Shlach Lecha

May 29, 2013

Shlach: Rejecting the Land of Israel

“And [the spies] began to speak badly about the land that they had explored.” (Num. 13:32)

Shortly after the end of World War II, at a Shabbat table in Jerusalem, the discussion turned to the deplorable phenomenon of visitors who tour the land of Israel and then return home disparaging the country. ‘These tourists complain about the heat, the poverty, the backwardness, the political situation — and discourage other Jews from moving here,’ lamented one of those present.

The room became quiet. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief rabbi, responded by relating the following parable.

The Failed Match

There was once a wealthy man who desired to marry a certain young lady. She was the most beautiful girl in town, and was blessed with many talents and a truly refined character. Since her family was not well-off, they were eager about the possible match with the wealthy man.

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

The father, anxious that his daughter should get married, pressured her to meet with the young man. ‘After all, one meeting doesn’t obligate you to marry him!’ To please her father, the young woman agreed.

The following Shabbat, the fellow arrived at the house as arranged. Shortly afterwards, the girl made her entrance: her hair uncombed, wearing a crumpled, worn 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 a hideous old hag!’

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah then explained his parable. Superficially, it would appear that the young fellow had rejected the young woman. But in truth, she who had rejected him.

So too, the Land of Israel does not reveal her beauty to all who visit. Not everyone is worthy enough to merit seeing the unique qualities and special holiness of Eretz Yisrael. It may appear as if the dissatisfied visitors are the ones who reject the Land of Israel. But in fact, it is the Land that rejects them.

Seeing the Goodness of Jerusalem

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s response was most appropriate for the son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. When visitors from outside of Israel would come to the chief rabbi for a blessing, Rav Kook (the father) would quote from Psalms 128:5, “May God bless you from Zion.” And what exactly is this ‘blessing from Zion’? The blessing is described in the continuation of the verse: “And may you see the goodness of Jerusalem.”

Rav Kook would then note: it does not say that one should merit seeing Jerusalem, but that one should merit seeing “the goodness of Jerusalem.” Many people visit Jerusalem, but not all merit seeing the goodness hidden in the holy city.

(Adapted from “Malachim Kivnei Adam” by R. Simcha Raz )

Usually I don’t add to the words of Rav Kook, but here I would like to remind you of the Gemara in Chullin 63b.

In the list of forbidden birds is the Da’ah. In the parallel passage in Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy, 14:12) the list is almost exactly – but with one strange variation. the da’ah bird of Leviticus is called the ra’ah.

This variant reading puzzled the sages:

Why is the da’ah of Leviticus called a ra’ah in Deuteronomy? Rabbi Avahu declared, “The ra’ah is the da’ah bird. Why, then, was its name rendered ra’ah [seeing]? This is because the ra’ah is a bird that can see from a great distance. It sits in Babylon and is able to behold the rotting carcasses [neveilah] of the Land of Israel.” (Chullin 63b)

Rabbi Avahu’s insight goes beyond a simple explanation of an inconsistency in the Torah’s lists of prohibited birds. Nor does he content himself with the observation that the bird was nicknamed for its unique farsightedness. His insight is also compelling on a metaphorical level. Only a very strange bird looks for ugliness and putrefaction thousands of miles away, when there is an abundance of ugliness and putrefaction close at hand.

According to Rabbi Avahu, this putrefaction-fixated bird is prohibited to Jews because it is exclusively focused on the ugliness of the Land of Israel, while overlooking the far greater ugliness of its native land.

People, especially Jews, who live abroad should fulfil the verse “u’re’ay betuv Yerushalayim” look for the good in Jerusalem (Psalm 128) and try to help to clean up the neveilot in their own backyards!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise, Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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