Once A Spy Always A Spy?
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d spoke to Moshe, saying, "Send men and spy the Land of Canaan
which I am giving to the Children of Israel ..." (Bamidbar 13:1-2)
While on speaking tours, I often make a comment that I have made for
years: Whether people can make 'aliyah' is dependent upon many
factors, and should first be discussed with their rav. Nevertheless,
one's yearning to live in Eretz Yisroel should be ongoing, as should
one's desire for the Final Redemption to come.
This idea is a fundamental of Torah philosophy, something that should
be as natural to the Jew as preparing for Shabbos. Yet, still, there
is much resistance to it, and, as usual, someone in the crowd -- of
the religious type -- usually asks, somewhat skeptically I might add:
"What is your source to say that?"
After recovering my senses from hearing such a question uttered, I
provide the relevant sources and point out that the Talmud teaches:
Three wonderful gifts were given to Israel by The Holy One, Blessed
is He, and all are acquired through suffering. They are: Torah, Eretz
Yisroel, and, the World-to-Come. (Brochos 5a)
"The implication here," I explain, "is that, just as with Torah and
the World-to-Come you must continually long for them and work towards
them REGARDLESS of your daily predicament, so, too, with respect to
Eretz Yisroel, it must be forefront in your mind."
"But rabbis much greater than you or I never talk about it or encourage it?!"
The truth is, it depends on the rabbi, and, besides, many assume
that, just as they love Eretz Yisroel, so do their constituents. As
well, the day-to-day problems and concerns of life outside of Israel
are more than enough of a distraction to keep the focus away from
issues of loving this godly gift. And some, quite frankly, are afraid
to broach this subject, which they know is unpopular amongst many
"But, it is so much easier to learn Torah in America/England/South
Africa!" they argue.
"I know," I answer. "The spies -- the Torah leaders of their
generation -- claimed the same thing."
Let's make no mistake about it: we are in exile today because the
spies rejected Eretz Yisroel over three thousand years ago. It is
therefore logical, though uncomfortable, to say that, as long as we
continue to 'reject' Eretz Yisroel, for whatever reason, exile will
continue. This is why the period of 'Kibbutz Golios' -- 'Ingathering
of the Exiles' -- will last exactly forty years, says the Zohar,
corresponding to the forty years we wandered in the desert because of
In fact, Kibbutz Golios has two parts to it. 'Phase One' is the
determination of who desires to live in Eretz Yisroel, and who would
be there if conditions permitted them to make the move, and, who does
not care to live there. It is a 'winnowing out' process based upon
one's intellectual, spiritual, and emotional connection to Eretz
Yisroel and redemption. 'Phase Two' will come later, b"H, when the
time comes to bring them there.
What makes this idea even more chilling is the fact that the Arizal,
in Sha'ar HaGilgulim, states that the generation of Moshiach and the
Final Redemption will be a reincarnated 'Generation of the Desert,'
that is, the generation of the spies. If so, then, loving and
yearning for Eretz Yisroel at that time may not simply be A test for
that generation, but THE test of that generation!
If so, then that could help to explain why there is so little said
about loving Eretz Yisroel at the top, for, that is how G-d makes
sure that our decisions are our own. 'Teshuvah shlaimah' would be for
the Torah leaders to encourage us, and, for us to develop our own
love of this gift from G-d, while accepting the conditions of
Furthermore, it helps to explain all the present day crises facing
the Jewish people of Eretz Yisroel, which serve to arouse love of the
land in some, and, in others, anti-Eretz Yisroel feelings. Just
remember the words of the spies upon their return when trying to
intimidate the people from going up:
"The land which we spied is a land that consumes its inhabitants ..."
She is certainly doing THAT today.
"If in our eyes we were like grasshoppers, then certainly we were the
same in their eyes!" (Ibid. 33)
That is the way we seem to view ourselves today, like grasshoppers,
and, we assume the enemy views us the same way.
Will we EVER learn from the spies? They made their love of Eretz
Yisroel and acceptance of its demands dependent upon a pre-existing
ideal state of Torah life. However, it is clear from history,
hashkofah, and, from living in Eretz Yisroel, that an ideal state of
Torah-living is dependent FIRST upon our loving and acceptance of
In areas of bitachon and emunah -- trust and faith -- into which life
in Eretz Yisroel falls, it ALWAYS works that way.
There is one very important difference, though, between the
generation of the spies and ours. In one respect, the spies could
afford to err, since thousands of years of history had yet to be
played out. However, there isn't much time left to history today,
making the need for Heaven's response to our spiritual malaise to be
far more dramatic and immediate.
