ESSAY: Holy Land
Never in history was the gap between two generations so great;
never was it more critical that the gap be bridged
TRANSCRIPT: The Rebbe's Memory
We don't "remember" things that are still with us
In the history of a people, as in that of an individual life,
things don't always go as planned.
The original plan was to go like this: On the 15th of Nissan
in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), the people of Israel
are taken out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. After
seven weeks of preparation and self-refinement, they receive
the Torah, their mandate from G-d as His "nation of priests
and Holy people," at Mount Sinai. From Sinai it's
an eleven-day journey to the Land of Canaan
- the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Israel's
eternal homeland-where Moses builds the Holy Temple to serve
as the seat of the divine presence in the physical world,
and the people of Israel implement the blueprint for life
contained in the Torah, establishing the model society which
serves as the keystone of a harmonious world community embodying
the goodness and perfection of their Creator.
In actuality, the journey from Sinai to the Holy Land took
not eleven days but forty years. The generation of the Exodus
became "the generation of the desert" - only two
of the 600,000 adult males who left Egypt lived to enter the
Land of Canaan. The grand plan over which Moses was to preside
was delayed, and still awaits completion. Moses' disciple,
Joshua, began the conquest of the Holy Land, but the task
was only completed five centuries later by King David. David's
son, Solomon, built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but this
was not the eternal edifice which Moses would have constructed;
it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 3338 (423 BCE), rebuilt
by Ezra in 3408 (353 BCE), and destroyed once more, by the
Romans, in 3829 (69 CE). The people of Israel failed to fully
live up to their role as a "light unto the nations" and were exiled from their land. The perfect
and harmonious world which we were to have achieved by entering
the Land of Canaan under Moses' leadership still awaits attainment
What went wrong? The children of Israel were encamped at
Kadesh, on the border of Canaan, in preparation to enter the
land, when they approached Moses with the request:
"Let us send men before us, so that they shall search
out the land for us and bring us back word as to which road
we should take and into which cities we shall come."
Moses conveyed the people's request to G-d, and G-d replied:
"Act according to your own understanding."
I've been telling you what to do long enough, G-d was saying.
Now that you're about to enter and settle the land, it's time
you did things your way, in accordance with your own understanding
of how to best carry out My plan. If the people believe that
sending spies is the way to go about conquering the land,
then go ahead and send them.
Moses sent twelve spies-one representative from each of the
twelve tribes of Israel-to scout the land and report on its
terrain and its inhabitants. Forty days later, on the eighth
day of Av of the year 2449, the spies returned, bearing samples
of the land's huge and luscious fruit and the following assessment:
"We came to the land that you have sent us, and indeed,
it flows with milk and honey; this is its fruit. However,
the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities
are fortified and very great; we also saw giants there. The
Amalekites dwell in the Negev, the Hittites, the Jebusites
and the Emorites in the hills, and the Canaanites at the sea
and on the banks of the Jordan.... We cannot go up against
these people, for they are mightier than we....
Their report caused the nation to lose faith in their ability
to conquer the Holy Land, despite G-d's promises. Indeed,
the commentaries note that the Hebrew word mimenu,
"than we," also translates as "than he";
the spies were, in effect, saying that "they are mightier
than He" - that the conquest of the Holy Land is beyond
the capacity of the Almighty Himself! All night the nation wept and bemoaned
their fate, crying to Moses: "Why is G-d bringing us
to this land to fall by the sword, and for our wives and children
to fall into captivity?"
Thus it came to pass that on the Ninth of Av - a day which
was to bode many tragedies for the people of Israel
- G-d informed Moses that the generation that received the
Torah at Sinai was not fit to enter the Land of Canaan. He
decreed that they shall live out their lives as wanderers
in the desert until a new generation can take up the challenge
of conquering the land of Canaan and developing it as a "Holy
Land" - as the focus of G-d's presence in the material
The spies dispatched by Moses were no ordinary individuals:
"They were all men of distinction, leaders of the children
of Israel." Furthermore, in all of history, it would be difficult to find
a generation whose lives were more saturated with miracles
than theirs. Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth at the
time, was forced to free them from slavery when "the
mighty hand" of G-d inflicted ten supernatural plagues.
