Normally I would wait almost exactly a half-year to write about Parshat Shelach, the Torah reading about the “spies” who, sent by Moshe to scout out the land, returned with a list of complaints and exaggerations and took the heart right out of the Jewish people, convincing them they were unable to fill their divine mission, the first step of which was settling Eretz Yisrael. Not only did that episode precipitate a forty-year wander (including the death of every adult over twenty at the time of the Meraglim’s report–i.e. a forty-year-long holocaust) through the desert, the worst disaster, to that date, for the newly born Jewish nation, but its echoes have reverberated through the millennia, foreshadowing future disasters including the destruction of both Temples, and the slaughter that accompanied these disasters, the Spanish Expulsion, including the mass death that was a part of that, the beginning of World War I, which lead directly to World War II and the Shoah (Holocaust).
The key to this chain of disasters was, and remains to this day, ingratitude and terrible leadership. On the verge of finally inheriting the land promised to Avraham four hundred years earlier, suffering through the cruelest of slaveries, this remaining one-fifth of the Jewish People (the vast majority had given up completely, preferring slavery) witnessed and experienced the greatness of The Creator through the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, the even more miraculous miracle at Yam Suf (the Red Sea) and personally participated in that unique moment of Revelation at Sinai, lost heart and, somehow, felt that the Holy Land just wasn’t worth the risk that the Meraglim, “spies”, had scared them with.
Remember, we’re discussing the elite, that twenty-percent who weren’t brainwashed or seduced into accepting the perverse status quo of Egyptian slavery. These are the Jews who experienced the highest levels of devekut, attachment to God; at the Red Sea every single person achieved a level of prophetic consciousness perhaps greater than anyone, barring Moshe Rabbenu, in human history. The best of the best, witnesses to God’s participation in the world, taught by Moshe Rabbenu himself, they were still led astray.
Who were these Meraglim, spies, who had such power to sway the entire people, to destroy their sense of purpose in just one night? Much like today, they were the “leaders” of the Jewish people, the “princes” of their tribes. And like most of our “leaders” mentioned in Tanach, Talmud, and history books, including most of the leaders to date of the State of Israel, they were disastrous, bringing the Jewish people, again and again, the the very edge of destruction.
Of course we’ve had some leaders who, rather than forwarding their own personal agendas, based themselves on our timeless values. Moshe (Moses), obviously, is the paradigm of ideal, selfless leadership (when beseeching God almost to the point of being granted his desire to cross the Jordan and lead the Jewish People into the Holy Land, he suddenly stands aside when he realizes that this would freeze an deficient “perfection” rather than to allow us to develop fully–see the end of A Matter of Timing, much earlier in this blog. Yehoshua and the Shoftim (Judges) who led before Shaul (Saul), our first king, also ruled with the priority of the Divine Mission of the Jewish People. Shaul, of course, had his own agendas and plans, thinking that, somehow, he knew better. Replacing Shaul, David and Shlomo (Solomon) led according to our mission (even if their personal conduct was flawed, as leaders they maintained their higher values), but things go radically downhill after them, with very few examples of of truly God-directed leaders (the first Hashmoneans come to mind as I write this on the eighth day of Chanukah, but they too rapidly devolved into corruption which led to disaster after disaster). Only from time to time have we had leaders who were worthy of the title.
We face the same challenges today. Weak and timid “leaders”, not only in the political realm, but in the cultural, legal, religious and academic worlds as well! “Leaders” more interested in secular values than those of our unique tradition. Too many of today’s Jewish people have lost sight of the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael, the almost unique privilege of, once again, being able to live there under Jewish sovereignty. They are led by people, most of them self-appointed experts and authorities, who know almost nothing of Jewish tradition and Jewish values, but pontificate on the shortcomings (or what they view as shortcomings, i.e. not realizing their own, often non-Jewish and often anti-Jewish world view) of the State of Israel. Too many of them, within Israel and in the diaspora, actively work to dismantle Israel. Much like the “leaders” who were the Meraglim, they tear the heart our of the Jewish people, destroy our courage and resolve.
Then there are those, usually within the Israeli political and legal systems, who are happy enough and often proud enough to live in Jewish Israel, but are sufficiently ignorant of our values to substitute foreign values which bode us no good (much like the Hellenists of our Chanukah story). Without realizing, or, chas v’shalom, maybe realizing the damage to Israel’s future economic security, they work to block the miraculous gifts God has given us.
In 1967, in one military miracle after another, much like the Maccabis, our radically outnumbered and out-gunned army liberated our historic heartland and our historic and eternal capital, including Har HaBayit, The Temple Mount. From Day One, there have been “leaders”, ashamed of their Jewishness and the confrontation with Jewish history of Judea, Samaria and, even more so, Jerusalem and Har HaBayit, who have repudiated the miracle and tirelessly tried, politically and diplomatically, to undo it.
Then there’s the old joke: if only Moses would have taken a right turn instead of a left turn…. In other words, how much more global influence we would have had, not to mention economic security, if, like much of the Arab world, we lived above a sea of oil and gas….. And in a new, very recent miracle, those very resources were quite unexpectedly discovered, especially in our offshore territory.
But rather than rejoicing in and giving thanks for this miracle, there are activists and regulators and bureaucrats and judges who, in the name of values which might have relative importance, but are much less important than our very survival, are trying to block any benefit Israel and the Jewish people might have from these gifts.
I’m not sure anymore if many who revere universalist ideals such as global cooperation and world peace understand that these values were first explicitly stated as Jewish values. כִּי בֵיתִי בֵּית־תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל־הָעַמִּים, Because My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, was first declared by Isaiah (56:7), as was וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת לֹא־יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל־גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹא־יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה, And they will beat their swords into plowshare and their spears into pruning hooks, nation will not lift sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
These values, these truly progressive Jewish values, fully depend on the survival of the Jewish people and our continuing vision. Of course, the survival of the Jewish people is guaranteed by God, but our ability to contribute to the world at this point in history depends on the survival of the State of Israel, the nation, refuge and, most important, the native soil of the Jewish people, the one place on earth where our contributions to mankind can flourish.
It’s time to learn the lesson of the Meraglim and to reject the ignorance and defeatism of bad leadership who doesn’t understand the preciousness of the land and our opportunity to live there, and who rejects the very gifts our Creator provides to enable us.