EYES ONLY FOR YOU
They [Datan and Aviram] said, “We shall not go up! Is it a small thing that you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you make yourself a prince over us? Furthermore, you did not bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey nor give us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? We shall not go up!” Moshe became very distressed/angry… (16:12-15)
To a certain degree, Datan and Aviram’s brazen words were a continuation, and possibly a result, of the grievances of the spies. The Abarbanel (quoted in Hagut BeParshiyot HaTorah) explains their argument as follows: “We will not, under any circumstances, go up to Eretz Yisrael as you [Moshe] desire. You have not yet kept your promise [to bring us into a good land], nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Therefore, we do not believe you…”
The Sforno offers a novel explanation of these verses:
Not only did you do us a disservice by bringing us from a “land flowing with milk and honey” to the desert, but you also mock us. For you have not brought us to the Land of which you spoke, at all. You speak [to us] as if you [already] gave us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. You command us about the land-related mitzvot… as if [the Land] was already ours and we had fields and vineyards in it. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? – Do you think you can poke out our eyes in a way that we will not recognize your tricks?
Midrash Shochar Tov (also quoted in Hagut) asserts that they were complaining about the land-related mitzvot in general. They did not want a land that had so many obligations attached to it. According to the Midrash, they went so far as to compare themselves to a poor widow who can hardly support herself and is suddenly told that she has to work harder to support the well-to-do priests.
But the most insolent part of their statement is undoubtedly the words You have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey. They had the audacity to call Egypt “a land flowing with milk and honey” when HaShem used that description specifically for the Holy Land. This, according to the Gra, explains why Moshe got so angry. Rashi interprets the phrase ויחר למשה מאד to mean that Moshe became very distressed. Apparently, he did not want to explain it in its usual sense – “he became very angry” – because it is difficult to say that Moshe Rabbeinu, the most humble person in the world, got angry, even at such wicked people as Datan and Aviram.
The Vilna Gaon, however, understands the phrase in its usual sense. Moshe was not angered by the affront to his own honor, but by the affront to God and His Chosen Land. He could not tolerate the fact that these two resha’im referred to the land of their exile as a land flowing with milk and honey, a description designated for Eretz Yisrael. Neither could he tolerate the fact that they doubted God’s promise to eventually bring the Jews into the Land.
Nowadays, no one would have the gall to refer to America, England, Australia, etc. as “a land flowing with milk and honey” or “the Chosen Land.” Nevertheless, many of us inadvertently say things that border on the sin of Datan and Aviram. How many times have we heard people lavishing praise on the lands of exile, as if those places were God’s gift to the Jewish people? How many times have we heard Jews saying things like “America the beautiful,” “Monsey Ir HaKodesh,” “What a gorgeous view,” etc.?
You might ask, what is wrong with that? Isn’t the entire world God’s handiwork? The answer is, yes; of course, God created it all, but He intended for His special nation to dwell in His special Land. The fact that we are presently scattered about the four corners of the earth is a punishment! If we would only improve our ways and long to return to our only true Homeland, HaShem would reveal to us Eretz Yisrael’s true and incomparable beauty, in both a spiritual and physical sense.
After the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the prophet said that Eretz Yisrael became like a widow (Eichah 1:1). The Talmud derives from this that she is not an actual widow, “rather, like a woman whose husband went oversees and intends to return to her” (Sanhedrin 104a). Now, would it be right for a man who plans on returning to his wife to praise the beauty of or derive pleasure from other women? Someone who truly loves and longs for his long-lost wife would not be attracted to other women, even if he recognizes that they, too, are beautiful. Similarly, a Jew who truly understands that Eretz Yisrael is our only “wife” should not be attracted to the beauty of other lands. Instead, he should adopt Rav Kook’s attitude, as the following incidents demonstrate:
During WWI, when the Rav was stuck in Europe, he once visited a colleague’s apartment in Berlin. Hoping to please the Rav in some way, the colleague brought him over to a window that had a breathtaking view of the city. Rav Kook, however, was unimpressed by the view. Instead, he burst into tears and whispered, – By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and also wept, as we remembered Zion (Tehillim 137:1). On another occasion, upon returning from a trip to America, he commented: “In America, as well, I saw tall mountains – the handiwork of HaShem, Master of the Universe. But those mountains were silent; they did not speak to us. These mountains, however – the holy mountains of Eretz Yisrael – speak to us. They speak clearly, and their lucid voices enter our ears effortlessly, penetrating to the depths of our hearts” (An Angel Among Men, pp. 250, 260).
May we soon be zocheh to fully benefit from Eretz Yisrael’s spiritual and physical beauty.
After describing the events of Korach’s rebellion, the Torah reinforces Aharon’s priesthood and the unique status of the entire Tribe of Levi by awarding them special gifts. There are twenty-four priestly gifts in total, all of which are at least alluded to in our parashah. Only five of these gifts are applicable outside the Holy Land (see Rambam, Bikurim 1:3ff). In addition to the priestly gifts, the parashah discusses ma’aser rishon (the first tithe), given to the Levi.
