THE SOURCE OF ALL OUR TROUBLES
This week’s parashah is always read on the Shabbat before Tish’a B’Av (Shabbat Chazon). How appropriate, then, that it contains a recap of the Sin of the Spies, the sin that gave Tish’a B’Av its calamitous nature. I already mentioned (Parashat Shelach) that Chazal have a tradition that the Sin of the Spies took place on the ninth of Av. On that night HaShem told the Children of Israel, “You wept in vain; I will establish for you weeping for all generations” (Ta’anit 29a).
I found a beautiful idea in Or HaChayim, relating the Sin of the Spies to the destruction of the Temple. In the middle of Moshe’s summary of this tragic episode, he says, – The Lord became angry with me, as well, because of you, saying, “You, too, shall not come there [to the Land]” (1:37). All of the commentators are hard-pressed to explain what this verse is doing here. HaShem did not punish Moshe because of the Sin of the Spies; rather, because he failed to sanctify God’s name at Mei Merivah (see Parashat Chukat)!
The Or HaChayim HaKadosh first quotes the Ramban’s answer: Moshe went off on a tangent here and said to B’nei Yisrael, “You did another evil deed a different time (i.e. complaining that there was no water), causing God to become angry with me…” And why did Moshe mention this specifically here? Because he wanted to conjoin all those who were banned from entering the Land, albeit on account of different sins. The Or HaChayim does not like this answer, because Moshe continues to discuss the Sin of the Spies after this verse. It is, therefore, difficult to say that he interjected one verse referring to Mei Merivah in the middle of his rebuke about the Sin of the Spies. Thus, the Or HaChayim offers his own explanation:
The correct answer is based on Chazal’s statement that [HaShem] established the day of Tish’a B’Av as a day of weeping for all generations, and [on their assertion that] the Temple was destroyed on that day. Our Sages also say that the Beit HaMikdash would never have been destroyed had Moshe entered the Land and built it. No nation could have touched it. Furthermore, commenting on the verse – A psalm of Asaf: O God, the nations have entered Your inheritance, they have defiled Your Holy Temple (Tehillim 79:1), Chazal teach: “It should have said, ‘A lament of Asaf’! Rather, [the reason it says, “A psalm,” is to thank God] for venting His anger on wood and stones [instead of on the Jewish people].”
Thus, had Moshe entered the Land and built the Beit HaMikdash, God’s wrath would have burned against the “enemies of Israel” (a euphemism for the Jewish people), for He could not have vented His anger on the Temple, as mentioned above. Thus, they would have been destroyed instead of the Temple. Therefore, when God decreed [that that generation would not enter the Land, due to the Sin] of the Spies, He also decreed that Moshe would die in the desert. This is what Moshe meant when he said, The Lord became angry with me, as well, because of you (בגללכם) – that is, as a result (בגלגול) of your words. For, had the Sin of the Spies not taken place, and had the Jews entered the Land [immediately], Moshe would possibly have entered with them. Then, even if he had built the Beit HaMikdash, there would have been nothing to worry about, because the evil side would not have intensified [so greatly], and the people would have remained righteous in the Land. However, because of the Sin of the Spies, the power of evil intensified, and HaShem knew that the Jews would not remain righteous…
Lest you ask: Is it not clear that Moshe died because of [his sin at] Mei Merivah? I already explained there that had Moshe sanctified God’s name, Israel would have returned to the state of purity that they were in prior to the Sin of the Spies… Then, HaShem would have revoked His decree against Moshe, and Moshe would have entered the Land and built the Beit HaMikdash…
In other words, the Sin of the Spies is the source of all our troubles. Had we not committed that sin, there would never have been an exile. Just imagine, two thousand years of persecutions, pogroms, and Holocausts could have been avoided. And why did it all happen? Because we despised the Land and refused to accept God’s gift with open arms.
Lest we think that this sin is a thing of the past, the author of Akeidat Yitzchak writes: “Despising the Land is the issue that has risen up in every generation to destroy us. Because of it, we were exiled from our Land, driven far from our soil, and have been a disgrace to our neighbors… There is absolutely no way to return to our perfected state except by returning to it [the Land].”
If despising the Land is the source of our exile, it follows that the only way to achieve redemption is to rectify this sin and show God, through actions, that we truly love His Land.
