Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shlach Lecha
To dedicate this lesson

Jewish fear of Jewish independence


Rabbi Berel Wein

Moshe had a good idea to encourage the Jewish people to appreciate the gift being granted to them in possessing the Land of Israel. With the most positive of intentions he commissions twelve leaders of Israel, in whom he undoubtedly had unquestioned trust in their piety and wisdom, Moshe expects them to return with an enthusiastic assessment of the Land of Israel. Instead they return with an even-handed cold blooded report about the land and its inhabitants. Like Obama’s speech, the negative parts of their report somehow overwhelm the positive statements that they uttered. They eventually back up their report with personal agendas, woeful predictions and demagogic pronouncements. And Moshe is powerless to say the people to reject the negative report. A mood of wild depression overwhelms Israel and the great march to the promised land is ended permanently for that generation. There was always a predisposition among that generation to rather return to Egyptian servitude than to forge a new society in a new land and create their own independent state. The uncomfortable but known past always has strong attraction and requires no special bravery or courage. However the unknown future no matter how great its possibilities are is always an intimidating sight. This attitude is present in all Jewish and human generations and certainly was not limited to the generation of the Jews in the desert of Sinai. It is the unknown future that always destabilizes present wisdom and judgment. Moshe’s assurances of Godly support for Israel fall on unhearing ears.

The question arises as to why Moshe who was able to convince Israel to leave Egypt, march through the desert, accept the yoke of the Torah, reject the Golden Calf, build the Mishkan/tabernacle, etc. was unable to convince them of the importance of the Land of Israel to their physical and spiritual development. Over the centuries the great commentators to the Torah have dealt with this issue, each in their own way. But the basic underlying assessment of the issue is that there is a hesitation if not even a fear of Jewish independence and self-government among the Jewish people. This is certainly reflected throughout large sections of the Jewish world today. This attitude is always cloaked in theological niceties and pious nostrums as well as an unfounded belief in the Western humanitarian values of much of Europe and America. But the harsh truth is that most Jews find it easier and more comfortable to live under foreign rule than to have to build their own self-governing society and nation. The exile mentality of the Jewish people, formed already in Egyptian bondage over three millennia ago, remains part of our DNA even today. The Jewish State is spoken of as a place of refuge and escape for persecuted Jews. But a Jewish State is really much more than that. It is a challenge and a work in progress. It should not be viewed as merely a haven for the helpless but rather as a country that must eventually fulfill its role as being a light unto the rest of humankind. Again, the Torah of Moshe must convince us of our true role in the world.
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