Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rectifying the sin of the spies

Mountains around Jerusalem

This post is my own commentary on some of the passages brought in Rav Kook Torah on the Parsha, a weekly teaching assembled and translated by Rabbi Chanan Morrison.

In 1908, Rav Kook wrote that we still suffer from the sin of the spies today, and that in our hands lies the opportunity to rectify the spies' error and enter the land of Israel with all our gusto. 

The glory of the land of Israel can be hidden at times; it is our job to clear away the clutter and announce to ourselves and others the boundless light that lies in Eretz Yisrael's beauty and holiness. A hidden paradise on earth has been bequeathed to us, each generation since 1948 more than the one before it, b"H. Rav Kook emphasized not only the physical beauty apparent in the Land, but also the unique air of Israel (avira d'eretz yisrael) that from time immemorial was the raw material of prophecy:
The quality of delightful holiness that Torah scholars seeking the holy may find in the Land of Israel does not exist at all outside the Land. I myself can attest to this unique quality, to a degree commensurate with my small worth. (Igrot HaRe'iyah, vol. I, pp. 112-113)
How many of us deliberate (including myself) the pros and cons of living in Israel, as if a decision pertaining to the most delicate levels of the soul can be approached like a business deal? Well, you get a year of aliyah payments, free tuition, free health care and a discount on property tax. On the other hand, you have to buy all new furniture, deal with heap-loads of bureaucracy, lower your standards for your first job or two, and get through an August. But can you really approach the question of aliyah like this (I ask myself)? Can you really approach love like this? How silly would it sound if you overheard a conversation weighing marriage over such considerations? How humiliating to a heart testifying to true love! 

The truth is, love is a creative force - the love of the Jewish people for Israel is an integral part of the land's holiness. According to Rabbi Judah HaLevi, the Jewish people, the commandments, the land of Israel, the building of the Temple and the Hebrew language are all parts of a well-oiled machine which when assembled properly over millenia of Jewish history, produces prophecy - prophecy in the sense of the return of the living, Divine presence to the hearts and minds of the Jewish people, through their writings, their art, their blogs and their prayers, their Torah and their love for one another. Without any one of these components, the machine cannot work. The land is barren without its people, and the people are homeless without their land. 

It is told that once a Jewish tourist shared with the Rav his calculation of the albeit very real pros and cons of moving to Israel, concluding in the end that it was not worthwhile. In his characteristic non-confrontational but bold and thought-provoking response, the Rav responded:
Before the Israelites entered the Land in the time of Moses, they first needed to kill Sichon, the king of Heshbon. This teaches us that one should come to the Land of Israel bli heshbon - without making calculations.
An from where does our love for Eretz Yisrael spring? It is irreducible to explanation, because explanation is based on things that you can define and limit, and the holiness of Eretz Yisrael originates in the place from where the limits themselves originate...And yet even so, how can such love be expressed, to others, and to the object of affection? Through action. The secret of teshuva, expressed most extensively in the writings of the first Chabad Rebbe, Reb Schenur Zalman of Liadi, is that physical acts - in the form of mitzvot - involving the body and objects and senses of the physical world - can be vessels for the most sublime of sensitivities of the human soul and of the supernal realms - those that evade our mental thought processes and linguistic capacities. Those who come to Israel and can do nothing but let their knees fall in thanksgiving and adoration for the land upon which the soles of their feet can step, know how such a process of rectification begins:
The Talmud records that Rabbi Abba would demonstrate his great love for the Land of Israel by kissing the rocks of Acre (Ketubot 112a) as he returned to the Land. What was so special about these rocks that Rabbi Abba would kiss them?
Rav Kook explained that if Rabbi Abba had kissed the soil of Eretz Yisrael, we would understand that his love for the Land was due to the special mitzvot that are fulfilled with its fruit - tithes, first fruits, the sabbatical year, and so on. The soil, which produces fruit, signifies the importance and holiness of the Land through the mitzvot ha-teluyot ba'aretz.
But Rabbi Abba's love for the Land was not dependent on any external factors - not even its special mitzvot (see Avot 5:16; Orot p. 9). Rabbi Abba cherished the intrinsic holiness of Eretz Yisrael. He recognized that the special qualities of the Land – such as its receptivity to prophecy and enlightenment - go far beyond the holiness of those mitzvot connected to agriculture. Therefore, he made a point of kissing its barren rocks and stones. 
May each and every soul and body of the Jewish people be rounded up speedily to reunite and congregate in the land that is our inheritance from our holy fathers and mothers, and may we soon sing a new song in Jerusalem to the living God, whose love and justice will be apparent for all to see and contemplate like water fills the seas!

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