Parshas Shelach: The Gift of Israel
I always found it ironic that the logo for the Israeli ministry of tourism was the meraglim returning to the dessert with the enormous grapes of Eretz Yisrael. Baruch Hashem we have been privileged to return to our Holy Land in an openly miraculous way but it was specifically the sin of the meraglim that kept us from going into Eretz Yisrael for so many years. One would not think that this would be an appropriate representation of a ministry that seeks to bring people to Israel to visit. Perhaps I'm reading into it too much. In any event this is not the most difficult part of the story of the meraglim to understand. The Meraglim were some of the most righteous people of their generation. These were the leaders of Klal Yisrael. How could they have made such a tragic mistake? What were they thinking? Sometimes there are hints to a deeper message in the Torah in seemingly trivial details of the story. One of the "small and insignificant" details of the cheit hameraglim is that they spied on the land for forty days. It doesn't seem to radically change the narrative of the story and yet apparently it is important for us to know. What is the inner message that we are being taught? Forty is an important number in the Torah. We find it in many stories but I'd like to highlight two other places where we see the number forty. The first is when it comes to receiving the Torah. Moshe Rabbeinu went up on Har Sinai for forty days and nights and only then came down the mountain to transmit the Torah to Klal Yisrael. A second place we find the number forty is when a bas kol, a heavenly voice, cries out forty days before a fetus is conceived that so and so will marry so and so. What is the inner connection between these three scenarios and the number forty? Chazal tell us that when Moshe Rabbeinu went to receive the Torah he was unable to comprehend it. Hashem would teach him the Torah but he could not grasp it. Ultimately God gave it to Moshe as a gift. The Torah is a finite representation of God's infinite will and wisdom and so on a natural level it is impossible for it to be grasped by the human intellect. Only when God Himself bestows it upon us as a gift are we able to create a true connection to Torah. This is the explanation of the Gemara that teaches yagati umatzasi taamin, only when someone says I worked hard and I have found success should he be believed. Those that claim that they worked hard to understand the Torah but were unable to find success are not to be believed. Similarly those that claim that they did not work hard and yet they found success are not to be believed. If you worked hard and made yourself into a vessel for Torah you will "find" success because God will give it to you as a gift. If you didn't work hard, regardless of how brilliant you may be, you will not be granted a true connection to Torah because God will not deem you worthy of receiving His gift. The letter mem (40) means from. For forty days Moshe worked to understand God's Torah and in so doing he transformed himself into a vessel worthy of receiving the Torah as a gift from God. While Moshe was blessed with a very high level of intelligence that wasn't what made him a fitting person to receive the Torah. Only because he worked hard to become a more Godly person did God see him as the ultimate teacher of Klal Yisrael. It would be Moshe Rabbeinu who embodied the concept of living a "mem" lifestyle, recognizing that ultimately all holy things come as a gift from God. This is the inner meaning of the number forty. In the same vein this is why the bas kol declares our shidduch forty days before conception. The creation of a zivug is a miraculous event. In fact Chazal say that since Hashem created the world he spends His time, so to speak, making shidduchim. Chazal even go so far as to say that making a shidduch is as difficult as kerias Yam Suf. Marriage is a supernatural event. We are being asked to do the impossible. The goal of marriage is intimacy. Intimacy means the creation of oneness. How do two disparate people become one? That cannot happen on the dimension of the body, it can only happen when there is an interaction between the souls. Each soul is essentially connected to each other thus allowing for the creation of intimacy. In other words, marriage, the creation of intimacy, must come as a gift from God. It can be no other way. Two people are simply incapable of doing it on their own. How can two people become one? This is why marriage is a religious institution and it becomes overly complex when the secular world adopts it. Marriage is a "mem" experience with our partner coming as a gift from Above. This then is the mistake of the spies. The meraglim went to Eretz Yisrael to see if it could be conquered. Their answer was that it was impossible. In truth, they were right! On a natural level there was no way we could have been capable of taking the land. Their mistake was that they were never supposed to spy out the land to see if it could be done. They were sent only to establish how impossible it would be so then when it was given to us miraculously we could appreciate the gift that Hashem bestowed upon us. Calev had it right when he said, aloh naaleh, we will go up to the land. It was not a question of if. God said that's where we are going so that is where we are going. How we can do the impossible? Who knows! That's not our issue. Like the Torah and like the institution of marriage this too will be a gift from God. Rav Kook, of blessed memory, points out that one of the Kings we needed to kill on our way to conquering Israel was Melech Cheshbon. In a brilliant play on words Rav Kook would say, "If you want to make Aliyah you have to be willing to kill the King of Cheshbon." Making Aliyah often makes no sense. To leave behind the financial stability that we had in chutz laaretz, our friends and our family, the familiar communities in which we were raised, why would anyone in their right mind do that? It makes no sense. And yet that's what we have to conquer to make aliyah. Rav Fuchs, formerly of the Meretz Kollel in Mevaseret, tells the story of a conversation he had with the Ponovezher Rav. In the 1950's the Ponovezher Rav said that there will be two mass movements of Aliyah, one from America and the other from Russia. When asked from where would they come first the Rav responded that they would come from Russia. Bare in mind that this was in the 50's when the iron curtain was tightly shut and Jews were not allowed out of the country. The crowd was shocked! How could the Rav have been so sure that they would come from Russia first? When pressed the Rav responded, "God always performs the smaller miracle first and it is a smaller miracle to take down the iron curtain than it is to get American Jews to leave the comfort and security of America to make Aliyah." Eretz Yisrael will always be built by those dreamers who know that they have no capacity to make it happen and yet they continue to heroically make the attempt. Miraculously we continue to grow. Israel is a gift from God and we are lucky to have it. Let's make sure we don't take the supernatural for granted.