Something to think about this Tish’a B’Av.
May we all spend this coming Tish’a B’Av rejoicing in the King’s Palace
TO BE CLOSE TO GOD
One of the things Moshe said to B’nei Yisrael when he rebuked them for the Sin of the Spies was: – You murmured in your tents and said, “Because the Lord hates us He took us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hands of the Amorite to destroy us” (1:26). Rashi comments on this verse:
Because the lord hates us: He really loved you, but you hated Him. A common proverb says, “The way you feel towards your fellow is the way [you think] he feels towards you.” Because the lord hates us he took us out of the land of egypt: …This can be compared to a mortal king who has two sons and two fields. One field is well-irrigated, and the other is arid [depending solely on rain]. He gives the irrigated field to the [son] he loves, and the arid field to the one he hates. [Similarly], the land of Egypt is well-irrigated, for the Nile rises and waters it, but the Land of Canaan is arid. And [God] took us out of Egypt to give us the Land of Canaan.
It is clear that the Spies’ intentions were evil, but that doesn’t exempt us from dealing with their arguments. We cannot just ignore them and hope they go away. If we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that they had a good point here. Seemingly, Eretz Yisrael is not on par with Egypt – and many other lands, for that matter – in terms of natural resources (especially water), physical beauty, etc. Didn’t God promise us a good land, flowing with milk and honey?
Actually, this question can be asked on an explicit verse in Parashat Eikev: – For the Land into which you go to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt that you left, where you would plant your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the Land into which you cross over to possess it, is a Land of hills and valleys; from the rain of heaven it drinks water (11:10-11). At face value, the Torah seems to be degrading Eretz Yisrael, saying that it is not as good as Egypt, which has all the agricultural advantages one could ask for. It has an inexhaustible water supply (water it with your foot), it is mostly flat land (after all, the Torah does not call it a land of hills and valleys), and it is very fertile (like a vegetable garden).
The answer to all of these queries is found in the very next verse in parashat Eikev: – A Land that the Lord your God seeks out; the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. The main function of Eretz Yisrael is to be a place where the Jewish people can develop an intimate relationship with God, for that is where He is constantly found. And the physical qualities of the Land are suited perfectly for this purpose. A famous mussar vort will help us understand this better:
When the snake enticed Adam and Eve to sin, God punished it, saying, – You will eat dust all the days of your life (BeReishit 3:14). The masters of mussar ask: “What is so bad about that? Beforehand, the snake had to search high and low for its food. Now, however, it can find sustenance wherever and whenever it needs it.” The answer is that this is the greatest possible curse God could give. As long as a creature lacks its basic needs, it must put its trust in God and develop some kind of a relationship with the Great Provider. If it has everything it needs at all times, it tends to forget about God and rely on its own skills. In effect, God was saying to the snake, “Here is all you need; I don’t ever want to hear from you again; I don’t ever want to have any kind of a relationship with you.”
This explains the difference between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz LaAretz. It is easier to make a living outside the Land, where there are basic rules to follow in order to succeed. If you plant the right seeds and irrigate the fields properly in Egypt, you will have a bountiful yield. If you study hard and enter the right profession in America, you will make a decent amount of money. The problem is that since everything (seemingly) depends on you, you can easily forget about the One Who truly provides your needs. In Eretz Yisrael, however, this is much less likely to happen. You can plant the right seeds, but if God doesn’t provide rain, you’re in trouble. You could spend five years studying a profession only to find out that it is no longer lucrative, due to a hundred-and-one factors. (Of course, this could happen anywhere in the world, but it is more common in Israel). What do you do then? You lift your eyes heavenward and beg for mercy. Thus, Eretz Yisrael is more conducive to developing a close relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
The Spies failed to recognize this. All they could see were the externals, and we suffer for their mistake to this very day (don’t forget that Tish’a B’Av received its calamitous nature from the episode of the Spies). But we cannot blame it all on the Jews of that generation. We are as much to blame as they are, for we have yet to rectify their sin. The very fact that millions of Jews still live outside the Holy Land (despite the fact that its gates are opened wide) shows that we, too, have failed to recognize Eretz Yisrael’s unique, spiritual and physical qualities, concentrating only on its external deficiencies.