Let us focus on terumah (the first gift given to a kohen from fruits and grains) and ma’aser. The Rambam begins Hilchot Terumot with the following statement: “Terumot and ma’asrot apply, biblically, only in Eretz Yisrael.” Twenty-six halachot later (1:26), he adds:
Terumah is not biblically mandated nowadays, even in places that were occupied by those who returned from [the] Babylonian [exile]. Nor was it so in the days of Ezra. Rather, it is rabbinically mandated. For terumah is only biblically mandated in Eretz Yisrael, and [only] when all of Israel [dwells] there, as it says, When you shall enter – [implying] when you all enter. This occurred during the First Conquest and will occur again during the Third Conquest. However, it did not happen during the Second Conquest, at the time of Ezra, when only some [Jews] came [back to the Land]. Therefore, the Torah did not obligate them [to set aside terumot]. In addition, it seems to me that the same applies to ma’asrot. We are only obligated [to separate tithes] nowadays by rabbinic law, just like terumah.
When the Rambam says “all of Israel,” he means the majority, for Chazal determine that “the majority is like the whole.” Thus, in order for terumot and ma’asrot (as well as shemittah, yovel, challah and more) to return to their ideal states, more Jews must come and live in God’s special Land.
Actually, there is another way to reach that milestone of a majority of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. An article I recently saw describing a demographic study initiated by the Jewish Agency states: “Sometime after 2030, Israel will be home to the majority of world Jewry (37% of all Jews now live in Israel) – not just because of immigration, but primarily because of the shrinking size of Jewish communities in the Diaspora due to intermarriage and low birth rates.”
Thus, we can help restore many mitzvot to their elevated, biblical status in one of two ways: Either we can actively participate in the return to Zion, or we can sit back and wait for Diaspora Jewry to fade away. The major difference is that the first way will be much quicker and less painful.
Now, I realize that most people reading this book are not the type of Jews who are likely to intermarry, nor are they the type who will suffice with 1.3 children and a dog. Most of you surely have many beautiful children and live full Torah lives (or at least as full as they can be in galut) in beautiful Torah communities in the Diaspora, with very little danger of assimilation. In my humble opinion, that is all the more reason for you to come to Eretz Yisrael. Just imagine what an impact you can make here: how much sanctity you can add to the Land, how much closer you can bring us to the goal of restoring Torah’s glory to its original place, how many more mitzvot you can fulfill here, etc. If thousands upon thousands of religious Jews would make aliyah, all of Klal Yisrael would benefit greatly.
One last point: The Talmud states in many places (see Yevamot 86b, Ketuvot 26a, Sotah 47b) that although ma’aser rishon rightfully belongs to the Levites, Ezra decreed that it be given to the Kohanim. Why? Because he wanted to penalize the Levites for not returning to Zion at the beginning of the Second Commonwealth, as it says, – I gathered them at the river that runs to Ahava, and we encamped there for three days; and I inspected the people and the Kohanim, but I found no Levites there (Ezra 8:15). I (who happen to be a Levite trying to rectify this sin) believe that this Gemara contains a very important lesson. At the beginning of the Second Commonwealth, things were difficult: the economy was terrible, the Gentiles who lived in the Holy Land constantly harassed us, the Jews who returned were not exactly paradigms of sanctity, etc. Nonetheless, Ezra succeeded in rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash, subduing his enemies, establishing a thriving Jewish community in the Land, and raising the spiritual level of the returnees, who eventually became the expositors of the Oral Law. Those who refused to return, however, lost out.
The same is true today. Things here in the Holy Land have not always gone so smoothly over the past fifty-four years. Eventually, though, we will defeat our enemies (from within and without), return to God wholeheartedly, build the Third Temple, and establish a “Priestly Kingdom” in the Land. Those who do not help us achieve these goals during the rough times might be penalized and lose out when things get better. Are you willing to take that chance?
Ø On the next day, Moshe entered the Tent of the Testimony and behold, the staff of Aharon of the house of Levi had blossomed; it brought forth a flower, sprouted a bud, and bore ripe almonds (17:23).
Three clergymen on a visit to the Holy Land [prior to the Six-Day War] asked the curator of Mount Zion: “Why do the Jews make Jerusalem the capital of the State of Israel? Jerusalem, the cradle of religions and a Holy City belongs to the whole world. It should be an international city. Why do Jews claim it?”
“Let me explain,” said the curator. “The Bible relates that when Moshe appointed Aharon as High Priest, the people objected and murmured… Whereupon Moshe turned to God:
“ ‘O God, it was You who told me to appoint Aharon. I must now have a miracle to convince the people.’
“God sent an earthquake, and Korach and his followers were swallowed up in it. But even then, the people refused to accept Aharon’s appointment. Then there was a plague, but the Children of Israel continued to murmur against Aharon. Finally, God told each tribe to bring a rod and place it in the Tent of Assembly, and Aharon was to place his rod there also. The people were to watch and see which rod would bud and blossom. And when Aharon’s rod blossomed, they finally accepted him as High Priest.
“Now, why did the people accept Aharon when his rod blossomed and bore almonds? Because it showed the vitality of life.”
The curator invited the visiting clergymen to climb up with him to the Mitzpah, Mount Zion’s Observation Tower. As they looked down, he pointed out:
“From here you can see both the old and new Jerusalem. In the old, as you can observe, there is desolation: ruins, desert and rocks. On our side is the new Jerusalem, where over 150,000 have settled. You can see their new homes, schools, the new hospital and the new university. Everywhere [you look], you see life, growth and vitality. You ask to whom does Jerusalem belong. It belongs to those who make it bud and blossom, [to those] who make it live and grow.” (Heaven on Your Head, by Rabbi S. Z. Kahana; Hartmore House, 1964, pp. 159-60)
Ø The first fruits of all that is in their Land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours [kohanim], every pure person in your house may eat it (18:13).
[The mitzvah of bikurim] applies… to the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, Syria, and Trans-Jordan, but not to the fruits of Chutz LaAretz. (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 91)