Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shlach, Bamidbar 14:23. The Meraglim. Appreciating Eretz Yisrael

(with the author's permission)
From Stories from the Land of Israel by Rabbi Chanan Morrison of


"And [the spies] began to speak badly about the land that they had explored." (Num. 13:32)
A dispirited discussion took place at Beit HaRav, Rav Kook's house in Jerusalem, not long after the end of World War II. The Chief Rabbi had passed away ten years earlier; now it was his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, who sat at the head of the table.

One participant at the Sabbath table had brought up a disturbing topic: the phenomenon of visitors touring Eretz Yisrael and then criticizing the country after returning to their homes. These visitors complain about everything: the heat, the poverty, the backwardness, the political situation - and discourage other Jews from moving here, he lamented.

Rav Tzvi Yehudah responded by telling over the following parable, one he had heard in the name of Rabbi Samuel Mohilever, the rabbi of Bialystok.

-The Failed Match-

There was once a wealthy man who sought the hand of a certain young lady. She was the most beautiful girl in town, and was blessed with many talents and a truly refined character. Her family was not well-off, so they were eager about a possible match with the prosperous fellow.

The young woman, however, was not interested in the match. Rich or not, the prospective suitor was known to be coarse and ill-mannered. She refused to meet with him.

The father asked her to at least meet with the young man in their home, so as not to embarrass him. After all, one meeting doesn't obligate you to marry him! To please her father, the young woman agreed.

The following Sabbath afternoon, the fellow arrived at the house as arranged, and was warmly received by the father. Shortly afterwards, his daughter made her entrance. But her hair was uncombed, and she wore a faded, crumpled dress and shabby house slippers. Appalled at her disheveled appearance, it did not take long before the young man excused himself and made a hurried exit.

What everyone says about this girl - it's not true, exclaimed the astonished young man to his friends. She's hideous!

Rav Tzvi Yehudah stopped briefly, surveying the guests seated around the table. Superficially, it would appear that the brash young fellow had rejected the young woman. But in fact, it was she who had rejected him.

The same is true regarding the Land of Israel, the rabbi explained. Eretz Yisrael is a special land, only ready to accept those who are receptive to its unique spiritual qualities. The Land does not reveal its inner beauty to all who visit. Not everyone is worthy to perceive its special holiness.

It may appear as if the dissatisfied visitors are the ones who reject the Land of Israel, he concluded. But in fact, it is the Land that rejects them!

A thoughtful silence pervaded the room. Those present were stunned by the parable and the rabbi's impassioned delivery. Then one of the guests observed, Reb Tzvi Yehudah, your words are suitable for a son of your eminent father, may his memory be a blessing!

-Seeing the Goodness of Jerusalem-

Rav Tzvi Yehudah's response was indeed appropriate for Rav Kook's son. When visitors from outside the country would approach the Chief Rabbi for a blessing, Rav Kook would quote from the Book of Psalms, "May God bless you from Zion" (128:5).

Then he would ask: What exactly is this blessing from Zion? In fact, the content of the blessing is described in the continuation of the verse: "May you see the goodness of Jerusalem."

The rabbi would explain: The verse does not say that one should merit seeing Jerusalem; but that one should merit seeing 'the goodness of Jerusalem.' Many people visit Jerusalem. But how many of them merit seeing the inner goodness hidden in the holy city?

And that, he concluded, is God's special blessing from Zion.

(Stories from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Malachim Kivnei Adam, pp. 227-278, 230)


1.  Perhaps Rav Tzvi Yehuda was thinking about the passuk in Shir HaShirim 2:3, כתפוח בעצי היער כן דודי בין הבנים בצלו חמדתי וישבתי ופריו מתוק לחכי, as I heard it explained by the Novardeker Rosh Yeshiva Zatzal, Hagaon R Avraham Jofen.  The Medrash there says
כתפוח בעצי היער. ר' הונא ורבי אחא בשם רבי יוסי בן זמרא: מה התפוח הזה, הכל בורחין ממנו בשעת השרב. ולמה כן? לפי שאין לו צל לישב בצלו, כך ברחו אומות העולם משבת בצל הקדוש ברוך הוא ביום מתן תורה. יכול אף ישראל כן? תלמוד לומר: בצלו חמדתי וישבתי. חמדתי אותו, וישבתי. אני הוא שחמדתי אותו ולא האומות