The Yerushalmi states, “Any generation that does not witness the rebuilding of the Temple is considered as if it destroyed it” (Yoma 1:1). This Tish’a B’Av, let us strengthen our commitment to Torah, mitzvot, and Eretz Yisrael, so that we can finally witness the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, speedily in our days. Amen.
Ø These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel on the other side of the Jordan, regarding the Wilderness, regarding the Aravah, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan and Chatzerot and Di-Zahav. Eleven days from Chorev by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea (1:1-2).
Between paran and tofel, and lavan: R. Yochanan said, “We have reviewed all of Scriptures and have found no place called Tofel (תפל) or Lavan (לבן). Rather [the explanation is], he rebuked them for the frivolous words they cast upon (תפלו) the manna, which was white (לבן)… and for what they did in the Wilderness of Paran through the Spies.”
Eleven days from chorev: Moshe said to them, “See what you caused! There is no shorter route from Chorev to Kadesh-Barnea than by way of Mount Seir, and even that is an eleven-day journey. And you traversed it in three days… To such an extent did God [lit., the Divine Presence] exert Himself on your behalf, to hasten your entry into the Land, but because you sinned, He made you travel around Mount Seir for forty years.” (Rashi)
Ø These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel… After he had smitten Sichon… and Og… On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moshe began to explain this Torah, saying (1:1-5).
These are the words… Whenever [the Torah] says, “These,” it negates the previous [statement]. When the Jews reached the eastern side of the Jordan and felt the atmosphere and illumination of Eretz Yisrael, the wellsprings of wisdom opened up before them, as the Rabbis say, “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.” And just as Mount Sinai was prepared for the receiving of the Torah… Eretz Yisrael is fitting for its explanation. Therefore, On the other side of the Jordan, Moshe began to explain. He [only] began, but had he actually entered the Land, he would have explained the Torah even more, and the rectification would have been complete. This explains why Moshe begged so profusely to enter Eretz Yisrael, as it says, – I entreated the Lord at that time (3:23). [That is], after he conquered the lands of Sichon and Og… and began explaining the Torah, he yearned immensely to enter the Land… He wanted to finish explaining the Torah in its entirety. (Sefat Emet, quoted in Itturei Torah, vol. 6, p. 8)
*“He explained [the Torah] to them in seventy languages” (Rashi). Why was there a need to render the Torah into seventy languages specifically after the wars of Sichon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan? The answer lies in Rashi’s commentary on the beginning of Parashat BeReishit. “The Torah should have begun with the first mitzvah החודש הזה לכם… Why, then, did it begin with BeReishit? …If the nations of the world say to the Jews, ‘You are robbers, for you conquered the lands of the seven nations,’ the Jews can respond, ‘The entire world belongs to the Holy One Blessed be He… and He took [Eretz Yisrael] away from them and gave it to us.’ ”
Thus, after [the Children of Israel] conquered Sichon and Og and were on the verge of invading the lands of the seven nations, they had to produce the document of proof – i.e. the Torah – to prevent the Gentiles from calling them robbers. Therefore, [Moshe] transcribed [the Torah] into seventy languages, to inform the nations of the world that HaShem willingly gave us the Land as an inheritance. (Peninim Yekarim, quoted in Itturei Torah, vol. 6, p. 15)
Ø The Lord our God spoke to us in Chorev, saying, “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and come to the mountain of the Amorite and all its neighbors, in the plain, in the mountain, and in the lowland, and in the south, and by the seacoast: the Land of the Canaanite and the Lebanon, until the great river, the Euphrates River. Behold, I have set the Land before you; come and possess the Land that the Lord swore to your forefathers – to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya’akov – to give to them and their descendants after them” (1:6-8).
Until the great river: Since it is mentioned in connection with the Land of Israel, [the Torah] calls it “great.” A popular proverb says, “A king’s servant is a king,” [or] “Cling to the captain and people will bow down to you,” [or] “Go near an anointed one and you will become anointed.” (Rashi)
On the day the Torah was given, Israel gained the right to inherit the entire world and subjugate the nations. For on that day, the foundations of the earth collapsed, and if not for that momentous revelation, the world would have reverted to nothingness. Thus, the entire world exists for Israel’s sake. This is true even if we do not fulfill Torah and mitzvot, for [Chazal] say, “Had He brought us near to Mount Sinai, but not given us the Torah, it would have been sufficient for us” (Pesach Haggadah). Thus, this momentous revelation, in and of itself, is worthy of sustaining the world.
