Beautiful D’var Torah on Shlach

[hat tip MT]

“And [the spies] began to speak badly about the land that they had explored.” (Num. 13:32)
A dispirited discussion took place at Beit HaRav, Rav Kook’s house in Jerusalem, not long after the end of World War II. The Chief Rabbi had passed away ten years earlier; now it was his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, who sat at the head of the table.
One participant at the Sabbath table had brought up a disturbing topic: the phenomenon of visitors touring Eretz Yisrael and then criticising the country after returning to their homes. These visitors complain about everything: the heat, the poverty, the backwardness, the political situation – and discourage other Jews from moving here, he lamented.
Rav Tzvi Yehudah responded by telling the following parable, one he had heard in the name of the famed Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, the rabbi of Bialystok.
The Failed Match
There was once a wealthy man who sought the hand of a certain young lady. She was the most beautiful girl in town, and was blessed with many talents and a truly refined character. Her family was not well-off, so they were eager about a possible match with the prosperous fellow.
The young woman, however, was not interested in the match. Rich or not, the prospective suitor was known to be coarse and ill-mannered. She refused to meet with him.
The father asked her to at least meet with the young man in their home, so as not to embarrass him. After all, one meeting doesn’t obligate you to marry him! To please her father, the young woman agreed.
The following Sabbath afternoon, the fellow arrived at the house as arranged, and was warmly received by the father. Shortly afterwards, his daughter made her entrance. But her hair was uncombed, and she wore a faded, crumpled dress and shabby house slippers. Appalled at her disheveled appearance, it did not take long before the young man excused himself and made a hurried exit.
What everyone says about this girl – it’s not true, exclaimed the astonished young man to his friends. She’s hideous!
Rav Tzvi Yehudah stopped briefly, surveying the guests seated around the table. Superficially, it would appear that the brash young fellow had rejected the young woman. But in fact, it was she who had rejected him.
The same is true regarding the Land of Israel, the rabbi explained. Eretz Yisrael is a special land, only ready to accept those who are receptive to its unique spiritual qualities. The Land does not reveal its inner beauty to all who visit. Not everyone is worthy to perceive its special holiness. It may appear as if the dissatisfied visitors are the ones who reject the Land of Israel, he concluded. But in fact, it is the Land that rejects them!
A thoughtful silence pervaded the room. Those present were stunned by the parable and the rabbi’s impassioned delivery. Then one of the guests observed, Reb Tzvi Yehudah, your words are suitable for a son of your eminent father, may his memory be a blessing!
Seeing the Goodness of Jerusalem
Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s response was indeed appropriate for Rav Kook’s son. When visitors from outside the country would approach the Chief Rabbi for a blessing, Rav Kook would quote from the Book of Psalms, “May God bless you from Zion” (128:5).
Then he would ask: What exactly is this blessing from Zion? In fact, the content of the blessing is described in the continuation of the verse: “May you see the goodness of Jerusalem.”
The rabbi would explain: The verse does not say that one should merit seeing Jerusalem; but that one should merit seeing ‘the goodness of Jerusalem.’ Many people visit Jerusalem. But how many of them merit seeing the inner goodness hidden in the holy city?
And that, he concluded, is God’s special blessing from Zion.

Parshas Shelach

from Rav Motti Greenberg, Rosh Yeshivah, Kerem B’Yavneh

“We cannot rise up against the nation because it is stronger than us… And the whole nation that we saw there are very big.” [Bamidbar 13:32]. Rashi explains this to mean that the people were tall and large. However, the SHELAH brings a surprising interpretation: that the people had good traits. (This is also brought by the Kli Yakar.) However, why should the scouts want to praise the moral traits of the Canaanites, to tell us that they behave in a righteous and proper way? Evidently this is meant to imply that “the sin of the Emorites is not complete” [Bereishit 15:16], and it will be difficult for Bnei Yisrael to conquer them and take the land. And that is why the scouts added, “We were in our eyes like grasshoppers” [Bamidbar 13:33]. Not as Rashi explains, that the scouts felt as small as grasshoppers, rather that they felt the opposite of those “people with good traits,” for they were honest and good while we were like locusts and grasshoppers which come and steal away the produce of honest owners of the fields. As is written in the Talmud, “If one steals a field which is then ravaged by locusts” [Bava Kama 11 6b] he can give it back to the original owner (see the Talmud and Rashi’s commentary). Thus, the claim of the scouts was that the current residents were behaving in a proper way, and that Bnei Yisrael had come to steal their land (does this sound familiar to our ears?).

 

This claim can be countered by the words of Rabbi Yitzchak quoted by Rashi in the beginning of Bereishit. “Why did the Torah begin with Bereishit? The answer is because of the verse, ‘He told the nation about the power of His deeds, to give them the heritage of the other nations’ [Tehillim 111:6]. If the nations claim that you are robbers in that you conquered the lands of the Seven Nations, you can reply: The entire land belongs to the Holy One, Blessed be He, He created it and gives it to whomever He sees fit. When He wanted to He gave it to them, and when He wants to He takes it from them and gives it to us.”

 

At first glance, this reply is hard to understand and even sounds unjust. Every robber can use this claim, to say that the Master of the World took possession of an object and gave it to him. If this is so, how can any sense of order be maintained?

 

The answer to the above question is that the claim of Divine intervention is only valid when it is absolutely clear that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is the one who took the land from them and gave it to us. When it can be seen that we who are small and weak, a nation which was just freed from slavery, who conquered “a great and mighty people, children of giants” [Devarim 9:2], it is clear that we are not robbers, and that the Master of the World took the land from them and gave it to us. As Rachav said to the scouts sent by Yehoshua, “We have heard that G-d dried out the waters of the Red Sea before you… And what you did to the two kings of the Emorites… And we heard this and our hearts melted… For your G-d is the G-d of heaven above and of the earth below.” [Yehoshua 1:10-12].

 

In our generation too, it is impossible to deny that the hand of G-d has wrought all that has taken place. On one hand Jews were led to slaughter, but a magnificent nation was established right after the tragic events. Rabbi Amital wrote that if the world would have been destroyed and later on studied by historians in the distant future they would certainly have come to the conclusion that many hundreds of years passed between the two events, the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.

 

A hundred years ago, when Theodor Herzl asked for help from the Pope to return to Eretz Yisrael, he replied that he could not agree to our return to the land because this was against the Xristian religion. If only we could uncover the eyes of that Pope and show him that when his successor visited our land a few months ago he placed a bouquet of flowers on Herzl’s grave – almost as if to say: You were right and we were wrong.