When Pharaoh's armies pursued them, the sea split to let them
pass and then drowned their pursuers. In the desert, miracles
were the stuff of their daily lives: manna from heaven was
their daily bread, "Miriam's well" (a miraculous
stone which traveled along with the Israelite camp) provided
them with water, and "clouds of glory" sheltered
them from the desert heat and cold, kept them clothed and
shod, destroyed the snakes and scorpions in their path, and
flattened the terrain before them to ease their way.
For these people to doubt G-d's ability to conquer the "mighty
inhabitants" of Canaan seems nothing less than ludicrous.
Yet these were the people whose leaders said, "We cannot
go up against these people, for they are mightier than we"
and even He. What happened? Where did they go wrong?
The daily miracles experienced by the generation of the Exodus
did more than provide them with sustenance and protection
- they shielded them from any and all involvement with the
material world. For the first generation of our existence
as a people, we lived a wholly spiritual life, free of all
material concerns; the very food which nourished us was "bread
from heaven." Indeed, our sages have said that, "The
Torah could have been given only to the eaters of the manna." To properly receive and assimilate the divine
wisdom, one must be utterly free of the responsibilities and
frustrations of physical life-something that is possible only
in the kind of environment which our ancestors enjoyed during
their sojourn in the Sinai Desert.
This is why the spies and their generation were loath to
enter the land. Becoming a people with a land would entail
plowing, sowing and harvesting; it would mean engaging in
commerce and levying taxes; it would require a bureaucracy
to run the land and an army to defend it. Their underlying
problem with the land was, as the spies expressed it, that
"it is a land that consumes its inhabitants" - it consumes one's time and
energy with its corporeal demands and infringes on one's capacity
to study the divine wisdom of Torah and meditate upon its
truths. They were unwilling to relinquish their spiritual
utopia for the entanglements of an earth-bound life.
This also explains the spies' argument that "We cannot
go up against these people, for they are mightier than we,"
notwithstanding the tremendous miracles which G-d had performed
and was performing for them. We cannot have it both ways,
argued the spies. Either we are to be a spiritual people engaged
exclusively in spiritual pursuits and sustained by supernatural
means; or else we are to enter the natural world of the farmer,
merchant and soldier and become subject to its laws. And under
these laws-which decree that the numerous, mighty and well
- fortified will defeat the few and the weak - there is no
way we can defeat the inhabitants of Canaan.
They even went so far as to extend this line of reasoning
to the Almighty Himself. If G-d wishes for us to live a spiritual
life, then, certainly, He can sustain us with miracles. But
if His desire is that we abandon our supra-natural existence
to enter the land and assume a natural life, then He Himself
has decreed that natural law will govern our fate. In that
case, He cannot empower us to miraculously conquer the land,
since were He to do so, this would defeat the entire purpose
of entering the "land." So "they are mightier
than He" - even G-d cannot help us, if He Himself has
chosen to transform us into a material people.
The Generation Gap
What the spies and their generation failed to understand
is that the entire point of entering the Holy Land is to sanctify
the material aspects of life. This is the essence of the divine
objective of creation and the mission entrusted to us at Sinai:
to build "a dwelling for G-d in the lowly realms"-to imbue our plowing, sowing and commerce with
a holy and G-dly purpose. In charging us with this mission,
the Creator empowered us to indeed "have it both ways":
to create a land that is holy, a nature that is miraculous,
a reality that is not bound by its own defining parameters
for it serves a purpose greater than itself.
