"We can surely go up and take possession of it"
Sivan 22, 5777/June 16, 2017
"Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan... " (Numbers 13:1) So begins perhaps the grimmest and most infamous episode in the lives of the generation of the desert, an episode so profoundly and existentially ill-fated that its ramifications and reverberations continue to impact the nation of Israel to this day. What went wrong?
A spy mission went awry and of the twelve righteous men chosen by Moshe to lead a reconnaissance mission into the land of Canaan and report back to the people, ten returned with an evil report, stating that the inhabitants of the land were too strong and their cities too well fortified, and that any attempt to dislodge them would surely end in disaster. Only Calev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun, of the twelve spies, categorically disagreed and emphatically stated otherwise: "We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it." (ibid 13:30) But their minority opinion was to no avail. The people's spirits were crushed by the report of the spies and they wept, cursing the day they left Egypt, even trying to rally their fellow Israelites to return en masse to the land that had enslaved them for more than two hundred years.
Fact: The people were scared and dejected, dismayed and confused. But this wasn't the first time that the children of Israel reacted so desparately to a seemingly insurmounbtable object in their path. At the beginning of their journey, just seven days out of Egypt, the nation found itself trapped between the Sea of Reeds which stretched out before them and the legions of Pharaoh who pressed them from behind. They also cried and panicked and cursed the day they left Egypt. In fact, Midrash tells us that they were divided into four separate schools of thought.
There were those that advocated a return to Egyptian slavery, as if their miraculous midnight exodus hadn't happened.
Another group threw up their hands and said only a mass suicide would free them of their predicament.
A third party exhorted the people to take up arms and fight the approaching Egyptian army, a sure death, but an honorable demise, nevertheless.
And a fourth contingent called for prayer. But G-d was unperturbed by their bickering and lack of faith: "Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel." (Exodus 14:1)
A second Midrash teaches us that Nachshon, of the tribe of Yehudah, marched into the sea and only when the waters reached his nostrils did the sea open and all of Israel followed. The people panicked, G-d steadied their nerves, and the day was saved! Why could that same scenario not have reccurred now, after the evil report of the spies set the nation spinning in turmoil?
To try to better understand the story we can fast-forward some 3,500 years: for weeks before the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War, the tiny nation of Israel was being threatened with anihilation by its Arab neighbors. The modern state of Israel was barely eighteen years old. The vast majority of its citizens were Holocaust survivors or Jews expelled from Arab lands. Hebrew was the national language, but native Hebrew speakers were in the vast minority. The nation was in its infancy.
Five Arab armies, vastly outnumbering the Israeli army were threatening to literally push the embattled nation into the sea. France, Israel's chief ally and arms supplier at the time, broke off relations and imposed an arms embargo. The United States, which had been a guarantor following the 1956 Sinai Campaign, that Egypt would not be allowed to impose a naval blockade by closing the Red Sea to Israeli shipping, demurred. The UN, when told by Egyptian President Nasser to remove its peace keeping forces from Sinai, did so within twenty four hours. Israel was alone and on its own.
The government of Israel was divided in their opinions as to how to respond. Some called for a preemptive attack. Others were vehemently opposed, fearing the wrath of the international community that had already abandoned Israel. Others warned against doing anything that would provoke the already threatening Arab nations. Ambassadors abroad unsuccessfully tried to enlist the support, tacit or otherwise, of foreign governments for any move that Israel would make. Rabbis in major cities were given orders to prepare public parks and even parking lots for the mass burial of the thousands of casualties all were expecting with certainty to result, whatever action Israel did, or did not take. Publicly, the government exhibited confusion and lack of direction. A macabre joke was making its way throughout the land: "Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights at Ben Gurion Airport!"
In the end, the government heard the call of G-d, "Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel," and Nachshon, this time in the guise of the Israeli Air Force, plunged into the unknown and decimated the entire Egyptian Air Force while still on the ground. The Six Day War had begun. Yet the government's lack of decisiveness persisted and only through a series of mishaps, miscommunications and miscalculations by the Arabs, which can truly only be understood as being the hand of G-d, was Israel rescued form its own equivocations, and on the third day of the war the order "Don't invade Jordanian-controlled east Jerusalem" changed suddenly to "Yes invade!" and soon after Mota Gur's voice could be heard crackling over the field radio, "The Temple Mount is in our hands!"
Up till now, the Six Day War is a virtual replay of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, a cataclysmic event in which Israel and G-d together, in spite of all the fears and doubts and misgivings, change the course of history.
Just as at the Sea of Reeds, with the whole world watching, G-d allowed the moment to reach its greatest crisis before routing the army of Egypt and miraculously rescuing His people, so too, He simultaneously tested His people while confounding their enemies, destroying their armies and sending them packing, in the Six Day War. The aftermath in Israel was pure joy. The Song of the Sea was reprised as the newly written Jerusalem of Gold, a prayer and a thanksgiving to G-d.
But then, immediately following the Sea of Reeds moment for modern Israel, came the sin of the spies moment: Moshe Dayan, Israel's Defense Minister, who had ordered the liberation of Jerusalem, within hours ordered the Israel flag to be removed from the Temple Mount and for the daily administration of the Temple Mount, the place of the Holy Temple, to be returned to the Muslim Waqf.
"What do we need this Vatican for?" was his crudely worded metaphor for "What do we want a Holy Temple for?” [ME: Eisav declining his firstborn status]
In the euphoria which had taken hold of the people, few heard his words, and even fewer understood the gravity of his sin.
So it wasn't fear or trepidation or confusion or panic that brought on G-d's fury over the evil report that the spies delivered. These moments of darkness and doubt G-d can forgive and move His people forward. It was the hubris and the arrogance. This is what so pained G-d. The spies were not awed by the military might of the Canaanite nations, though they worded their deceptive report as such. They completely agreed with the words of Calev and Yehoshua, "We can surely go up and take possession of it." They spurned the land of Canaan. They spurned G-d's promise to His people! Their haughtiness and vainglory cursed the very people who had entrusted them with their fate to forty more years in the wilderness.
Had Israel not spurned G-d's greatest gift of the Six Day War, things might have been different. The official reason given for relinquishing control of the Temple Mount was a fear that the Muslim nations would rise up and attack. How hollow an excuse! Israel had just annihilated their strongest armies. Their leaders were humiliated. Their people had lost their taste for war. The fear of G-d was upon the nations. Who knows? Had Israel proceeded to reestablish G-d's House on the Temple Mount, perhaps the elusive peace we are still chasing fifty years later would have been achieved.
Surely Calev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun didn't fold their hands and bide their time silently throughout the thirty nine years that remained for them in the desert. Cherishing the land of Israel and trusting in G-d's promise they spent every moment of their days rallying the people and instilling within them the love and longing for the land of Israel, and the courage to take it. So too, the fifty years which have passed since the fateful moment when euphoria was doused with arrogance and cynicism, the ardor of the people of Israel for the Temple Mount and the longing to rebuild the Holy Temple and renew the Divine service is growing deeper and stronger every day.
"We can surely go up and take possession of it!”
We surely can, and we surely will.
Source: The Temple Institute