The point of the Medrash is that the Tapuach, the "apple tree," has very poor shade.  Many people that seek shelter there become irritated- strangely, they find it worse than no shade at all!- and run away from it to find more hospitable conditions.  But there are some for whom the Tapuach is such a joy and privilege that when they find one and seek shelter there, they have a matchless and indescribable pleasure.  Of course it's indescribable!  You can only understand it if your soul understands the spiritual joy that it comprises.  If you haven't attained that level, you simply will be incapable of appreciating it.  That is what the passuk says:  בצלו חמדתי,  I yearned for its shade, וישבתי, and finally I found it, and I sat under its branches, and then פריו מתוק לחכי, what a pleasure it was, only then could I appreciate what a treasure I had. For others, it is torture, and they run away from it.   For me, it is Gan Eden.

There are some things that you can only appreciate in direct proportion to your ruchniyusdikeh hachana.  One is Torah.  As Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook says (Orot HaTorah 7:4) if a person does not enjoy learning Torah, it is a symptom of a dangerous spiritual flaw.  You can't "force yourself to love the Torah."  All you can do, and what you must do, is find and correct the spiritual flaw, and then the love of limud haTorah will come naturally.
מעוט מתיקות נעימת התורה בא מחסרון בטבע הישראלי של הנשמה, שצריכין לתקנה על ידי תשובה מכוונת לחסרון זה. וכיון שנותנים את הדעת לתקן את החסרון מיד חוזר האור העליון של הטבע הקדוש של הנשמה לזרח, וחוזרת מתיקות התורה להתחיל להגלות.

Another is, as the Gemara in the beginning of Yoma says, Hashra'as HaShechina, such as the Chanukas HaMishkan and Yom Kippur and Mattan Torah.

Finally, Eretz Yisrael.  Without the proper wisdom and refinement, you will simply not see what is there.


2.  This morning (עש"ק שלח תשע"ה, June 2015) I said this over in Shul, and Harav Shlomo Tennenbaum added something that is exactly on target.  He said that he saw this in the name of the Chafetz Chaim, said over by his son in law Rav Aharon HaKohen, (mechaber of עבודת הקרבנות.)  Our passuk (14:23) says

 אם יראו את הארץ אשר נשבעתי לאבתם וכל מנאצי לא יראוה
The Chafetz Chaim said that the repetition in this passuk  (אם יראו .....לא יראוה) tells us that it applies not only to the Meraglim, but to all generations, forever.  A מנאץ might live in Eretz Yisrael, but לא יראוה, he does not see it.  He sees only with his physical eyes, but his eyes see only a tiny slice of the spectrum, and he is missing the glorious rainbow of what there is to be seen. Just as Yishmael and Eliezer, who were דומה לחמור, saw nothing on הר המוריה, so too מנאצי השם might live in Eretz Yisrael, but all they see is dust and gravel and thorn and gashmiyus.  Only a maamin who lives in Eretz Yisrael truly sees it.


3.  A commenter self-identifying as Dovid Leib was hakking a tchainik that what I'm writing about is really just choosing wishful thinking over empiricism.  I say that the whole of Klal Yisrael and our hashkafa is the triumph of the spirit over the mundane, and of our sublime hashkafa over the dismal face of reality.  If you can't accept that simple and fundamental idea, then this is indeed not for you.


  1. So what you're saying is that it's an acquired taste.

    1. What's your point? You think I'm talking about coffee or beer? If you are focused on glib comments, the mussar haskeil is wasted on you. Be maavir sedra instead.

    2. And then it comes to that cultish point where it's hard to tell where wishful thinking ends and reality begins.

    3. I saw that you indelicately called my comments "hacking a tchainik". Well, at least thanks for incorporating my thoughts, even though only as a straw man.

  2. what pray tell is ruchniyuskikeh ?

    1. I meant ruchniyusdikeh hachannah, and have now corrected it. Thank you for pointing out the error. In the vernacular, that would be anticipatory devotional ennoblement, I guess.

  3. Perhaps that's the pshat in the pasuk in Vayikra (18:25): וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ, אֶת-יֹשְׁבֶיהָ and ולא תקיא הארץ אתכם in Kedoshim (11:14), attributing the spitting out of עוברי עבירה to the land itself.

    1. Good. So RTYK would say, the land would refuse to show its bounty to such people, and for them, life will indeed be so unpleasant that they would leave. From the Medrash we would say that those people that are crass and ignoble will only see desert and thorn, because they will be unable to appreciate the tremendous spiritual treasures in Eretz Yisrael, and so they will have no reason to stay. Yasher Koach