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Friday, 12 June, 2015 - 12:00 pm

Mr. Goldberg bought a new fridge for his house. He put his old fridge in the front yard with a sign reading: "Free to good home. You want it, you take it." 
For three months, the fridge sat there and no one showed any interest. He eventually decided that people were too un-trusting of this deal, so he changed the sign to read: "Fridge for sale $200." The next day it was stolen.

This week's Torah portion of Shelach tells the dramatic episode that unfolded 15 months after the Jewish Exodus from Egyptian slavery. The people of Israel were poised to enter the land promised by G-d to their ancestors when Moses dispatched 12 men, "all prestigious individuals, leaders of Israel," to survey the Holy Land and report back to the people on the nature of its terrain, its produce and its inhabitants.

Forty days later, on the eighth day of Av in the year 2449 since creation, or 1312 BCE, the spies returned, bearing samples of the land's huge fruits and the following assessment: Yes, it flows with milk and honey, and these are its fruits. But the people that dwell in the land are powerful, the cities are tremendously fortified and we even saw giants there. "We cannot go up against those people, for they are mightier than us," the spies proclaimed.

Only two of the 12 spies, Joshua and Caleb, returned with a different message: "If G-d desires us," they declared to their 10 colleagues, "He will bring us to this Land and give it to us... But do not rebel against G-d! Fear not the people of the Land. G-d is with us; do not fear them."

The people, however, would not listen to the two isolated voices. The reports of the other 10 spies demoralized the Jewish nation and drained the people of the motivation to enter the Land. All night, they wept and bemoaned their fate, crying to Moses: Why is G-d bringing us to this land to fall by the sword, and for our wives and children to fall into captivity? Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?!"

As a result, G-d informed Moses that the generation that received the Torah at Sinai would not enter the land. They would, instead, live out their lives in the desert. Only their children would enter Israel.

However, this caused a couple of problems:

1) The sinners actually got what they wanted: They did not want to enter the land, and that is what happened. 
2) If G-d loves His people unconditionally, like a mother loves her child, why would He ever punish us? Answer: He would not! What, then, is the point of G-d punishing the Jews and having them perish in the desert?

The Maimonides suggests: Decades of oppression, slavery and suffering under the brutal Egyptian empire deprived the Hebrews of the courage and confidence required to win wars and create their own society. The Jews may have left Egypt, but Egypt had not left them. They were paralyzed by a slave mentality.

How do we transform slaves into free-minded individuals? Such a dramatic change cannot happen overnight. G-d realized that the Jews raised in Egyptian slavery and oppression would never be able to develop a psyche of liberty. It would take a generation raised in freedom to possess the courage required to fight the battles and create a Jewish society on the soil of the land of their forefathers.

Upon my return from Israel the other day, I truly felt the message of this week's portion and what it says about our Holy Land. What is written there can be applied to our situation today—as far as Israel is concerned. If the spies had been sent now, they would still have come back saying that we have no future in Israel, unless we surrender to our foes that are “so much stronger than we are.”

Seven decades of governing a sovereign Jewish State in a hostile Middle East has exposed the world to extraordinary heroism and courage displayed by tens of thousands of young Jews. From the ashes of Auschwitz and Treblinka, a generation rose like lions to fight for their old-new homeland and its Jewish population. But 2,000 years of exile, rampant anti-Semitism and endless persecution have left an indelible mark on our fragile psyches. The controversy about building Jewish cities in certain parts of Israel acutely reflect our confusion. Arabs are entitled to live wherever they wish in the world and in Israel. Arabs can reside in Tel-Aviv, Haifa, West and East Jerusalem. So why should Jews need to be expelled from some areas? How would the world react if any of us would even think of uprooting Arab villages from anywhere inside Israel? 
Is this what has become of the Zionist dream? Jews can live in New Jersey, New Zealand, and almost every other part of the world. The only place they are forbidden to live is in their own homeland, on the soil they have been toiling for thousands of years.

Nor does this strategy add to security. By expelling the Jews rather than the terrorists we are simply allowing them to build an infrastructure of terror and to continue attacking Israelis through missiles, road bombs, suicide missions and so forth throughout the Land of Israel.

When you are confronted by a sworn enemy who wishes to destroy your country and your people, you do not retreat and wait for the enemy to continue its attacks. You eliminate the enemy; you don't expel the innocent.

Yet the problem is that we are morally ashamed and insecure. If we wish to survive, we must educate a new generation of Jews who will not be ashamed of their moral and eternal right to live in every part of the world, including the ancient land of Israel, and who will not feel guilty over the fact that many of their neighbors want to see them dead.

It was August, 1929. The entire Jewish world was stunned by the slaughter of the Jews in Hebron and the destruction of the Yeshiva (school) there by the Arabs. Almost 70 Jews were butchered in their homes and in the streets, putting an end to a Jewish community in Hebron for years. The British, who had the mandate over Palestine at the time, did nothing to restrain the Arabs during the pogrom.

It became known that a chief government official, Harry Lock, was particularly guilty of cooperating with the Arabs. While the siege and massacre were taking place, the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, called Lock demanding that he send in British troops to stop the Arabs from killing the unarmed Jews and yeshiva students in Hebron. Lock dismissed the suggestion, saying, “What is there to do?” Rabbi Kook answered, “Shoot the murderers!” Like many before him, Lock answered, “I have not received any orders to do this.” Putting himself in danger, Rabbi Kook responded, “I order you in the name of human conscience!” Lock did nothing and the massacre continued.

Sometime later, at a major reception held by the British government, at which many reporters were present, Lock and Rabbi Kook found themselves near one another. Lock stretched out his hand to Rabbi Kook but the Rabbi said loudly, for everyone to hear, “I do not shake hands with someone whose hands are soaked in Jewish blood!” Lock angrily responded, “You Jews can protect yourselves but you cannot attack other people.” Rabbi Kook then answered, to everyone’s shock, “People who transgress ‘Thou shall not murder’ cannot give anyone ethical advice. When someone arises to kill a person, he must rise up to kill the attacker first!” The press was present at the event and reported the entire incident, which reawakened the Jewish world’s honor, self-respect, and confidence in their ability to continue building the Holy Land.

The spies caused the Jews to perceive themselves as hopeless, small and futile “grasshoppers.” Thus they came to believe that everyone else also looked at them as mere grasshoppers. When you think you are weak, you believe that everyone considers you the same. You become meek, timid, and paralyzed. 
It was Caleb who declared, “We can do it!” We are not weak, we are not frail. This is the confidence we so desperately need to have today to build back our Jewish land—both individually and as a people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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