Hello everyone, and Good Erev Shabbos!
These divrei Torah are dedicated as a zechus for a Refuah Shelemah for Chana bas Mushka.
Last week, I had the good fortune of attending a Sheva Brachos celebration for the first time. Joy and a strong feeling of community abounded, as we celebrated the marriage of one of the daughters of our shluchim, to her chosson. The Rabbi, Rebbitzen, and their new son-in-law all spoke beautifully, imparting powerful divrei Torah, inspirational stories, and blessings. I attribute the profound Chiddush (novel Torah insight) that will be the topic of our discussion today, to Rabbi Yoel Eidelman— the chosson himself! Although I am unable to repeat his message word-for-word, I will do my best to transmit his incredible teaching.
We can only reflect in shock, when recounting the Bnei Yisroel’s upheaval of hysteria, at receiving the spies’ report on Eretz Cannan, upon their return to their people in the desert. Ten of the twelve men (with the exception of Yehoshua and Caleiv) brought back negative and fearful depictions of a militant city, inhabited by aggressive and intimidating giants. Although Yehoshua and Caleiv countered their colleagues’ miserable reports with truth, positive reflections, and encouragement to the people, the ten other men succeeded in creating an uprising, that ultimately led to another thirty-nine years of traversing the Midbar (Wilderness).
But what really triggered the Bnei Yisroel’s anxious reaction, preventing them from entering the Holy Land? The Torah echoes G-d’s descriptions of Eretz Canaan, which would not too far in the future become Eretz Yisrael, one of my favorites being “a land zavach chalav ud’vash – flowing with milk and honey”. This was the land Hashem vowed to Avraham Avinu, to give to his offspring. G-d promised to guide the Bnei Yisroel to success in driving out the wicked natives and their avodah-zara, and establishing their home in safety and security, light and holiness. With G-d on their side, to achieve this eternal goal, what was there to worry about?
It’s not that they didn’t believe in G-d… But to what extent did they spurn their bitachon, their trust, that G-d would endow them with the power to face the challenge they feared the most?
First, let us try to understand what the nightmarish challenge was that they were unready to face, and what they were pained at parting from…
In the Midbar, despite the complaints and rebellious episodes listed in the Torah, we are taught that the Bnei Yisroel had a lot to be grateful for on their journey: They were constantly led by a Divine pillar of fire or cloud, every chapter of the journey professionally guided– they would never become lost, and knew when was the appropriate time to set up or break camp, and journey on. The nation was constantly enrobed by the An’nai Kavod, the Clouds of Glory, which shielded them from scorpion and snake, sandstorm and highwayman. They were always accompanied by the miraculous Well, their constant source of water. The Manna, sometimes referred to as “bread of the melachim (angels)” fell daily, could taste like anything one desired it to (according to the Midrash), and provided both physical and spiritual nourishment. They could constantly sit and learn Torah, uninterruptedly absorbing the Divine. Nothing was “just physical”, for even the manna, their staple food, sustained their souls, and served as nourishment on a much greater plane.
Life in the Midbar was made of miracles, and they could spend all their time immersed in learning Torah and Deveikus (connecting to Hashem), if they so wished. This was Paradise. Eretz Canaan, in sharp contrast, hosted a culture replete with physicality. It was a spiritual abyss, and the Bnei Yisroel had a deep-seated concern, that upon stepping out from their Divine shelter in the Wilderness, and breaking into the Promised Land, they would be adversely influenced by the intense materialism of their new home and neighbors. They would lose all last vestiges of a higher purpose, soulfulness, and the Divinity of their everyday life that had been so easy to grasp. The spies declared “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that ochelet yoshevet, devours it settlers…” They were terrified of being consumed by, and forever lost, to their lowly environment!
This fear reflects that of the neshama’s, the soul’s, before it is born into this world, and breathed into a new life. The neshama is content dwelling in its higher, eternal realm, when it is close to its Source, Hashem, surrounded only by kedusha, purity, and Oneness. But the time for it to be sent down to our world is inevitable. An angel assigned to guide it beckons it, but it hesitates. This world, our world, is so material, not to mention hostile at times… It is a dark and strange pit, that the G-dly soul is foreign to, and seeks to have nothing to do with. But G-d urges the Neshama (who’s heard of Reb Abie Rotenberg’s song titled Neshome’le, depicting this awe-inspiring scenario?), to follow its path down to this dark place. “This is where your mission lies,” explains Hashem to the distressed soul, which wants to connect only to Him. “Although you wish to remain only in the most divine places, down there in the world is where you are meant to shine. You are not complete until you achieve your goals during your existence in that dark realm, and you are meant to light it up. You cannot do that while staying here, you must now go…”
This was the plight of the Dor haMidbar (Generation of the Wilderness), when they were practically upon the gates of their Promised Land. It anguished them to leave their sublime and elevated ‘mobile home’. To take the risk of losing it all, to knock on the doors of, and build a life in, a land that contrasted so greatly with what they were privileged to experience now? Impossible!
But this pained G-d too. His Children didn’t believe they could find holiness, in the Aretz haKadosh itself? They didn’t trust in His vows? But most significant of all, they argued and protested, similar to the unborn neshama, but, convinced that they would lose all their spirituality, they refused their mission! The mission to bring light and holiness into the presently dark land, by means of their Torah and mitzvos, to actualize the promise to Avraham of so many years before, to enter the country in which they could fulfill Hashem’s will in the most ideal way. They could’ve made it happen right then and there… But they spurned the opportunity and challenge that the undertaking posed.
Because they demonstrated to G-d that they were unprepared to make it over the last hump of the journey, and perhaps didn’t truly understand the focal point of their duty in Eretz Cannan/Yisroel, Hashem turned them away, to continue travelling through the desert, and mull over their task. We have been taught, that our generation is a gilgul (reincarnation) of the souls of the Dor haMidbar. Why is this so profound? Contemplating this, we realize that we have the potential to make tikkun for (rectify) the misdeed (and misunderstanding) of our ancestors! We can heal the pain it caused, by repeating history, but making the right choices ourselves instead. In this light, we can change history. With this, we’ll hasten the arrival of Moshiach, bimhayra beyamainu mamesh! We can shatter the mentality that they couldn’t get past, that we must abstain from throwing ourselves into our missions, because we’ll be ruined for it. We were placed in this world to make it a better place; our soul was born into us, to steer us to actualize this potential.
With G-d’s help, and our trust in Him, we will never shy away from the doors of opportunity He’s opened so graciously to us. We’ve all broken out of our own ‘Egypts’, our bonds of restriction from doing all we can, bonds of worry and self-doubt… We’re all ready to enter our own ‘Israels’. Still, there may be an obstacle or veil or darkness ahead, but we will give it all we got, we’ll achieve our purpose, and enter the joy of Geulah, may it be speedily in our days.