Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sharing the Light

Remember the biblical story of the 12 spies who were sent by Moses to check out the Land of Israel in advance of the Israelites? The spies returned and reported that the land, "devoured its inhabitants," had huge walled-off cities, and was inhabited by giants who made normal people seem as grasshoppers.

As a result of their report, the spies and their offspring were punished. They and their offspring were banned from entering the Holy Land.The spies had been sent to see the land and return with an honest report. That is just what they did. So on what basis did they merit such harsh punishment? If they had lied, would they have been feted, congratulated, and otherwise patted on the backs for telling falsehoods?

It's a strange story on the face of things, but only if you don't stretch your brain enough to grok the bigger picture. A thinking person, for instance, would scratch his/her head and think: "Well, okay. So what COULD the spies have said instead that would not have earned them such a severe reprisal for themselves and their offspring?"

Step back for a moment and think about it: you and your family have been wandering in the desert for a very LONG time and you are finally almost at your destination ("Are we there yet, MO-OM?") but someone goes ahead of your party to see what's what and comes back with a pretty dire report. (The water in the hotel bathroom is tepid and brown, the food is greasy, there's nothing to do, the natives are hostile, and the linens don't seem very clean.) You would look at your kids and your spouse, take a swallow, and feel a sense of deep and utter despair. You would lose your will to continue, to soldier on toward your goal. And yet, did the Israelites have some sort of choice? Could they return to Egypt and slavery? Did they have an alternative destination?

Since they did not and we know they did not have an alternative destination, why would Moses send the spies in the first place? What was the purpose of that little "check it out ahead of time" trip to Israel by the spies? Were the spies damned if they did and damned if they didn't?

Did you figure it out? Of course you did. You're a smart person and I pinch your cheek with affection. MWAH! 
The purpose of the spies was to provide a sort of travelogue for the Israelites. Like those magazines that tempt readers with descriptions of faraway exotic places. Those magazines beckon to you when you pass a newsstand on your way to the office, make you daydream about your next vacation, and squirrel away your dollars toward realizing those dreams. The magazines keep you going as you sit in your cubicle doing scut work, giving you something to hope for: something beyond the cube.

You trust those travel magazines with the glossy pictures of white sand beaches and vistas of blue water that stretch across an endless distance. You trust them because you know that the financial well-being of the magazine depends upon the dependability of the travel information it disseminates. The magazine would not steer you wrong.

The spies could have spoken of the amazing varieties of fruit they found in Israel which were larger and more succulent than any other fruits they had ever seen. They could have spoken about the way the inhabitants feared and honored the spies in equal measure. There were so many wondrous things they could have said about the Holy Land.

But no. They said sucky nasty stuff that scared the Israelites and made them terrified to come into the land.

THAT is why the spies were punished. Not because they told the truth. But because there were good, true, HOLY things to say about Israel, but they chose to say negative things that would have a negative impact on the people they were meant to cheer and encourage.The spies' evil report did harm to their souls and those of the people who heard what they said.

Why am I telling you all this today--especially since the Torah portion recounting the story of the spies will not be read until June 16th of this year (2012)? I'll tell you why. You knew I would, didn't you?
Don't expect me to give you a balanced picture of life in Israel. I won't do it just to be intellectually honest. I won't say things that cast the land I love in a negative light. I won't talk about domestic issues if they will tend to make Israel not look so terrific. I won't do it because I love Israel with all my heart and there are too many good things, wondrous things to say than to hurt my soul by pointing out any supposed negatives. I won't give fuel to the naysayers. I won't align myself with them.

I could spend all day and night praising Israel and not run out of things to say. And that is my preference. Israel is meant to be a light unto the nations. To me, that means sharing the light and not the dark side of Israel. It means stressing the beauty and holiness of the land instead of reporting on grimy events or infighting and criminal acts by its inhabitants.

That is NOT to say that I won't speak out against evil. But it does mean that I will anguish over a way to express myself without tarnishing the reputation of the love of my life, Israel, even a single iota.

Does it still seem that I am speaking in tongues? So be it. Some would like me to disavow certain activities of certain people in my country. They say that by my silence I am complicit. But those people would do well to read Iggeres HaGra, a letter the Gaon (genius) of Vilna, Rabbi Eliyahu Kremer, (zatzal)* wrote to encourage and instruct his family in 1778 during his aborted journey to the Holy Land.

"...the main way to merit the World to Come is by guarding one's tongue. That is worth more than all the Torah and good deeds. This is the meaning of (Isaiah 32:9) "tranquil women" (Berachos 17a), because the mouth is the holiest of the holy."

*Zatzal is an acronym for "Zecher Tzaddik l'Vracha" which means that "The Righteous One Should be Remembered as a Blessing"


  1. there should be a "like" in like your blogpost and also a never-ending list of things about Israel. Nice to e-meet you,

  2. and the result of their crying was HaShem saying "I'll give you really something to cry about..." and thus the Fast of the 9th of
    Av, tisha b'Av.

  3. You make a valid point to leave the Israel bashing to the all too many Israel haters.
    -B. Newman-