They returned from spying the land at the end of forty days. (Bamidbar 13:25)
Now, why does that number sound familiar? Oh yes, that is the number
of days Moshe Rabbeinu spent on top of Har Sinai receiving Torah. In
fact, Moshe Rabbeinu spent three sets of forty days on top of Har
Sinai. What a coincidence, right?
Of course not, as the following seems to indicate:
Moshe spent forty years in the house of Paroah, forty years in
Midian, and forty years leading the Jewish people. Rebi Yochanan ben
Zakkai spent forty years in business, forty years learning, and,
forty years teaching. Rebi Akiva, for forty years, was a simpleton,
then, for forty years he learned, and then taught for forty years.
(Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 36)
Thus, the number 'forty' represents the completion of a cycle, either
for good or for bad.
In hashkofah, there is the concept of 'zu l'umas zu' -- 'this against
this' -- which means that, for everything positive in the spiritual
world, there is something that corresponds to it in a negative way in
the spiritual world, exactly. In fact, it is like standing on top of
a mirror, where everything that exists on top of the mirror exists in
reverse 'below' the mirror.
In other words, the forty days the spies spent on their mission were
the exact opposite of the forty days that Moshe spent on Har Sinai.
This is why G-d would not command them to spy the land, but rather,
He only allowed them to go of their own volition. Unready spiritually
for such a mission, they had entered into a spiritually dangerous
reality, and G-d rarely commands us to do dangerous acts.
This is hinted at, perhaps, in the second verse of the parshah, where
G-d refers to the gift of Eretz Yisroel as 'Eretz Canaan,' a place,
at that time, which was steeped in extreme immorality. Canaan was the
land of the Canaanites; Eretz Yisroel was destined to be the land of
the Jewish people.
This, in turn, alludes to another deep concept that Eretz Yisroel is
more than a land, it is a concept -- a description of a certain,
specific spiritual reality and level of holiness. Only once the
entire nation of the Jewish people entered Eretz Canaan did the
concept of 'Eretz Yisroel' overtake the land and transform it into
the physical reality of Eretz Yisroel. Only through the Jewish people
are the Heavenly concept of Eretz Yisroel and the Earthly concept of
Eretz Yisroel unified and made one.
This is why it can be said that:
... In the future, Jerusalem will be like Eretz Yisroel, and Eretz
Yisroel, like the rest of the world. Thus, in the Time-to-Come, the
whole world will have the holiness of Eretz Yisroel ... (Pesikta
Rabbosai, Piska 1)
THEN, and not NOW. In fact, this was the mistake of the
two-and-one-half tribes that opted to stay on the east side of the
Jordan River in Moshe's time. They knew that in the future that even
those lands would have the holiness of Eretz Yisroel, and therefore
felt it okay THEN to remain there.
Well, at least they thought that they had found a philosophical
rationalization for their materialistic 'needs.' In the end, Moshe
Rabbeinu gave them what for:
Moshe answered the descendants of Gad and Reuven, "Should your
brothers go to war while you live in peace here? Why would you
discourage the Jewish people from crossing into the land which G-d
has given to them? That's exactly what your ances-tors did when I
sent them from Kadesh-Barnea to scout the land. They traveled to the
brook of Eshkol and scouted the land, [only to re-turn] and
discourage the Children of Israel from going into the land which G-d
had given to them. [This earned them] the wrath of G-d on that day
Who swore, 'Any man who left Egypt, twenty years or older, will not
see the land of which I swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov,
because they did not follow Me -- with the exception of Caleiv, son
of Yefuneh the Kenizite, and Yehoshua, son of Nun who followed G-d.'
G-d was angry with Israel, and He made them wander in the desert for
forty years until the entire generation who acted wrongly, according
to G-d, had died out. "You follow in your ancestors' footsteps,
erring, wishing to add to G-d's anger at the Israelites. If you go
against Him, He will again leave them in the desert. This will
destroy all this peo-ple." (Bamidbar 32:6-15)
In any case, those who LOVE America & Co. should not get so excited.
In Yemos HaMoshiach, after the yetzer hara is 'slaughtered,' ALL Jews
will finally yearn for the greatest closeness to G-d possible, and
pursue it, and pursue it we will. However, there will be a difference
between those who pursue it then, and those who did so in advance of
... When the dead are resurrected they will revert to totally new
entities, of the loftiest spiritual nature. The same transformation
will happen to those six (seven) thousand Jews who remained alive (in
Eretz Yisroel after Moshiach's arrival). Their bodies will resemble
that of Adam HaRishon before the sin, similar, as well, to the body
of Moshe Rabbeinu. This change will enable them all to float in
mid-air, and fly as eagles. This will be extremely astounding to the
redeemed exiles. Upon witnessing this the Diaspora Jews will be
worried, and they will complain to Moshiach saying,
"Are we not Jews like them? Why do they merit to fly and exist in an
elevated spiritual state, while we don't?"
