Defending Eretz Israel



(by Yehuda HaKohen)


As Israel mobilizes to liberate our country from Canaanite rule, Moshe

dispatches a team of twelve Torah leaders (a scholar from each tribe)

to spy out the Land in preparation for the assault. Ten of these spies

return with a misleading report meant to demoralize the Nation 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 demoralization and sin. The masses,

however, follow the majority opinion of the ten rabbis and invite

terrible catastrophe as a result.


The ten spies who brought a demoralizing report to the Nation were

ostensibly demonstrating a rationalist approach to the situation. They

saw and were concerned for 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 they weakened the Nation'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



Indeed, most of the Nation sided with the ten spies and perished in

the desert over a period of forty years. The liberation of Eretz

Yisrael was delayed until a new generation could arise that would be

psychologically capable of conquering their Land. It was ultimately

Yehoshua and Calev, the minority opinion, who emerged victorious,

pulling the Nation after them as they liberated the homeland a

generation later.


The ten spies that led our 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

Nation is not required to do so.


The second opinion that these rabbis expressed was that it is

permissible for us to live true Torah lives outside of our borders.

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



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 expressed 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 was the foundation for

The destructions of both the first and second Temples occurring on the

ninth of Av, the same date as their grievous sin.


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 tragic reality that this transgression repeats itself

throughout history.


Spiritual leaders often refrain from educating their followers that living in,

conquering and settling the entire Land of Israel is not a personal choice but

an underlying basis of the Torah in Its entirety.


And if this error has infected even many otherwise righteous and G-D fearing

Jews, we must question how giants of Torah 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 disproven

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 Nation is forbidden from allowing any part of the Land 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 great 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

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)


Prior to the establishment of the modern Jewish state, as Israel began

to experience a national rebirth, a phenomenon similar to the story of

the spies occurred.


Only a small minority of the Nation ascended to Eretz Yisrael while the

vast majority of world Jewry remained by choice in the exile.


Yet it was precisely this minority – the pioneersand fighters who went before the people amidst enormous difficulties and with unbreakable conviction – who ultimately emerged victorious.


A state was established and millions of Jews returned home.


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 Nation, Israel must have an all

encompassing vision of Torah that includes 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

ghetto walls and shattered by pogroms, 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 worldview 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 Divine Providence

is leading Creation and what this means for our Nation and humankind.


Only by having this greater outlook can Israel understand our true essence as a Nation and the purpose of Torah as the blueprint for Creation.


Shabbat Shalom.

With Love of Israel,

-Yehuda HaKohen

Am Segula

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