Finding Our Place In This World

17 06 2012

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Parshat Shelach tells the story of the spies who were sent to spy out the land of Israel. Although Yehoshua and Kalev remained faithful to Hashem, the rest of the group did not, and the mission ended with disastrous results.

After Moshe’s death, when Yehoshua took over leadership of the nation he sent spies again. This seems perplexing. You would think he would have learned his lesson from what happened.

To understand this, we must study the crucial difference between the first and second mission. The spies Moshe sent didn’t think they deserved Hashem‘s direct assistance. The Torah records their statement of self-doubt, “We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes.” They wanted to see if the land could be conquered without Divine intervention. In one sense, this was reasonable thinking. Miracles are not Hashem‘s way of conducting the world. Why then were they held accountable?

Certainly a person must maximize his efforts but there is one exception, in the case of a Divine promise. The spies were wrong for assessing the land in a natural fashion because Hashem pledged He would give us the land. When Yehoshua sent spies again, he didn’t do so to find out if they would succeed. He wanted to better formulate his strategy. His question was not, “Can Hashem conquer the land?” His question was, “What is my role?”

We must ask ourselves, “Who am I meant to be at the moment?” If you think that it’s all up to you then essentially you are removing Hashem from the picture. Conversely, relying on Hashem with closed eyes, is taking away His purpose in creating us. We’re supposed to demand from ourselves to figure out our role. “What am I meant to do?” and “Where’s my place?” are questions we should ask ourselves. But at the same time we must have complete trust in the One who ultimately makes it all happen.


Optimal Environment: Appreciating Eretz Yisrael

21 01 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shoshie Nissenbaum

Optimal Environment: Appreciating EretzYisrael Class #1

The first verse in the Torah is, “Bereishet bara Elokim. In the beginning, Hashem created heaven and earth.” Rashi explains bereishit to mean, bishvil reishit. The purpose of creation was Torah and KlalYisrael, who are reishit. He further adds that Hashem specifically began with the story of creation rather than with the first mitzva of kiddush hachodesh to emphasize that Hashem is Master of the world and that the Jews have full rights to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah immediately explores our connection to the land to teach us that we need Eretz Yisrael to fulfill our destiny of being reishit.

Why does the land of Israel play such a critical part in our ultimate purpose? In Parshat Shelach, when the spies returned from their mission, they reported, “Eretz ochelet yoshveha.” It is a land that consumes its inhabitants. The spies noticed many funerals while they were there. Hashem made the natives die so that they would be busy burying their dead and not notice the spies. Why the strange word ochelet? Would it not have been more appropriate to use the term horeget, to kill? The Zohar explains that just as everything a person eats becomes absorbed into his essence, one who enters Eretz Yisrael is immediately transformed and becomes a part of the land itself. Eretz Yisrael changes a person, and the spies were afraid of this. One who ascends to the holy land exchanges his soul for a higher soul. Living on a more elevated plane lends itself to achieving loftier goals. And just as the digestive process involves chewing and breaking down food, attaching oneself to the land involves suffering and hardship.

Hashem commanded Avraham, “Lech lecha m’artzecha, m’moladetcha. Go from your land, from your birthplace.” Rav Nosson explains that to a certain extent everyone feels bound by their physicality. Hashem tells us, go inside yourself, see how you can live without the materialism that holds your soul in its grip. Similarly, people are branded by the society they live in. When the holiness of the land consumes a person, he is given wings to fly. New vistas open up, enabling him to come closer to Hashem. Hashem tells Avraham to go the land “asher araeka, that I will show you.” When we go to the Land, Hashem will show us how great we can become, what latent potential is hiding within us waiting to be developed.

The Sefer Hayirah writes that one who wants to ascend to the land needs azut d’kedusha and akshanut gadol, boldness, bravery, and great determination. This desire to grow, of never being complacent, can be drawn mainly from Eretz Yisrael. The entire avoda of a Jew is dependent on this. Indeed, the first halacha in Shulchan Aruch is, “Be bold as a leopard…to do the will of Hashem.” The Orchot Tzaddikim writes in Shaar Haratzon that the people who will merit to sit next to Avraham in the World To Come will be those with the iron will to come close to Hashem. Eretz Yisrael gives us this power of desire.

The Midrash says that when Sarah was taken to Pharoh, she cried that Avraham came to the land with the promise that he would grow into a great nation, while she only came with the strength of emuna. Immediately, Hashem sent an angel to strike Pharoh ten times. Later Hashem struck the Egyptians with the ten plagues. As Sara left the king’s house, the Jews eventually left Egypt. This is the meaning of the statement, “In the merit of righteous women our forefathers were redeemed, and in their merit we will be redeemed.”

Mashiach will come in the zechut of emuna. Indeed Tehillim tells us, “Trust in Hashem and do good, dwell in the land and live emuna.” Just as every seed has the potential to grow, every Jew has the power to come close to Hashem. And just as all vegetation needs the right sunshine, soil, and climate to flourish, the Jewish people need Eretz Yisrael to blossom and bring out their hidden strengths. There is no greater place for a Jew to grow than in the holy land. The mitzva of challa connects all Jews to the land. It is the only mitzva of the seven gifts given to the kohanim that is practiced outside Eretz Yisrael. At the moment of separating the dough, you can mentally bring yourself to Eretz Yisrael and pray to be zoche to come back again.

May we merit to live the verse, “Shechon eretz u’reah emuna..,” to dwell in the land with true emuna.