Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Very Good Land

by Tzvi Fisher

Everyone knows that one of the keys to Torah learning is reviewing what one has studied. So we won’t worry about sounding repetitive by explaining something from this week’s Torah portion which we have discussed in the past.

More than anything else, Moshe wanted to be in Eretz Yisrael. He prayed to Hashem again and again, hundreds of times, to be allowed to enter the Land, as it says, “I pray thee, let me go over and see the good Land that is beyond the Yarden, that good mountain region and the Lebanon” (Devarim, 3:25).

Rabbi Shalom Gold, who came on aliyah from New York, points out the Moshe employs the word “good” two times in this verse. Moshe is asking Hashem not only to enter the good Land, but also to continue to see it in a good light once he was there.

This is because there is an evil inclination to see the Land of Israel in a negative light. The Spies succumbed to this “yetzer” when they brought back an evil report of the things they saw in the Land. Their description of great walled cities, giants, and non-stop funerals, discouraged the nation and turned their hearts away from making aliyah – perhaps the greatest sin of Jewish history, the sin which ultimately led to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the expulsion of the nation from Eretz Yisrael to the sewers of galut. Only Joshua and Calev spoke out in praise of the Land, and only they, out of all of the men, merited to enter it.

This “yetzer” of seeing the Land of Israel in a negative light is very much with us today. Some complain about the arrogant Israelis. Others complain about the irreligious. Others about the obligation to serve in the army. Still others about the dangers of terrorism. Yet others claim you can’t make a living.

All of these negative claims stem from this evil inclination of saying bad things about Israel. The people who say these things are unaware that they have fallen prey to this terrible, invisible yetzer. They believe they are right. They believe they are justified. They don’t see or understand how they have fallen to engage in the sin of the Spies. They don’t realize that they are adding to the embers of destruction, preventing the Temple’s rebuilding, and prolonging the curse of galut.

From the tragedy of the Spies, we learn that a Jew should be extremely careful not to speak badly about the Land of Israel. Rather, he or she should always strive to see the good aspects of the Land. And they are many indeed. For instance, there are more Jews in Israel than anywhere else. There is more Torah learning in Israel than anywhere else. There are more Torah giants in Israel than anywhere else. There are more organizations dedicated to Hesed (charitable organizations) than anywhere else. There is less assimilation than anywhere else. Not to mention the staggering achievements in science, technology, agriculture, medicine, computer wizardry, and a dozen other fields.

Of course, there is always room for constructive criticism and suggestions on how to improve things, but to find fault and reject living in Israel because of it, this is way of the Spies.

As we learn from Joshua and Calev, the commandment to live in Israel applies even if there are giants and idol worshippers all over the country. It applies even if there are non-religious Jews, and lefties, economic fluctuations and wars. In fact, the halachah states that a Jew should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of the residents are pagans, rather than live in the Diaspora, even in a city where the majority of the residents are Jews.

We live in the Holy Land because it is the Holy Land. The mitzvah to live here doesn’t depend on the politics of the government, nor on whether a person is afraid to serve in the army, or whether he likes falafel or not. There is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael, period, which is not dependent on any others factors. Certainly not on the personal opinions and preferences of this Jew or that.

We have said this all before, but the review is important, again and again if need be, until the learning sinks in.

In the meantime, may all of the Jews in Diaspora come home to Israel today, so that the fast of Tisha B’Av will be canceled and transformed into a feast of joy.