Accordingly, we have the right to choose a nice portion in which to dwell [from anywhere] in the world, and the nations must accept us based on the preceding logic. But, why should we sustain other nations with our [efforts], while we lack everything and are starving and thirsty? The entire world subsists for the sake of HaShem’s nation, but we have no portion or inheritance in this world, [besides Eretz Yisrael]. Furthermore, it is unimaginable that we could reach the level of perfection needed to rectify (tikkun) the supernal worlds, outside the Holy Land. Therefore, when we neglect to acquire true perfection, the tables are turned and we bring calamity to the entire world.
Now we will explain the verses mentioned above. The Holy One Blessed be He says to Israel, You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. That is to say, you deserve merit and honor just because you dwelt by this mountain, even without accepting and keeping the Torah. Therefore, from now on Turn and take your journey, [meaning, journey] for yourselves. When will you provide for your own house? Come to the mountain of the Amorite [i.e., Eretz Yisrael], for there you will acquire true perfection. He further says, Behold I have set the land before you. This means, I have given you the entire world because you dwelt at this mountain. However, I advise you, Come and possess the Land that I swore to your forefathers. Why should you toil for others and let the nations of the world eat the fruits of your labor? Therefore, chose life! Come and possess the Land. (Derashot Chatam Sofer, vol. 2, p. 306a, as quoted in Eim HaBanim Semeichah, pp. 341-42)
Ø Then I said to you, “You have come to the mountain of the Amorite, which the Lord our God gives to us. Behold, the Lord your God has set the Land before you; go up and possess [it], as the Lord God of your forefathers has spoken to you; do not fear and do not be discouraged.” All of you approached me and said, “Let us send men before us and let them spy out the Land for us…” The matter was good in my eyes, and I took from you twelve men… They took in their hands of the fruit of the Land and brought it down to us, and they brought back word to us and said, “The Land that the Lord our God gives us is good.” But you did not want to ascend, and you rebelled against the word of the Lord your God. You murmured in your tents… The Lord heard the sound of your words, and He was enraged; He swore, saying, “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good Land that I swore to give to your forefathers. Except for Calev son of Yefuneh; he shall see it… because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly…” (1:20-46).
I took from you: As far as their stated goal is concerned – to see how to conquer [the Land] – they would have been better off hiring non-Jewish agents, like members of the mixed multitude, who are more knowledgeable in the art of warfare and conquest. In addition, such people would have been less apprehensive about traveling through the Land, for [the natives] would not have recognized them as agents of the Jews. However, Moshe Rabbeinu knew that it would be very difficult to conquer the Land by natural means, unless Israel strengthened its faith and trust in HaShem and yearned to take possession of this good Land. None of this could have been done by foreigners, only from you, because [Jewish spies] would see the pleasantness of the Land and its [special] fruit… This way, the Land would find favor in the eyes of her children. Furthermore, Moshe thought that the messengers would gain chizuk (encouragement) [in the Holy Land] as Calev did when he entered Hebron… Then they would feel confident that they could conquer the Land… Indeed, had all the spies done so, it would have greatly enhanced their trust in HaShem, as well as Israel’s fortitude. This could not have been accomplished through foreigners, who see only the physical walls and the people inside. (Ha’amek Davar)
And brought it down to us: This indicates that Eretz Yisrael is higher than all other lands. (Rashi) (See VaYigash, “Yeridah for the Sake of Aliyah” and Shemini, “Above the Rest,” for elaboration.)
See Parashat Shelach for more on the Sin of the Spies.
Ø Sidonites would call Hermon Siryon, and the Amorites would call it Senir (3:9).
Elsewhere, it says, Until Mount Si’on, which is Hermon (4:48). Thus, it has four names. For what purpose do people need this [information]? To recount the praise of Eretz Yisrael, for four kingdoms were arguing [over it]. This one said, “Let it be named after me,” and that one said, “Let it be named after me.” Does this not constitute a kal va’chomer? If four kingdoms argued over the dregs of Eretz Yisrael, then [they] certainly [did so] over its choicest parts. (Sifrei, Eikev 37, with additions from Rashi)