"Men who will scout the Land"
The sin of the spies, (parashat Shelach), remains, after all these many generations, the most serious error ever committed by the nation of Israel. Its repercussions continue to send tremors throughout the people of Israel to this very day, and, to our great sorrow, those who have not learned from it are destined to repeat its deadly mistakes. Much has been written and discussed concerning the spies over the millennia, many questions have been asked and many questions remain. Whose idea was it to send twelve spies to the land of Israel on the eve of the nation's intended date to enter the land and conquer it? What was the purpose of the mission? Why were twelve notables chosen to participate? On returning, why did they report directly to the people and not behind closed doors to Moshe rabbenu? If, as they discovered, the land of Israel was every bit as beautiful and bountifully fruitful as G-d had promised, why did they speak evilly of it? What led them to believe that its inhabitants could not be overcome? These are all invaluable questions, and, especially in light of the current "sin of the spies" scenario which has been unfolding in Israel for the past eighteen years, (referring, of course, to the Oslo "peace" process), they must be addressed with great urgency. But a much more basic, more elementary question supersedes all these questions, and demands to be raised:
What gave them the right? Who asked them? Moshe rabbenu sent the twelve spies on a fact-finding mission, explaining to them before they set out, what information he was looking to receive. What gave them the right to add their own subjective conclusions to their report? Who asked for their opinion? This is not a mere technical question, but one which goes directly to the heart of the matter: Entering and occupying the land of Israel was a commandment, not an option. Furthermore, entering and occupying the land of Israel is an uncompromising, irrevocable prerequisite for the survival of the nation of Israel, for the fulfillment of Torah, for the destiny of Israel and for the ultimate redemption of all mankind. In short, an utter necessity. The agreement reached between Israel and G-d at Mount Sinai was that G-d would transmit Torah to Israel and that Israel would perform the commandments and fulfill the word of Torah, thereby becoming "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) G-d never invited Israel to modify Torah. He never appointed a committee of twelve notables to review the Torah and make recommendations. And that is precisely what the twelve spies did.
Suggesting that the people of Israel could, (and in their opinion, should), forgo the land of Israel was tantamount to totally undermining the entire basis and purpose of Torah. This is why the sin of the spies is so much more horrific and corrosive than the debacle of the golden calf. The golden calf was a tragic aberration, to be sure, totally repugnant to us. But it did not purport to deny or defy the very foundations of Torah and our purpose as a people on this earth. The sin of the spies did exactly that.
Israel has survived more than one exile from the land. But to do so it was compelled to reorganize and repackage itself. No longer was Israel a nation dwelling within a land imbued with Torah and enveloped by Torah, and with a Holy Temple at the center of its being from which the Divine presence filled the land. No longer would Israel possess a place and a purpose in the world to bring the word of Torah to all the nations - to share the knowledge of G-d. Israel now had to become an atomized nation, scattered to the four winds, clinging with all its might to a Torah whose ability to shape and guide the nation was greatly diminished in exile. Israel became a nation in abeyance, frozen in time. Israel had to transform itself into a nation living out of a suitcase, waiting and praying for the day when she could return, reconquer and reoccupy the land that G-d promised. It is inconceivable that of the twelve spies, ten of them could have returned from the land of Israel, and say to G-d, with the entire nation as their witness, "Thanks, but no thanks."
The land of Israel is not an offer that the people of Israel can choose to refuse. It is true that G-d created man with free will and we are called upon by G-d to exercise our free will. But only by making the right choice do we actually realize our Divine image. In the book of Deuteronomy G-d tell us, "You shall choose life." (Deut. 30:19) So, too, concerning the land of Israel. The choice is ours to take, but it is not a multiple choice. Rejecting the land is not life, but death. Taking Israel, building the Holy Temple and becoming a Torah nation is the only choice.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Yitzchak Reuven and special guest host Tzvi Richman discuss the twelve spies, the shortest book of the Torah, and the heroic positivism of Yehoshua and Calev. Everything was set and ready to go... and then - one calamity after another. That's how it is when things disintegrate, and things just seem to go from bad to worse in this week's Torah reading of Shelach, as we witness the twelve man mission of distinguished gentlemen from the tribes of Israel, who, with great fanfare and an official sendoff managed to enter the land of Israel, exit the land of Israel, and then just get everything all wrong. All that is, except from Yehoshua and Calev, who try in vain to rally the nation and avert the meltdown. Tzvi and Yitzchak try to make sense of this the most devastating misadventure in the annals of Jewish history, and apply its lessons to today's ongoing struggle to weed out doubt and reclaim the land.