Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shlach Lecha
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Holiness and Nature in the Land of Israel


Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

In this week’s portion, the Torah relates the episode of the Spies and their sin. The leaders of the tribes of Israel, men of great stature, spread an "evil report about the Land" of Israel (Numbers, Chapter 13):

28) However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. 31) But the men who went up with him said, "We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. 32) They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, "The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. 33) There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes."

At first, it seems that before us are weak and timid individuals. However, we are also well aware that these are the tribal leaders of the nation. Moreover, the Torah bears witness that these men are: "All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel." (Numbers 13, 3)

Rashi explains: "All of them were men" – the word "men" in the Torah indicates importance, and at that time, they were all worthy." In other words, these tribal leaders were the elite, they were very serious and truly worthy. They were all "men"! They were the great leaders of the Jewish people!

And if this was the case, how did they come to sin? What caused them to err so dramatically? It seems quite possible that the main issue which arose was the sudden, apparent contradiction they perceived in the reality they confronted. This reality – this contradiction – did not square with the Promised Land they had envisioned. Their understanding and expectation was a Land of holiness, of spirituality. This was the direction expected for Am Yisrael – to enter the Land of Hashem. But, all of a sudden, they enter, only to see a Land that "consumes its inhabitants". They unexpectedly see a Land riddled with obstacles and difficulties. There is death; there are failures and disappointments. They envisioned a Land of holiness, and arrived in a dismal and mundane reality – perhaps even more vulnerable than Egypt itself.

Tragically, however, they could truly not fathom that not only did this not contradict holiness – on the contrary! Holiness is not meant to be cut off from reality. Holiness is meant to be part and parcel of reality. In fact, the greater the degree of holiness, the greater the success in confronting a mundane and low reality – and raising it to a higher level.

Holiness is not disconnected from difficulties. Within holiness there are manifold challenges. Coping correctly and effectively with such challenges enables us to bring ourselves and our Land to a uniquely powerful state of holiness.

The holiness of the Land of Israel is so special because it is natural. And in the natural order of the world, there are always difficulties and challenges. He who fears these challenges will not be in our Land, but will also not be privileged to share this special holiness.

May we, b’ezrat Hashem, succeed in coping with these challenges, while infusing holiness into our world’s natural order. And may Hashem help us to perceive the good in each other, together in our Holy Land, the Land of Hashem.
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