"We Can Surely Go Up"
There occur two incidents in the desert sojourns of the children of Israel in which the majority was led astray by a minority. The first incident is, of course, the debacle of the golden calf, in which the Israelites were persuaded by the mixed-multitude, the opportunistic tag-along escapees from Egypt, (who the Torah later refers to as "rabble," Numbers 11:4), to fashion the golden calf. The second incident is the infamous occasion of the spies. In the case of the spies, the people weren't misled by a mob of discontents, but by their own elite leaders.
G-d's wrath was kindled after both incidents, and in the aftermath of both incidents a "one-on-one, heart-to-heart" back-and-forth between G-d and Moses was required to cool the atmosphere and allow for the children of Israel to carry on as G-d's chosen people. In neither case was the status quo ante reestablished. Following the golden calf there emerged a distance between G-d and Israel that wasn't there before. The ramifications of the evil report of the spies, (the destruction of the first and second Holy Temple being a direct result), have plagued the children of Israel for millennia.
Following the "realignment" that took place after the golden calf incident, which was corrective and not punitive in nature, the nation quickly recovered. Yet the post-spies reality was not so simple. The entire generation was condemned to die in the desert. Only their children would eventually make it to the promised land of Canaan. Why was G-d's reaction to the maligning of the land of Israel so much more severe than the incident of the golden calf, which was actual idolatry?
G-d placed man in the world that He created in order that man fulfill a Divinely-appointed role. This role is manifested through deeds, through action. G-d designated the land of Israel as the arena in which the Israelite nation would bring to fruition His will. G-d's concern with the attitude of the desert generation towards the land of Israel, is understandably, then, of much greater magnitude than His vexation over the people's misguided attempt to create a kind of go-between between themselves and the Divine.
But the question of why G-d responded so harshly to the evil talk against the land can best be answered by understanding why the tribal leaders spoke out against the land in the first place. Many motivations have been speculated, one of them being their unwillingness to adapt themselves to the challenges presented by conquering, settling and engaging the land: Things were good in the desert. Manna fell from heaven, their clothes never grew threadbare, the well of Miriam was always nearby. They were in a protective bubble. Change generated by challenge was not a part of their existence, nor did they wish it to be.
Yet change, transformation, is what Torah is all about. G-d created man, and revealed His will at Sinai, in order that man will transform himself and the world around him, striving always to achieve His will and shape the world into one in which G-d's enduring presence is welcome. Settling the land of Israel, establishing a sovereign Torah nation, building the Holy Temple, and establishing the Divine service are all about engendering change in the world and creating an environment in which spiritual transformation and betterment for all mankind can be aspired to. Calev and Yehoshua, alone among the twelve spies understood this and refused to succumb to the prevailing negativity.
Today, once again, negativity and antipathy toward Israel and the G-d of Israel is sweeping the world. All who embrace the Torah challenge of transformation are called upon to redouble their determination to stand by Israel and her sacred land.
Tune in to the week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the sin of the spies, and how it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to rectify their misdeed, and see and speak exclusively of the goodness of the land of Israel. The month of Tammuz is approaching, the month during which the twelve Israelite princes spied out the land. It is high time we transform the month of Tammuz from one of impending doom to one of rebirth and rekindling G-d's light in the Holy land.