have faith primarily in Hashem.
We must take that statement of Calev ben Yefuneh – whenever we have doubts we must look back over the last century – the miraculous return to Zion, against all odds – we must look backwards, and with a new inner strength look forwards and strive onwards. Aloh naaleh ……tova haaretz meod meod”