Fearing the Promised Land
The 40th anniversary of the miraculous Six-Day War victory (June 1967-2007) corresponds with this week’s Torah portion in which we read about Moses sending scouts to survey and discover the best way to conquer the Promised Land.
And now, just as then, great opportunities were squandered; grave mistakes were made. Then, just as now, a people rose to great heights only to fall into dark depths.
Following their miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the unprecedented Sinai revelation, the Jewish people were ready to enter the Promised Land. The scouts were sent to help pave the way for Israel’s easy conquest. Had they stuck to their mission, they would have facilitated the process and within a few days the Jewish people, led by Moses, would have entered Israel with pride, victory and celebration. The sages tell us, that had Moses entered the Promised Land, the world would have been brought to complete redemption.
Instead, the scouts returned with a terrifying report, “slandering” the land and inciting the entire nation to mutiny, against marching onward into the Promised Land. “We cannot go forward…they are too strong for us,” it is a “land that consumes its inhabitants.”
As a result, instead of a smooth entry, the Jewish people had to wander for forty years in a desolate wilderness – one year for each of the forty days the scouts spent exploring the land with slanderous intent. And the entire nation, including Moses, would end up perishing in the desert, never to enter the long-sought Promised Land.
A tragedy of immense, yes, Biblical, proportions.
Now, over 3200 years later, an uncanny similarity of extremes cannot be ignored. The Six-Day War fought in June 1967 – close to the same time period when the scouts were sent to explore the land (end of the month of Sivan) – marked one of the highest points in modern Jewish history. Twenty-two years after Auschwitz, the fledgling Israel was surrounded from all three sides – Jordan to the East, Egypt to the South and Syria to the North – all determined to drive it into the sea. Mass graves were dug and fear consumed the land; would there be a second holocaust, this time in the Promised Land?
Then in a mere six days, Israel triumphed and tripled in size. The unprecedented victory of a tiny country, the size of New Jersey with a population of under 2 million, over the surrounding Arab countries numbering hundreds of millions, stunned the world. The miracle became the source of unparalleled Jewish euphoria and pride. Religious and secular alike, believers and cynics, could not contain their tears when touching the stones of the newly reclaimed Western Wall.
What happened next remains one of the tragedies of Jewish history. From a state of euphoria, today Israel is embroiled in enormous conflict from within and without. Peace seems as distant as ever. Israelis themselves cannot agree what sort of Israel they want. Israel’s vision – so powerfully celebrated 40 years ago – is now in shambles. Hope has turned into resignation.
What transpired during the last forty years? What mistakes were made following the victory in 1967 that allowed for the never-ending downward spiral that has led to the stalemate in 2007? How was such great victory and pride squandered?
Many answers can be gleaned from studying the events that took place 3318 years ago and their parallels to today’s situation. The mistakes made then by the scouts were meant to be lessons not to be repeated in 1967 and in the forty years hence.
Here are some of the lessons:
1) The only right that Jews have to Israel is because G-d granted them the Promised Land.
Why else would several million Jews insist on planting themselves in a small sliver of land surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims who don’t want them there?
HOW NOT WHETHER
2) We do not have the power, and were not given the right, to challenge the mission we are charged with. Our role is to figure out how to fulfill our calling, not whether to do so or not.
Jewish leaders then, leaders in 1967 and leaders today have allowed their own subjective perceptions and philosophies – and doubts – to dictate policy whether to hold on to and advance into the Promised Land. Your role as leaders is to explore ways to ensure security and peace; not to question your right to the land.
Before and during the Six-Day War Israeli leaders were questioning whether to proceed forward. The Israeli Defense Minister at the time declared unwillingness to conquer the Old City of Jerusalem, stating “who needs this Vatican city?” The miraculous conquests continued despite the initial opposition of the leaders.
After the war, these same leaders declared a policy of returning “land for peace.” In one of the greatest historical ironies, it was President Nasser of Egypt and the other Arab leaders – humiliated in defeat – that rejected the offer, arguing that taking back land for peace would be a declaration of… defeat.
No one asked for or wanted the Six-Day War. But once it was fought and won, behave like winners not like losers.
[Moses’ scouts refused to enter the land because they feared it would compromise their own deep spirituality. Today the reasons are far different; some actually fear that Israel’s spirituality will compromise their “free” lifestyle. But regardless, both positions, as different as they may be, are rooted in personal agendas overriding the Divine command to enter the Promised Land].
3) In opposition to their ten colleagues, Caleb and Joshua declared
“we must definitely go up and take possession [of the land], we are definitely capable of it;” “the Land through which we passed in our explorations is a very, very good land. If G-d is satisfied with us and brings us to this land… He can surely give it to us. But don’t rebel against G-d. Don’t be afraid…G-d is with us.”
4) When we are blessed with miracles, we must never ever become arrogant. Blessings must elicit in us humility. Humility enables us to review our own previous positions and perhaps change them, instead of stubbornly holding on to old attitudes. And humility leads to sensitivity, instead of aggression, which is the only sure way to true peace.
5) Entering and living in the Promised Land is not somebody’s whim or personal desire. It reflects a global vision for life – the Divine promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them the Land of Israel – the Holy Land, a place that would be sanctified and transformed into a spiritual haven. A land that would be a “light unto nations” – “a house of prayer for all people” – illuminating the entire world, serving as an example to all nations, peoples, races and cultures, how to live a life according to the highest spiritual standards. The Holy Land is meant to inspire every man, woman and child on earth to fulfill his or her Divine calling, and civilize his corner of the universe into a home for G-d.
As the prophet Isaiah foretold:
“It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of G-d’s house shall be established on top of the mountains and all the nations shall flow unto it. And [they] shall go and say, let us go up to the mountain of G-d and He will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths, for from Zion shall go forth the Torah; and the word of G-d from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:2-4).
The scouts back then, and the “scouts” entrusted with Israel’s security today must never forget the purpose and mission of the Promised Land.
When leaders are driven by faith, confidence, vision and humility, they combine both fortitude and wisdom to face every challenge that will come our way. No where is this more important than in the hotbed of the Middle-East – a vortex that has been consumed with battles over the last three millennia.
“Leaders” who lack these vital features will waver from doubt to aggression (to compensate for the doubt), to paralysis and more aggression – fluctuating extremes – as witnessed in the Israeli approach to last year’s Lebanese war. Instead of leadership, we end up at best with “administrators” and “fire-fighters,” offering temporary band-aids for deep rooted wounds.
We cannot turn the clock back to 1967, but we can learn from past mistakes – and from errors made thousands of years – and adopt new policies and approaches, and perhaps finally offer Israel, the Middle East and the entire world the vision it expects and deserves to see emanating from the Holy Land.
Do we have such leaders? And if yes, will they rise to the occasion and make us aware of their presence?
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Question of the Week: How do you anyalyze the events of the Six-Day War and its aftermath?