Being Worthy of Eretz Yisrael
- HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl
- Jun 11, 2009
Parshat Shlach begins with the meraglim's negative report regarding Eretz Yisrael: "we cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us" (Bamidbar 13:31). Yehoshua and Caleb, two spies who oppose this report, react by declaring: "tova haaretz meod meod" "the land is very, very good" (Bamidbar 14:7). They then attempt to reason with the people: "If Hashem desires us, He will bring us to this Land and give it to us, a Land that flows with milk and honey" (ibid. 8). If Hashem wishes to bring us into Eretz Yisrael then we must place our faith in Him.
How are we to understand the attitude of the meraglim and the general population? Did they really believe that it was beyond Hashem's capability to conquer Eretz Yisrael? It had been only little over a year since the exodus from Egypt, the memories of the great miracles should have still been fresh in their minds. They had witnessed ten plagues culminating with the deaths of all of Egypt's firstborn in a single moment. Did they really believe that Hashem was unable to perform similar miracles in Eretz Yisrael?
Moshe recalls this period in the beginning of Sefer Devarim: "all of you approached me and said: 'let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land, and bring word back to us'" (Devarim 1:22). Moshe then recalls the spies' report to which the people reacted: "because of Hashem's hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us" (ibid. 27). Did they truly believe that Hashem took them out of Mitzrayim because He hated them? If Hashem wished to destroy us did He need to bring about the ten plagues, split the sea, bring us manna from heaven, orchestrate the victory over Amalek, and perform the ultimate miracle of speaking to the Jewish nation from Heaven and giving them the greatest gift of all - the Torah? Does this sound like hatred?
Rashi comments: "that which is in your heart about your friend is what you think is in his heart about you". If the Jewish people felt that Hashem hated them, it could only be because they really hated Him, G-d forbid. They justified this hatred by claiming that Hashem wished to kill them. In my humble opinion, this explanation is equally difficult - why would they hate Hashem after all He had done for them? Perhaps they realized what Hashem had done for them, but did not wish to be obligated to express gratitude by praying to Him and becoming His servant. To absolve themselves of any such obligation they had to show that what Hashem did for them was purely out of hatred. According to this explanation, they were fully aware of the truth of all of Moshe Rabenu's statements in praise of Hashem, however they did not wish to express gratitude.
WOULD THE MIRACLES CEASE?
I once came across the following explanation: while the people witnessed great miracles in Egypt and in the desert they were afraid that once they arrived in Eretz Yisrael the miracles would cease and life would be run in accordance with the laws of nature. The spies and the nation believed that they had no chance of conquering the mighty nations residing in the fortified cities of Canaan, without the assistance of Hashem's miracles. Although some commentaries maintain that there were more and greater miracles in chutz la'aretz than in Eretz Yisrael, the evidence appears to be to the contrary. There may have been times throughout history in which miracles were performed outside of the Land, such as Yetziat Mitzrayim, but Divine Revelation is more prevalent in Eretz Yisrael, especially in the Beit HaMikdash. One of the unique aspects of Eretz Yisrael is that the Divine Presence is felt.
Had the people not sinned in the incident of the spies, they would have merited immediate entry into the Promised Land lead by Moshe Rabenu. Rashi writes that they would have entered the Land immediately without any use of weapons. Ultimately Moshe Rabenu did not lead them into Eretz Yisrael and they required weapons, yet their entry into the Land did involve great miracles such as the splitting of the Yarden and the tumbling of the walls of Yericho. In addition, Yehoshua declared "shemesh beGivon dom veyare-ach be-Emek Ayalon" "sun, stand still at Givon and moon, in the valley of Ayalon" (Yehoshua 10:12) and the sun and the moon stood still. We cannot even imagine the miracles that would have been performed for us had Moshe Rabenu been our leader at the time.
I find it very difficult to accept the explanation that the people feared that there would be fewer miracles in Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps their yetzer hara convinced them of this, but as we just mentioned, the Land was conquered through so many great miracles, and there would have been even more had they had the benefit of Moshe's leadership.
LEST THE LAND DISGORGE YOU
The Torah informs us that the Land cannot tolerate evil and the lack of heading Hashem's commandments. The Jewish people are warned that they must not act in the abominable ways of the Canaanites that preceded them: "let not the land disgorge you for having contaminated it, as it disgorged the nation that was before you" (Vayikra 18:28). The Land wished to spit out the Canaanites and replace them with tzaddikim. Perhaps Am Yisrael felt that they were not on a sufficiently high level to inhabit the Land. Yehoshua in fact spoke to the people prior to crossing the Yarden and informed them that their purpose in crossing the river was to rid Eretz Yisrael of the Canaanites and their avoda zara. He warned them that if they did not act properly, the water would sweep them away. They understood that the Land could not tolerate people who were not worthy and they believed thesemvesl to be unworthy of remaining in the Land.
Exile is a punishment, as we recite on Yom Tov: "mipnei chataenu galinu me-artzenu" "because of our sins we have been exiled from the Land." Exile, however, also affords us protection. As we mentioned, we cannot remain in Eretz Yisrael if we do not follow the ways of the Torah. Eretz Yisrael spat out the Canaanites and it could just as well have spat out the Jewish people. The only way to remain alive was to go into exile. Exiling them therefore was for the people's own good, it saved them from destruction. Of course it would be better to follow the dictates of the Torah and not need to be exiled, but in the event that we do not act as we should, it is better that we remain in exile than in Eretz Yisrael.
Perhaps this is what was going through the minds of the meraglim when they returned with the report that they would be unable to remain in the Land. The Ramban writes that the cities of Sodom and Amora were destroyed because they were in Eretz Yisrael. Chutzla'Aretz is home to many decadent cities, but the Land of Israel cannot tolerate the presence of evil people. In Eretz Yisrael punishment for such sins is immediate. In Chutz la'Aretz people would be punished as well, but not immediately. This was the nation' fear - that they did not possess the merit of remaining in the Land.
A LACK OF FAITH
When the spies returned from their mission and related what they saw: "The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice; the people wept that night" (Bamidbar 14:1) - "Rabbah observed in R' Yochanan's name - it was the night of the ninth of Av and the A-lmighty said to Israel: You wept in vain, therefore I will establish it for you as a time of weeping for all generations" (Sanhedrin 104b) - referring to the two destructions that were destined to occur on that day. How does Moshe, at a later stage, refer to the sin of the spies? "Yet in this matter, you do not believe in Hashem, your G-d" (Devarim 1:32) - the people lacked faith that Hashem could overpower the fortified cities and the giant inhabitants that the spies came across during their tour of Israel. It was this lack of faith that caused them to weep that night and for many generations thereafter.
Their unwillingness to follow Hashem to the Land was responsible for the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. Eretz Yisrael yearns for the presence of those who learn Torah and keep the mitzvoth. Most of you are planning to spend your bein hazmanim in chutz la'aretz, but remember that the home of a Jew is Eretz Yisrael especially for people who are learning in Yeshiva. May we merit remaining in Eretz Yisrael and finally witnessing the building of the Beit HaMikdash speedily in our day. Amen.