Rabbi Ya’akov HaLevi Filber,
Yeshivat Machon Meir
?The People of Israel in the Land of Israel following the Torah of Israel — these are the three components of Jewish perfection. Since Abraham’s being thrown into the fiery furnace, the nations of the world have been trying to harm us through one of these three components. There are numerous historical examples of attempts to annihilate us physically, starting with Laban, who sought to destroy everything, continuing with Haman, who plotted to kill all the Jews in one day, and leading up to the European Holocaust.
There are also examples of attempts to make Israel assimilate through spiritual annihilation, like the Greeks who decreed that the Jews must write on ox horns that they have no part in the G-d of Israel (Bereshit Rabbah 2), the Romans who forbade circumcision (Shabbat 130a), and Christianity, which forced the Jews to convert. Yet since the collapse of the Soviet regime, we find no further attempts among the nations to attack the Jewish religion or to destroy any Jewish community physically. In our times, the nations’ efforts against Israel are chiefly concentrated on the third component — harming Eretz Yisrael and wrenching parts of it away from us.
Unfortunately, some Jews, as well, take part in the original attempt by the spies to sever the Jewish People from their land. In his book “Igeret HaRe’iyah” (Igeret 96), Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook writes:
“The foundation of Israel’s exile and low stature that continue on this earth are due only to our not publicizing Eretz Yisrael, its worth and wisdom. Moreover, we do not rectify the sin of the spies, who slandered the Land, with a response of equal measure: to make known to the whole world the glory and majesty of the Land, its holiness and splendor. Following all of our trespasses in the other direction, we should only merit to express even one ten thousandth of the Land’s delight, the luminance of its Torah, the glory of its wisdom, and the holy spirit that reigns in its midst.”
Numerous interpretations have been given for the sin of the spies. One of them is that of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, as in brought in the sefer “Perakim BeMachshevet HaRav,” in the chapter dealing with “The Uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael.” There he explains that Jewish fate is tightly bound to Eretz Yisrael, because only there is the Divine Presence revealed and only there does prophecy flourish. Therefore, a special people must settle the special land. Rabbi Soloveitchik compares the covenant between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel to a bond of marriage. The entry into the Land is more than just movement from one place to another. It constitutes a symbol of the marriage bond between the people and their land. Everything that happens in this land influences the spirit and position of Jews, wherever they may be. Yet in contrast to marriage, regarding which divorce is an option, the connection between the Jewish People and their land is one that endures forever.
Jewish law states that it is forbidden for a person to marry a woman or even to become engaged to her until he has seen her. It matters not how many good recommendations he has received about her. This connection must be from the depths of one’s heart, and without reservations. Therefore, it must be based only on his directly knowing her. It is forbidden to enter the marriage covenant without personally knowing and appreciating the prospective mate first. Moses was therefore commanded to send men to spy out the Land, not to gather information, but to give the tribal heads the opportunity to know Eretz Yisrael first hand. As representatives of the public, it was a chance to bring the whole public a report on the special nature of the Holy Land. Despite G-d’s promise regarding the excellent characteristics of Eretz Yisrael, the Israelites needed to apprise themselves of these traits directly, by means of their princes.
The Israelites were a unique people, consecrated to G-d, and they were about to enter into marriage with the unique land, one which has maintained its loyalty to the Jewish People. Even when its Jews were exiled from it and it was conquered by foreigners, the land remained desolate and ceased its blessings, like a faithful wife who longingly hopes and waits for her husband’s return. Moses therefore hoped that the spies would sense and recognize the special characteristics of the Land, and would appreciate its preciousness in terms of the covenant of G-d with Abraham. The only ones who understood the special value of the land were Joshua and Calev. Calev therefore went to prostrate himself on our patriarchs’ graves at the Cave of Machpelah, while the rest of the princes went to examine the territory from the Tzin Desert all the way to Rechov on the road to Chamat. The spies investigated the Land externally, like real estate dealers. They examined its value in terms of the benefits of this world. For that reason, they failed in their relationship to it.