Moshiach will respond,
"It is quite well known that G-d works measure-for-measure. There
were those who lived in the Diaspora, but later made efforts and
sacrifices to elevate themselves to dwell in the Holy Land in order
to merit a purity of soul. They were not so concerned about finances
and health. They traveled over vast lands and crossed seas, not
paying attention to the possibilities of drowning, being robbed along
the way, nor of being taken captive by some strange foreign ruler.
Since they placed priority of their spirit over their materialism and
physicality, they merit, measure-for-measure, to be elevated to this
lofty spiritual stature. Yet, there were also those who had the
opportunities to go up to Israel as well, but remained hesitant and
reluctant, being of great materialistic stature. They prioritized the
material and left the spiritual pursuits as secondary. Therefore,
they shall remain physical, measure-for-measure. Yet as far as your
desire for wealth, G-d has taken care of that as well. He will grant
you wealth beyond your wildest dreams, for soon all the treasures
that were ever sunken will arrive; all seas have been sworn to
produce these items at the shores of Yafo." (Tuv Ha'Aretz, "In Praise
Of Those Who Dwelled In Israel At The Time of Moshiach)
Too bad the wealth won't matter as much then, without the yetzer hara
to make it so important. You should see what else the author, Rav
Noson Shapiro, has written in the name of his rebi, the Arizal.
Thus, if a Jew has difficulty coming to love Eretz Yisroel the land,
he or she should work HARD on loving Eretz Yisroel the concept. It
will only be a matter of time until one can do both with a full
heart, and regardless of whether or not a person can make aliyah, it
still looks 'good' in G-d's eyes, from Whom the gift came in the
Do not go after your heart and your eyes, after which you go
wantonly. (Bamidbar 15:39)
This little piece of moral advice happens to also be a Torah-mitzvah,
number 387 in Sefer HaChinuch. Simply explained, one is not to devote
thoughts to entertain views and ways of thinking that are opposite to
the ways of Torah, since it can lead to heresy.
After all, it happened to the spies, and, many great people since
them. More importantly, it happened to someone even greater than
them, Adam HaRishon himself.
Everyone always asks, if Adam HaRishon was on such a high spiritual
level, and thus, without an internalized yetzer hara, how could he
ever have come to break the commandment not to eat from the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil?
In the realm of pshat, it is a great question without a great answer.
However, Sod explains that the actual mitzvah not to eat from the
forbidden fruit had two parts to it: not to LOOK at the tree, and,
not to EAT from the tree. As long as Adam HaRishon fulfilled the
first part of the mitzvah, the second part of the mitzvah was simple
to fulfill as well, for, as long as Adam HaRishon maintained his
original, VERY HIGH level of spiritual greatness, actual eating from
the tree was virtually impossible.
However, for the right reasons, Adam HaRishon did the wrong thing, or
rather, the right thing at the wrong time.
He understood that, at the time he was placed in the Garden, creation
was perfectly good except for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
He also understood that, through the tree, he would participate in
the perfection of creation and become a partner with G-d. What he did
not take into account at the time was that he lacked the spiritual
fortitude to accomplish such a task, at that moment -- like the spies
who prematurely entered Eretz Yisroel.
Anyway, according to Kabbalah, once Adam 'spied' the tree to try and
understand the nature of its evil, he, unwittingly became drawn to
it, and, unwittingly reduced his own spiritual greatness and that of
the world around him. No longer was he the same Adam HaRishon
anymore, for, his perspective on life had changed, as did his
relationship to creation. Eating from the tree THEN was just a matter
If he could have seen his new position in life through the eyes of
his old one, he might have been able to recognize the change, and,
have avoided the sin. But, few of us can, and, judging the world
through our new perspective based upon the evil to which we have
become exposed, we slide even further in the wrong direction.
Thus, Shlomo HaMelech warned, "G-d made man upright, but they have
sought out many devices" (Koheles 7:29). Until man's eyes behold sin
or anything remotely connected to it, he is considered quite
'straight.' However, once the eyes have spied something desirable, it
is just a matter of time until the desire becomes all-consuming, and,
the mind becomes its servant to produce the 'appropriate'
Part Three: Kibbutz Golios
The Zohar says that, in advance of the 210 years of Techiyas
HaMeisim, there is a forty year period of 'Kibbutz Golios,'
literally, the 'Ingathering of the Exiles' (Toldos 139a). As the name
implies, it is the period of time during which all REMAINING Jews at
that time will be brought back to Eretz Yisroel. And, as the number
implies, it corresponds to the forty years the Jewish people wandered
in the desert.
