During our stay in the United States, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who is in the field of social media. He has spent the better part of the last six years mastering the internet sites which have come to dominate the lives of hundreds of millions. His success speaks for itself. He is now followed on Twitter by over 300,000 people. I asked him, “Do you consider yourself an expert in social media?” Surprisingly, he said, “No! To be called an expert in our day and age in any field is no longer a complement. The social media market is so dynamic and fast paced that you can be an expert one moment and then very quickly your expert information becomes obsolete.” I was impressed to hear that even social media can bear and transmit important life lessons.
Because we travelled from Israel to the US and returned home the week of Parshat Shlach and the story of the miraglim, I spent a lot of time thinking about where they went wrong. Why did they fail so miserably in their mission? Where do good hearted Jews of our generation fail when it comes to making aliya and staying in Israel? What is the key to success in fulfilling this all important mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael?
All the commentaries explain that which is implicit in the text. The twelve spies that Moshe Rabbenu selected were all important and chashuve individuals, as Rashi tells us. The Ibn Ezra describes them as being “well known courageous men.” They were leaders of Bnai Yisrael, “heads of thousands,” as the Ramban puts it. Moshe was sure that this prestigious group was destined for continued greatness. They would surely be the ones to escort Bnai Yisrael into the Promised Land when the entire nation would enter shortly thereafter.
How was it possible that the greatest of the great were the cause of such an enormous catastrophe?
Rabbi Yehoshua Geller, a mentor and a friend of mine, taught me something of immeasurable importance. “Ironically, wild success can be the cause for future failure.” Too much success turns us into close minded people. We lock in to a specific approach. We get stuck in a certain mentality and that can paralyze us.
The spies had put together impressive resumes during their time in Egypt and in the desert. They earned a reputation of the highest standing. There was little room left inside their great minds for a completely new reality. Conquering Eretz Yisrael required openness, a fresh start and a large dose of humility which the miraglim completely lacked. This land, which draws the focus of Hashem’s eyes from the beginning of the year until its end, requires that its olim buy new glasses and the miraglim were ill prepared to adapt to such extreme change.
One of the most shocking teachings of the gemara that I ever learned was the gemara in Bava Metzia (85a) which tells us that “when Rebi Zera emigrated to Eretz Yisrael, he fasted a hundred fasts to forget the Babylonian Gemara.” In other words, it was not sufficient for this great Amora to build on his learning from Babylonia, rather, to acquire the Torah of Eretz Yisrael he had to divorce himself from the teachings of Chutz L’Aretz.
This is exactly what is required for successful aliya. One must be prepared to divorce oneself in body, mind and soul from the conditions and realities of the Diaspora in order to start a new life. Life-style, culture, standard of living, community life and social norms are all completely different and require years of asserted effort, which at times can involve pain and a variety of afflictions.
Let us acquire the humility and adaptability of Yehoshua and Calev, who were able to tap into the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael and obtain an eternal nachala in the land which never ceases to flow with fresh milk and pure honey.