Monday, May 31, 2010

Shlach: Rejecting the Good Land

God described the Land of Israel as a good land; and this was what the spies reported back. Yet the people complained, saying, "God brought us out of Egypt because He hates us" (Deut. 1:27). Why didn't they trust God's judgment?

The Gloomy Groom

A very pious man, completely immersed in spiritual matters and  removed from worldly ones, heard of a suitable match for his son. This being his only son, the father did not want to rely on the matchmaker's report. He decided to make the journey in order meet the girl and her family.

The father set off and met the family.  Highly satisfied with the match, he signed on the financial arrangements for the wedding with them. He returned home and related to his family and close friends what he had seen: the piety and Torah scholarship of the father, the modesty and fine character traits of the mother.

"And what about the bride herself?" one perceptive friend inquired.

Hearing this question, the pious man's wife also came close to hear what her husband would say.

"Regarding the bride, I don't have a lot to say," replied the father. "She is certainly a good catch. Her worth is beyond pearls."

When the son heard his father's words, he began to cry out of anguish.

"Why are you crying?" asked the mother. "Didn't you hear your father praise the girl?"

The son grimaced. "My father's praise - that made it even worse! Did he praise her grace, her beauty, her social skills? I know that father, pious man that he is, does not consider these qualities important. On the contrary, if she had any of them, father would probably consider them to be defects. 'Grace is false and beauty is vain.'"

"If father liked her," the young man concluded, "then she is probably ugly and simple, given over to constant fasts and prayers..."

The Qualities of Eretz Yisrael

The Israelites who left Egypt assumed that if God praised the Land of Israel, this must be for its spiritual qualities. But regarding its physical traits? It is probably a harsh, barren land, where one must live simply in order eke out a meager living. As the Sages counseled, "This is the path of Torah: you will eat bread with salt, and drink water in small measure, and sleep on the ground" (Avot 6:4). A harsh environment will ensure that the people will live  a life of simplicity and deprivation, undistracted by material pleasures.

This is why the Israelites grumbled and complained about the Land, fearing the worse.

In fact, besides its unique spiritual qualities for holiness and prophecy, it is also a "land flowing with milk and honey." Eretz Yisrael is like a bride who is pious and a "woman of valor," but also blessed with beauty and charm.

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 338-339)