The Land of Great Love
Shlach lecha - "send for yourself" spies into the Land of Israel - the curious opening words of this week's Torah reading, Shlach, (Numbers 13:1 - 15:41) already point to the question that lurks behind the mission of the twelve spies: Why did Moses send them? "Send for yourself" G-d tells Moses: If you feel the necessity to send spies to search out the land in anticipation of entering and conquering the land, then by all means do so. G-d has many times before promised the Land of Israel to the Children of Israel. Certainly Moses' intention in sending the princes of the twelve tribes was not to seek out evidence as to whether or not G-d could deliver on His promise. Moses' intention, it would seem, was to spiritually prepare the land for the incoming nation, as well as to prepare the nation to take on the unique challenge of the land. For over a year G-d has led the Israelites throughout the wilderness, providing for them their every need: food in the form of manna, and a constant source of water from Miriam's well. Their clothes not only did not become threadbare, but they grew to fit their bodies. Their shoes remained intact, and the cloud of glory kept the people out of harm's way. The desolate wilderness was for this generation an idyllic environment.
Not so the Land of Israel. It was filled with other nations that would need to be conquered. The land needed to be worked in order for it to bring forth sustenance. Wells needed to be dug, clothing needed to be woven, and new shoes needed to be fashioned when the old ones wore out. Why the great dissonance between the protected environment of the wilderness and the fend-for-yourself reality of the land. What promise was there in the Promised Land?
There are two kinds of love which characterize the love which unites the G-d of Israel with the people of Israel. One is called ahavat olam - everlasting love. The other is called ahava raba - great love. Everlasting love describes the love with which G-d enveloped the Children of Israel in the wilderness. This was an all encompassing protective love with which G-d embraced the people. Everlasting love provides much and demands little in return. It is a placid love, other-worldly by nature. It is a love that cannot transcend the very opposing forces of this world, the world that G-d created for us. A world comprised of both hesed - unmitigated loving kindness, and gevurot - the harsh limitations of judgement.
The Land of Israel is the Promised Land indeed: it is this world in its highest and most rarified embodiment: this world par excellence! The Land of Israel is the land of hesed and gevurot - give and take away. The love which binds the Children of Israel to the G-d of Israel in the Land of Israel is known as ahava raba - great love! Unlike ahavat olam - everlasting love - ahava raba gives and yet demands in return. And just how much of us does it demand? The entirety of ourselves: our heart, our soul and all our earthly might. And only in this world, in the Land of Israel, have we been blessed with what it takes to reciprocate G-d's great love for us.
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