Rectifying the Sin of the Spies during the Three Weeks by settling the Land * Withdrawals from parts of the Land of Israel over the last hundred years have not brought about the long-awaited peace, but instead, increased international conflicts and tensions * The surrender of parts of the Land led Israel to the difficult war presently being waged in Gaza * The solution to the war: Building thousands of houses in Judea and Samaria, reoccupying the Gaza Strip, and rebuilding the settlements
The Sin of the Spies
These days, when we mourn the destruction of the Temple, we must work to rectify the Sin of the Spies – the root of all calamities. This week’s Torah portion, D’varim (Deuteronomy), also deals with this.
Our Sages said: “On the Ninth of Av, it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the Promised Land (as a result of the Sin of the Spies, which took place on that day), the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Beitar was captured, and the city of Jerusalem was ploughed up” (Ta’anit 26b).
We have to understand: what exactly was the sin of the Spies? According to the plain meaning of the verses, in their assessment, entering the Land of Israel would have involved risking their lives, and in order to save the lives of their children, they needed to stay if the desert. Should they have ignored the danger?!
Rather, their sin was that they despised the cherished Land. Their basic attitude was that conquering the Land and settling it was a difficult matter – a serious “problem.” It would be better to remain in the desert – to eat bread from heaven and quail, and survive miraculously. Therefore, when they saw the giants and fortified cities, they decided it was impossible to conquer the Land, and thus, melted the hearts of the people. But in the end, they were punished and delayed for forty years, “until the last of your corpses lie here in the desert”. They chose to protect their bodies, and despise the vision of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and remained dead corpses in the desert.
Because Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is not the problem of Jewish existence – the Land of Israel is the solution.
Jews in the Diaspora and the Question of Eretz Yisrael
There were Jews in the Diaspora who wanted to forget about the Land of Israel – to stop feeling like foreigners, and assimilate into society. But the Gentiles did not let them forget the Land of Israel. “Jews to Palestine” they yelled at them. Many Jews believed that if they could just forget about their connection to Eretz Yisrael, everything would be fine – then, they would be accepted among the nations, and be able to influence them. The Reform movement even erased the Land of Israel and Jerusalem from their prayer books.
In the end the Holocaust took place, or at best, the decrees of the Communist regime, and it was no longer possible to immigrate to Israel.
Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it is the solution.
Students of the Vilna Gaon and the Precursor’s of Zion
The Vilna Gaon (also known as the ‘Gra’) and his disciples began speaking about the importance of immigration to Israel and rebuilding the Land, but their words did not attract enough followers – the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael was built minimally. Even a generation later, when the gaonim Rabbi Kalisher and Rabbi Guttmacher aroused the public to immigrate to Israel and build it, only a few heeded their call, because the leadership and the people thought it was too difficult to immigrate to Israel, and live there. Hardships and persecution increased on the one hand, and assimilation on the other.
Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it’s the solution.
Founding of the Zionist Movement as a Rescue
We were not worthy of having multitudes of Jews immigrate to the Land of Israel, motivated by a desire to fulfill the mitzvah from the Torah and the vision of Redemption, and anti-Semitism greatly increased. And thus the Zionist movement was founded as rescue movement for the persecuted Jewish people.
From the onset, it was clear that the place of refuge for the Jewish people would be in the biblical Land of Israel, including the eastern side of Jordan. With the grace of God, the nations of the world also recognized this at the time of the Balfour Declaration and the decision of the League of Nations.
However, when the Zionist leadership saw that the claim to Eretz Yisrael caused problems and required struggles with the Arabs and the British, it was decided to solve the “problem” of Eretz Yisrael by conceding the eastern part in exchange for a promise to settle the western side of the Jordan and the transfer of the Arab population to the eastern side. And lo and behold – conceding the eastern side of the Jordan did not help. The pressures and rioting in opposition to the Jewish settlement increased, and instead of the Arabs moving to the eastern side of the Jordan, masses flocked the western side to enjoy the fruits of Jewish settlement. The problem gradually intensified, and the British restricted Jewish immigration and allotted parts of our holy Land to the Arabs – as well as land purchased by Jews.
Because Eretz Yisrael is not the problem but the solution; therefore, conceding the eastern side of the Jordan only exacerbated the problem.
The Partition Plan
However, the Zionist leadership did not learn a lesson and continued to relate to the question of Eretz Yisrael as a problem, and in order to prevent bloodshed during the riots (1936-1939), agreed to give up most of the area west of the Jordan, in accordance with the proposal of the Peel Commission. But instead of getting peace, security and unrestricted immigration to save Jews from the claws of the Nazi’s, the riots continued and the British imposed further obstacles to immigration to Eretz Yisrael.
For indeed, the Land of Israel is not the problem, it is the solution.
If We are Worthy, We Build; If Not, We Save Lives
When the Jewish people are worthy – we engage in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), attempt to bring as many Jews on aliyah as possible, to settle as many parts of the Land as possible, and thereby attain peace and security, prosperity and immigration, national respect among the nations, and strengthening the Jewish spirit. When we are not worthy to engage in yishuv ha’aretz, we are forced to engage in saving lives. In recent generations at least we can take comfort that with all the troubles and dangers, by the grace of God, we are privileged to make progress in settling the Land – but in a difficult and agonizing way.
