Thursday, June 30, 2016

Up - Reflections on Parashat Shelach 5776

Note: Just hours after I uploaded this blog post, news reached us of Hallel Ariel, a 13 year-old girl murdered in her bed in Kiryat Arba as she slept, Daniella Shefi style. I dedicate this blog post to her memory. השם יקום דמה

(Numbers 13:1-15:41)

Our parasha this week deals in large part with the treachery of the infamous spies whom Moshe dispatched to scout out the Land of Israel. 

Their mission was to collect military intelligence prior to the Israelite conquest of [what was then known as] Canaan. Instead, they twisted every good thing they saw into something negative. They talked trash about the Land of Israel. They wildly overestimated the strength and fortifications of the enemy. They talked smack about Moshe's leadership. And for the coup de grace, they had the temerity to question Gcd's judgement in urging a conquest that was [in their grasshopper-ish eyes] clearly doomed to failure.

By the time they were done proffering their august opinions, the Jewish People were in a lather, wailing and moaning about how Gcd had led them into a death trap. With murder on their mind, they resolved to appoint a Quisling or a Petain  - a new, more suggestible leader that would lead them back to Egypt to resume their lives as slaves, with heads bowed and hands held high in submission and surrender.

We know the rest of the story - instead of a speedy and miraculous conquest of the Holy Land, the Jews are condemned to wander in the desert for forty years, until every Crabby Appleton who had mouthed off to Gcd and his servant Moshe had died in the desert.

The laundry list of what the spies did wrong, and the broader lessons of Parashat Shelach, are so transparent to even the casual reader that they require no elaboration by Your Humble Servant. 

I will only mention one teeny tiny point which must be made. It must be made by someone like me because you probably won't hear this from your local congregational rabbi...because synagogue boards don't take kindly to rabbis who encourage members to leave town. 

I am referring to the "A" word - aliyah, variously translated as moving to Israel/elevating one's spiritual status/going up. 

If you love Israel and are a passionate Zionist, the single most important thing you can do for Israel is to relocate and transplant your life there. 

Today, in fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy and Divine Promise, Gcd has restored Jewish sovereignty to the Land of Israel. Ponder the historical, theological and philosophical implications of that reality for a minute.

As foretold by the prophets of Israel, the ingathering of the exiles from the corners of the world is underway. Any Jew who does not understand the mystical symbiosis between the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel has a deeply flawed conception of Judaism.
V’Ata Kadosh, Yoshev Tehilot Yisrael./And You are Holy, enthroned upon the praises of Israel. - Psalms 22:4
Yoshev - Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, residing in the Land of Israel
Tehilot - Torah
Yisrael - the People of Israel

The living interconnection between the Land, the Torah and the People is the great end game of human history, for it is through Geulat Yisrael, the redemption of Israel, that the redemption of the entire world will occur, bringing peace and blessing to all mankind.

They are the tripod of Gcd’s throne, as it were, and a stool with only two legs is no stool at all. American Jewry is self-destructing because we have attempted to base Jewish identity on any two, or sometimes only one of them. 

Our liberal Jewish brethren who have discarded both Torah and the Land find it difficult to understand why their adherents can’t find much use for the People, either. Our Haredi brethren emphasize Torah and Klal (peoplehood), but attach almost no significance to Yishuv Eretz Yisrael. And our secular Zionist brethren have demonstrated the abject failure of the People and the Land without Torah; their children opt out, winding up in New York or L.A. or South Florida.

We point to our impressive institutions, our Federations and JCCs and synagogues, built out of necessity, with such painstaking effort and at such staggering cost; and they are indeed impressive. But we are like the proverbial castaway who, when offered the chance of rescue, is reluctant to return to civilization; reluctant to leave the crude instruments of survival he engineered and so lovingly built with almost superhuman effort. We are reluctant to abandon our desert island for a life in Israel where being Jewish is normative, where Jewish continuity is taken for granted, where the ground, the air, the water is suffused with the Spirit of Gcd.

What does it mean to purposely stay behind in North America, to not make aliyah? It is as if Gcd Himself threw a party for you and you didn't show up. Ouch.

As events on the world stage spiral out of control, towards ever-increasing instability, we can scant afford to ignore the historical imperatives that drive us towards our destiny: the People of Israel, loyal to Gcd and His Torah, living on the Land forsworn to our ancestors, fulfilling the mission of bringing Gcd’s holiness to a weary world in desperate need of it. The nations of the world are waiting for us to ACT. What are we waiting for?

This is the enduring lesson of the failure of the spies, ten tayarim/tourists, who made a pilot trip to Israel but preferred their life in chutz l’aretz/the diaspora. 

Make aliyah and ensure the Jewish future of your family. Get excited about moving to Israel. The future of our People is not being decided in Monsey or Borough Park or Lakewood - it's being decided in Hevron and peaks of Judea and the rolling hills and valleys of Samaria. 

If you truly want to put an end to terrorism and radical Islam, make aliyah. The most eloquent answer to the BDS movement is to make aliyah. The authentic Jewish answer to these problems is to build - build another house, another neighborhood. 

Make aliyah. The Ingathering of Exiles is at hand. Take a stand and live where being Jewish matters. Rectify the sin of the spies. Go up to the Land.
Alo Na'aleh v'yirashnu oto/Let us ascend to the Land of Israel and take possession of it. - Numbers 13:30
Shabbat Shalom.


  1. This goes for you, too, as the world shall tranformed into the whorizontal if we elect that dyke.