Achieving this aim required a two-phased program: an initial
state of unmitigated holiness and spirituality, followed by
"entrance into the land" and assumption of its material
labors. For to sanctify the land, one requires the vision
and guidance of the divine truth of truths - which can be
attained only by a nation of "manna eaters." So
first there had to be that period of utter isolation from
the material world. However, this phase of our national existence
was not an end in itself, but the way in which to acquire
the tools and resources to miraculize the natural and elevate
If the "generation of the desert" would have themselves
been capable of making the transition into a people of the
land, the transformation of the material world into a home
for G-d would have been fully and perfectly achieved in that
very generation. If they would have believed in their divinely
granted capacity to "have it both ways," their sanctification
of the land would have combined their ultimate apprehension
of the divine truth with a full involvement with the natural
But one of the most basic rules of creation is that if the
achievements of man are to be meaningful and significant,
they must be his own - the product of an uncompelled choice
to exercise his divinely granted potentials. And free choice
means license to fail as well as to succeed; it means the
capacity for blunder as well as for achievement. When G-d
told Moses to proceed with the conquest of the land "according
to your own understanding," He opened the possibility
for greater and more meaningful achievement, but also for
error on the part of His "partners in creation," and delays and regressions in the fulfillment of His master
The generation of the desert failed to actualize the unique
opportunity which presented itself at that particular juncture
of our history: for there to be a single generation which
straddled both worlds, a single generation which first inhabited
a world of utter spirituality and then proceeded to apply
it to a life on the land. Instead, they fell prey to the tendency
of man to "compartmentalize" his life, to label
his experiences and attainments as "material," "spiritual,"
"sacred," "mundane," "natural"
and "supernatural," thereby delegating and confining
them to their respective domains. So it was left to their
children to embark on the longer, more difficult journey,
a journey only now reaching its culmination: to bridge the
formidable "generation gap" which separates us from
our manna-eating ancestors and apply the pristine truth they
received in the desert to our own earth-bound lives.
On a Personal Note
In our own lives, we each have a "generation of the
desert" and a "generation which enters the land."
Our childhood and youth are a spiritual and miraculous time:
our needs are provided to us "from above" without
effort or worry on our part; the business of running the world
is blessedly none of our concern. Such a hermitic existence,
while contrary to the ultimate purpose of our lives, is the
optimal environment for the acquisition of the beliefs, values
and knowledge which will guide and inspire our development
of the world when we subsequently "enter the land"
in our adult years.
The same is true of each particular day of life: we begin
our day with a sacrosanct hour of prayer and Torah-study before
crossing over into the workday and embarking on the development
and sanctification of the material world.
Here, too, exists the danger of succumbing to a "generation
gap" between one's "Sinai Desert" and "Land
of Israel," of adopting the "either/or" mentality
of the spies. Therein lies the eternal lesson of the Torah's
account of the incident of the spies: do not allow the wisdom,
sensitivity and inspiration of your youth to remain an isolated
period in your life. Do not allow your moments of attachment
to G-d each morning to remain a "miracle" with no
bearing on the natural course of your day. Cross into the
land, but do not leave your spiritual "childhood"
behind. Remember that the purpose of it all is to make "holy"
a quality of "land."
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Shelach 5722 (June
On one occasion, my father-in-law, the Rebbe said: "I
do not add nishmato eden ('his soul is in Eden') to
my father's name - I am not about to assign him an 'address.'
Furthermore, as far as I am concerned, Father has not departed."
I feel the same regarding my father-in-law, the Rebbe. Who
can possibly assign him an "address" in heaven?!
Who can possibly establish his place as being in "Eden,"
be it the "Lower Eden," or the "Higher Eden,"
or any other heavenly abode, no matter how sublime? And why
shall we dispatch him to the supernal yonder? He certainly
doesn't want to part from us!
Likewise, I do not add zecher tzaddik livrachah ("may
the memory of the righteous be for blessing") to my mention
of the Rebbe. The concept of "memory" applies only
to something of the past, to something that is susceptible
to forgetting. Regarding our relationship with the Rebbe,
forgetting is not a possibility; so there is no point in speaking
of the Rebbe's "memory," just as one would not speak
of the "memory" of a person who manifestly lives
From an address by the Rebbe, Sivan 25, 5710 (June 10,
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 Deuteronomy 1:2; in actuality, the Israelites made this journey
in just three days and were on the brink of entering the
land when the episode of the spies intervened (Rashi on
 Numbers 13:2, as per Rashi on verse.
 See Free Agent , Week In Review vol. IX,
 Midrash Rabbah, cited by Rashi on verse.
 Including the destruction of both the First and
Second Temples (see Talmud, Taanit 29a).
 Midrash Mechilta, Beshalach 17.
 Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16.
 Talmud, Shabbat 10a; et al.
 Ultimately, however, it is G-d's desire that His
master plan should go awry, creating the opportunity for
the painful yet immensely profitable path of teshuvah, whose
rewards cannot be anticipated, or even allowed for, by any
pre-ordained plan-see G-d's Business, WIR, vol. X,
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. IV, pp. 1041-1047.