Friday, June 16, 2006

Joy and Martyrdom - on the Parasha



The story of the spies speaking ill of the Land of Israel is often compared to the modern Israeli political scene, and the common characteristics are obvious. It is indeed interesting why the commandment to settle the Land is such a difficult one, both today and in the Biblical account; what is so special about this mitzva that it so invites the scorn of the masses?

The Talmud (Shabbat 130a) quotes a Baraisa: "Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: Every mitzva received with joy, such as circumcision, ... continues to be observed with joy; and every mitzva received with altercation, such as the forbidding of illicit sexual relations, ... continues to be observed with altercation."

By lumping the nation's general attitude to individual commandments into two categories the Talmud also observes that these attitudes are not easily changed with time: As the elders treat the mitzva so do future generations. This is especially interesting when we note the Biblical reaction to the spies' malicious report: "And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron..." (Bamidbar 14:1-2). In the first verse they fail to rejoice in the mitzva as mentioned in the Talmud, and in the second they actively take the opposite approach.

The Talmud continues with another such classification of God's commandments and the impact of our attitude towards them: "Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: Every mitzva for whose sake the Israelites martyred themselves in periods of royal edicts, such as idolatry and circumcision, remains in their grasp; and every mitzva for whose sake the Israelites did not martyr themselves in periods of royal edicts, such as phylacteries, remains loosened in their grasp."

The Land of Israel is not won by compromise, nor by defeatism, nor by halfheartedness. It is won by rejoicing that we have such a mitzva and by readiness to martyr ourselves for its sake. Only by doing both will we ensure that it will remain forever, as the Talmud observes, firmly in our grasp as well as a cause of joy for generations to come.

In the words of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Berachot 5a): "Three precious gifts were given by God to Israel, and all are earned only through suffering: Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come."

(Read and dicuss the original article here.)

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