In other words, the end of Jewish history perfectly mirrors the
beginning of Jewish history. We began with 210 years of life in
Egypt, meant to bring us back to the level of Adam HaRishon before
the sin (though just the opposite resulted), and then, we 'wandered'
outside the land of Israel for forty years. At the end of history, we
will, b"H, be in a process of returning to the land of our fathers
over the course of forty years, which will be followed by a 210-year
period necessary for us to return to the level of Adam HaRishon
before his sin.
The period of Kibbutz Golios will have two phases: Pre-Moshiach and
Post-Moshiach. During the Pre-Moshiach period of Kibbutz Golios,
while history will still be subject to 'hester panim' (hidden Divine
Providence), there will be minimal 'aliyah' to Eretz Yisroel, but,
many situations that will force Jews around the world to reconcile
their feelings regarding Eretz Yisroel and redemption.
During that phase, it will look as if not much is happening to help
the process of exile-ingathering, when, in fact, a hidden winnowing
process will be in full swing. Some Jews will feel a yearning to live
there, whether they will get there or not, while others will feel
disenchanted and neutral to the idea of living on the land.
The importance of one's feelings and attachment to Eretz Yisroel, at
that time, will be virtually unnoticeable to most people. However,
where a person stood with respect to the concept of living in Eretz
Yisroel and their drive for closeness to G-d will either support them
during Phase Two, or, tragically, come back to haunt them. There are
many midrashim to this effect.
Phase One, within this forty-year period of Kibbutz Golios, will come
to a conclusion just before and during the arrival of Moshiach ben
Dovid. Having come to save the Jewish people from Gog and Magog (if
that is the path history takes), and to rid the world of evil, the
reality of G-d, the priority of Torah, and, the centrality of Eretz
Yisroel to the Jew will become eminently clear.
With the yetzer hara on the way out of history for good, Jews will
see life the way G-d meant it to be seen, and thus, the era of
free-will choice will come to an end forever (Succah 52a). With the
end of free-will choice, the chance to 'earn' reward to enhance one's
portion in the World-to-Come will also come to a conclusion --
According to the Zohar, the official beginning of Kibbutz Golios was
the year 5750 from creation, or, 1990 BCE. That would correspond to
the 'last quarter' of the 'Erev Shabbos' of history, and, the demise
of Russia and its stranglehold on millions of Russian Jews. History
itself certainly seems to have 'quickened' at that point, and major
shifts in world thinking have since occurred.
It is also the year that corresponds to the 'tenth hour' of Day Six,
when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Each
millennium corresponds to one day of creation, and each millennium,
when divided by a factor of 'twelve,' yields 83.33 years per one hour
of creation (Pirkei d'Rebi Eliezer). Thus, if ever there was an
hour/century ripe for 'tikun,' it is this period of 83.33 years.
Certainly the events in Eretz Yisroel since 5761 have dominated world
attention, and, have forced Jews to take sides and make decisions
about their vision of the future of Eretz Yisroel. Very little middle
ground seems exist today, with Jews being 'forced' either to the
right or to the left. This is not incidental or just plain politics;
this is a function of Kibbutz Golios.
The transference from Phase One of Kibbutz Golios to Phase Two is, of
course, the Final Redemption under the leadership of Moshiach ben
Dovid, at last. When exactly this will happen is one of the biggest
question marks in Jewish history, and the subject of many trial
calculations and much controversy.
In the world of Kabbalah, it is not really as much of a variable as
it seems to be. The calculation is rather mathematical and quite
fixed: the precise moment when Yesod transitions to Ateres HaYesod
(Hakdamos v'Sha'arim, 86d). Now, knowing how to work that proportion
out is, as the Ba'al HaLeshem states, a matter only for those who
have "tasted from the Tree of Life," that is, those (very) few who
have become VERY WELL versed in the works of the Zohar and Arizal.
Thus, for the vast majority of us, the calculation is very much a
variable, and we can only wait each day for Moshiach as the Rambam
has told us to in his famous 'Thirteen Principals of Faith." However,
the Zohar does say that, just as the actual birth of child become
increasingly obvious with time, so, too, will the calculation of
Moshiach's arrival become so obvious that even a school child will be
able to make it (Bereishis 118a).
However, as the moment of transition from Phase One to Phase Two
approaches, one can expect the miracles to become increasingly more
obvious, free-will to become increasingly more reduced, and, world
history to become increasingly more precarious. This will begin the
final approach to that long-awaited period called 'Yemos HaMoshiach,'
the topic for next week, b"H.
Have a great Shabbos. It wouldn't hurt to work on appreciation of
Eretz Yisroel this week, either.