(by Yehuda HaKohen)


As Israel mobilizes to liberate our homeland from Canaanite rule, Moshe dispatches a team of twelve Torah leaders (a scholar from each tribe) to spy out the country in preparation for the assault. Ten of these spies return with a misleading report meant to demoralize their people and prevent the conquest from taking place. The other two, Yehoshua and Calev, courageously stand up for G-D's Truth and challenge the ten in an attempt to save Israel from sin. The masses, however, follow the majority opinion of the ten rabbis and in so doing bring about a national catastrophe.


The ten spies who brought a demoralizing report to the Hebrew Nation were ostensibly demonstrating a rationalist approach to Israel's situation. They saw and were concerned over the difficulties that their people would be forced to confront.


"The people that dwells in the land are powerful, the cities are fortified and very great, and we also saw the giant's descendants there... We cannot ascend against those people for they are too strong for us (mimenu)." (BAMIDBAR 13:28, 31)


Because the word mimenu can be translated as either "us" or "him", Rashi comments that it is as though they were speaking about HaShem, claiming that those Canaanite nations were even stronger than G-D.


The result was that the ten rabbis weakened Israel's resolve, leading the people to come forth with such arguments as "Why is HaShem bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and young children will be taken captive! Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?" (BAMIDBAR 14:3)


Indeed, most of Israel sided with the defeatist spies and perished in the desert over a period of forty years. The conquest of Eretz Yisrael was delayed until a new generation could arise that would be psychologically capable of fighting for their land. It was ultimately Yehoshua and Calev – the minority rabbinic opinion – who emerged victorious a generation later, leading Israel in the liberation of their homeland from foreign rule.


The ten spies that led the Hebrew Nation to catastrophe were essentially putting forth two opinions.


The first was that preserving life overrides the conquest of Eretz Yisrael and that if taking possession of the country appears to be dangerous, the people are not required to do so.


The second opinion that these rabbis expressed was that it is permissible to live true Torah lives outside of our borders; that the Nation of Israel need not be in the Land of Israel to be loyal to HaShem or to observe His Torah.


But this claim in itself negates Torah Law.


The spies – giants of Israel and chiefs of the Sanhedrin – rebelled against the Master of the Universe in refusing His commandment to conquer the Land of Israel. Their mutiny revealed a terrible lack of faith and was a transgression far worse than that of the golden calf. For the sin of the calf, only three thousand were punished but for the sin of the spies, all male adults (except Yehoshua and Calev) died in the desert and could not enter their homeland.


The Sages teach (Tanchuma) that the sin of the spies took place on the ninth day of Av and was the foundation for the destructions of both the first and second Temples (both occurring on the same date in future years).


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains in Mesillat Yesharim (chapter 11) that the spies, who were the tribal leaders and Torah giants of the generation "feared a lessening of their honor, lest, upon entering the land, they would no longer be princes of Israel, and others would be appointed in their place".


It is a regrettable truth that this transgression has repeated itself many times throughout our history.


Spiritual leaders often refrain from educating their followers that living in, conquering and settling the entire Land of Israel is not merely a personal choice but actually an underlying basis of the entire Torah.


But if this error has infected even great Torah scholars, we must question how so many otherwise righteous Jews could miss something so vital. The Gaon of Vilna offers an explanation in Kol HaTor (the Gaon's teachings on the process of Redemption):


"The sin of the spies... hovers over the Nation of Israel in every generation... How strong is the power of the Sitra Achra that it succeeds in hiding from the eyes of our holy fathers the dangers of the klipot; from the eyes of Avraham, the klipah of exile... and in the time of the Mashiach, the Sitra Achra attacks the guardians of Torah with blinders... Many of the sinners in this great sin of, `They despised the cherished land', and also many of the guardians of Torah, will not know or understand that they are caught in the sin of the spies, that they have been sucked into the sin of the spies in many false ideas and empty claims, and they cover their ideas with the already proven fallacy that the mitzvah of the settlement of Israel no longer applies in our day, an opinion which has already been disproved by the giants of the world, the Rishonim and Achronim." (Kol HaTor chapter 5)


In his supplement to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot, the Ramban teaches that it is a Torah commandment that the Nation of Israel conquer and settle the entire Land of Israel in every generation.


"This is what our Sages call Milchemet Mitzvah... And do not err and say that this precept is the commandment to vanquish the seven nations... This is not so... This land is not to be left in their hands, or in the hands of any nation, in any generation whatsoever... Behold, we are commandment with conquest in every generation... If so this is a positive commandment, which applies in every time... And the proof that this is a commandment is this: `They were told to go up in the matter of the spies, go up and conquer as HaShem has said to you. Do not fear, and do not be discouraged'. And it further says: `And when HaShem sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, go up and possess the land which I have given you'. And when they did not go up, the Torah says: `And you have rebelled against the word of G-D, and you did not listen to this command'" (Positive Commandment 4 of the Ramban's supplement to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot)


The Ramban states irrefutably that the conquest and settlement of Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah for all Israel in every generation and that the Jewish Nation is forbidden from allowing any part of the country to fall into, or remain under, gentile control. The Shulchan Aruch code of Torah Law states conclusively that all of the arbitrators of Torah Law agree with the Ramban on this issue.


"All of the Poskim, both Rishonim and Achronim, decide the Law in this fashion on the basis of the Ramban." (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, section 75, Pitchei Tshuva 6)


As for the spies' erroneous claim that preserving Jewish life overrides the commandment of liberating the Land of Israel, it is clear that conquering territory from a foreign nation is naturally an act that involves physical danger.


While the Torah commands Israel in most cases to preserve Hebrew life even at the expense of Torah Law, this cannot be applied to a Divine commandment that is, in its very essence, life threatening.


Because the Torah obligates the Jewish Nation to liberate Eretz Yisrael, the notion of Pikuach Nefesh (preserving life) is not considered.


Rather, a war of liberation requires Mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice).


"The mitzvot of the Torah are not based on the occurrence of miracles. The mitzvah to wage war is given to us despite the fact that in the natural course of events both sides suffer casualties in the heat of battle. Evidently the mitzvah applies even though there is inherent hazard…" (Minchat Chinuch commentary to Sefer HaChinuch 425)


As Israel began to experience a national rebirth just prior to the establishment of the modern Jewish state, a phenomenon similar to the story of the spies occurred.


Only a small minority of Jews ascended to Eretz Yisrael while the vast majority of world Jewry remained by choice in the exile.




A state was established and millions of Jews returned proudly to their homeland.


The Gaon of Vilna writes in his introduction to Paat HaShulchan that "all of the wisdoms of the world are for the sake of the Torah and are included within It".


As G-D's chosen people, Israel must have an all encompassing vision of Torah that unites everything in existence.


The fragmented vision that caused the spies to feel like grasshoppers next to the giants of Hevron is the same fragmented vision, dimmed by two thousand years of humiliating exile, that causes a number of Jewish leaders to see the present as something isolated in history and themselves as insignificant when compared to foreign nations.


This unhealthy world view must be replaced by a higher understanding – one that views HaShem guiding all of world history towards an ultimate goal of universal perfection.


Israel must learn to see the world from the roots above and view history in its entirety; to have an all encompassing vision of where Creation is being led and what this means for our people and for all of mankind.


Only by attaining this greater vision can Israel understand our true national essence and the purpose of Torah as the blueprint for Creation.

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