Only after the dreadful Holocaust were we able to find the strength to establish the State of Israel. Only because the Arabs continued to attack us with a lust for murder and destruction, were we able to liberate portions of our homeland and began to settle Judea and Samaria.
This is the meaning of our Sages statement concerning the Redemption: “If they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, it will come in its due time” (Sanhedrin 98a) – if they are worthy – through the joy of building the Land; if not – through difficult and horrible suffering.
The Moral Problem
There are certain morally conscientious people around the world who argue against the State of Israel: “You are robbers, for you have forcefully conquered the Arab’s land” (in which they never had a state). There are also morally sensitive Jews who argue “occupation corrupts”. They believe that if not for this messianic affinity to Judea and Samaria, all wars would cease, the world would consider us enlightened people, and Israel could be the exemplary society we dreamed of establishing. But for that to happen, we need to get rid of the “problem” of the territories (a derogatory name for Eretz Yisrael).
In actual fact, the Arabs were given broad autonomy in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip but instead of peace – hatred and terrorism increased greatly towards us, anti-Semitism spread throughout the world, and international pressure against Israel intensified.
Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it is the solution.
If we are worthy – we settle the Land for the sake of the mitzvah. If not – we must conduct repeated wars, and only through suffering, merit to slightly expand Jewish settlement.
America and the Entire World’s Problem
Even the United States and the rest of the Western countries have a serious problem with the Land of Israel. If not for the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, world peace could have been achieved long ago, the Muslims would calm down, and democracy would flourish in all countries. Instead of this, they are forced to hear about more houses being built in the settlements.
And as long as Jews build in the settlements the international media is forced to cover it, and does not have time to report about the millions of murdered people in Islamic countries, and about the hundreds of millions of starving and sick people in Africa. As long as the settlers keep behaving with terrible violence by scribbling graffiti against the Arabs, world leaders and the U.N. are unable to find time to solve the problems of international terrorism, nuclear weapons, and conflicts between countries.
And lo and behold, they began solving the “problem”; they succeeded to expel Jews from Gush Katif and freeze construction in Judea and Samaria. But for some reason, tensions are rising, the Muslims are not satisfied, and anti-Semitic incitement is increasing. Countries are collapsing in blood, fire, and pillars of smoke.
Because the Land of Israel is not the problem, it’s the solution. By building it, nations who desire justice and peace could have sent a clear message to all assorted criminals that violence, falsehood and evil do not pay. This is the correct way for the West to put all evil regimes in their place. This is the way to bring peace to the world.
The War in the Gaza Strip
This is how we got to the complicated war in the Gaza Strip.
Had we been worthy – we would have engaged in the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, building and expanding Gush Katif. We would not have sinned in the Oslo Accords, and not grant the Arabs any collective rights in the Land of Israel. True, we would have to deal with international pressure and threats from the Arab enemy, but handling it would have been relatively easy. It could have been a positive struggle which builds and reinforces.
But since we were not worthy and sinned in the Oslo Accords and the destruction of Gush Katif, we went to a complicated war in Gaza in order to save Jewish lives from the fires of Muslim terror, and our precious soldiers have to sacrifice their lives in the defense of the people and the country.
The Only Way to Win is Settling the Land
If the government continues to ignore the vision of yishuv ha’aretz, we cannot win the war. For the Arabs know that the key issue concerns the sovereignty over the land, and as long as they remain steadfast, and their claims receive international attention – they win. Even if we kill thousands of their soldiers and citizens, and destroy thousands of their houses, they will be rewarded with more funding to build their military strength. And thus, we will have to go from one military operation to the next, to bend and twist and confront international pressures – because the Arabs will always have demands, and there will always be more terrorists to violate the peace.
The only way to win is by returning to the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz. If as a result of the war in Gaza the government comes to understand that further talk about withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is forbidden and they must expand the Jewish settlements, this war can be depicted as a somewhat victory. If the enemy knew that as a result of the war, the government would decide to build tens of thousands of homes in the settlements of Judea and Samaria, they would realize they have lost. If they heard that the Israeli government intends to occupy the Gaza Strip, to rebuild the destroyed communities, to encourage emigration of the refugees and enemies of Israel, their dream of victory over Israel would fade, and gradually international pressure would diminish, and the terror swamp would dry up.
The Role of Individuals
During the period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, each individual needs to be motivated to rectify the Sin of the Spies by building the Land. Anyone who can join the settlements in Judea and Samaria is called to do so. Those who cannot move there for family reasons, or because they fill other important functions, such as in the fields of education or social welfare, are called upon to encourage those who can – to rise up, and join the settlements.
Of course, those people standing guard over the communities on the Golan Heights and the Negev, the Galilee and the Arava, should remain strong where they are. The call is directed to the residents of central Israel, who, without losing their jobs, can fulfill the great mitzvah of saving our nation from the existential danger of the establishment of a terrorist state in Judea and Samaria. Because settling the Land is the solution, and in its building, we will be comforted.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.