This is a guest post by Joshua Kovacs esq.
Israel is being bombarded with criticism and contempt from around the world. There is tremendous social pressure to agree with the critics. It seems difficult or pointless to stand up and offer a defense. Does it have to be this way? What does the Torah suggest we do in this situation?
In this week’s Torah reading of “Shelach”, Moses sends out 12 spies to investigate the land of Israel. Ten of the spies tell the nation that they will not be able to conquer the Promised Land because of the powerful enemies and fortified cities. Our Sages teach us that when the spies left they were already plotting to bring back this “we can’t do it” excuse. Rabbi Noah Weinberg of blessed memory noted that all of the spies were confirmed by G-d Himself as being tzadikim – totally righteous people. So why did they conspire to bring a bad report?
Rabbi Weinberg taught that when these righteous men were appointed as the representatives of their society, they became subject to an enormous amount of social pressure. The society at the time was used to experiencing miracles such as manna from Heaven and protection from the desert within a divine cloud. The people knew that G-d and Moses wanted to bring them into Israel to become soldiers, builders, and farmers – a much more demanding life of physical toil. They wanted a way to justify staying in their comfortable position. The 10 spies buckled to this social pressure and went into Israel looking for an excuse the crowd could use not to go.
Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, remained loyal to G-d’s mission of bringing His people into the Land. Caleb, using powerful rhetoric, is able to overcome the myth of “we can’t succeed”. He begins by saying “Is this all Moses has done for us!?”, implying more criticism would follow. But instead, Caleb recounts all the amazing things that G-d and Moses have done for them so far – bringing them out of Egypt, splitting the Red Sea, bringing down the manna, and bringing them pheasant to eat. He reminds the nation that with G-d’s help they have done accomplished amazing things and can do literally anything, destroying the “we cannot succeed” excuse of the other spies.
Their first attack parried, the 10 spies resort to outright lying and scare-mongering (lashon hara) about the land of Israel, telling the people it is a land that kills its inhabitants, and there are invincible giants there. The nation loses heart and considers the unthinkable – returning to slavery in Egypt – rather than having to struggle against mighty giants and settle an impossibly harsh land. Even though they doubted the power of G-d himself, the Torah tells us the 10 spies were punished for speaking badly about the land of Israel.
Our Torah is “Torat Haim” – the instructions for living. How can we use this to live better today?
I have heard from some of my fellow Jews lately that it is just “too hard” to stand up for Israel. Practically the whole world is dishing out heaps of scorn on Israel and the actions taken defend its people from terrorists. Disapproval of Israel is popular and cool, especially on college campuses and among “educated” elites. There is tremendous social and media pressure to “do the right thing” by attacking Israel, agreeing with the critics, or at least not offering any defense or facts.
My brothers and sisters, we have been here before. Our ancestors made the same exact mistake. The spies bowed to social pressure. They found excuses to conform to the pressure and please the crowd that was looking for an easy way out. When their excuses were shown to be false they resorted to outright lies against the land of Israel. Have we learned from their mistake?
Israel is facing aggressive enemies from literally every side – Hamas to the south in Gaza, Hizbullah with thousands of missiles to the North, to the East, Iran led by fanatics seeking nuclear weapons, and “peace activists” coming by boat to bring cash, weapons, and moral and propaganda support to Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel and murder its citizens.
In our society, it is easier to remain silent while Israel is singled out and demonized. It is more comfortable to ignore the facts and find excuses to agree with critics. After all, we are safe and comfortable in America, why should we stick out our necks? It is so hard to buck the trend, to resist the pressure from the media. It takes real effort, dedication, and fortitude to stand up for Israel. In our society, it is a moral struggle akin to leaving the miraculous existence in the desert to battle to settle a desolate land.
But look how far we have come – our nation has returned to Zion and rebuilt the ruins into a thriving democratic country. A country that even under while attack supplies food, water, and power to the Gaza Strip, has Arab members of parliament, equal rights for women and minorities, and compassionately provides advanced medical care to anyone in need – Jew, Muslim, Christian, Haitian. A land of cutting-edge technology and ancient archeology side by side. It is clear G-d has helped us every step of the way. When we make the effort to stand tall against social pressure, G-d will continue to help us. If we internalize the lesson of the spies, we will find we have no excuses.
This is a guest post by Joshua Kovacs esq.