Last Shabbat as the weekly portion of the Torah, Shelach, was being read I couldn’t help thinking about the uncanny similarities between the scouts who rubbished the Promised Land and today’s denigrators.
Of the twelve whom Moshe sent to reconnoitre only two, Joshua and Caleb, came back with positive news while the other ten sowed dissent and panic among the people with their negative and alarmist reports. Hard as it is to understand, despite all the miraculous events since the exodus from Egypt, the challenge of finally settling the Land and defeating those arrayed against them, proved too much of a hurdle for the majority. That is why it took another forty years for a new generation untainted by galut mentality to prepare for aliyah. Apart from Joshua and Caleb the rest of the adults perished in the wilderness.
Many commentators have observed that by comparing themselves to grasshoppers and shmutzing the Land promised to us, the 10 scouts effectively rejected any chance of successfully inspiring the masses to march forward. They didn’t need social media to spread the defeatist messages because once distorted facts are aired they take on a life of their own.
Fast forward to our current situation and one can observe that nothing much has changed. Everywhere one looks there are individuals, groups and nations slandering us, spreading lies and doing their best to delegitimize the Jewish State. Like the ten Biblical scouts many of today’s members of the tribe manage to distance themselves personally from the entire basis of Jewish identification with Israel and the Jewish People’s raison d’être for being here. Even worse, their defeatist pontifications place them fair and square in the same category as those who rebelled at the very notion that our destiny lay in Eretz Hakodesh rather than being a wretched minority in exile.
Present-day events demonstrate how history has a nasty habit of repeating itself.
Assimilation and detachment usually result in a weakened identification with aspects of Jewish life such as faith and recognition of the vital part Israel plays in our historical saga. This is nowhere more starkly in evidence than in America where successive PEW surveys confirm a runaway defection rate primarily among non-Orthodox sectors and the growing phenomenon of those whose only connections are matza balls & chicken soup, climate change & tikun olam plus membership of progressive protest groups most of whom hate Israel. Three recent examples highlight the downward trajectory of American Jews and the clear parallel as far as Israel is concerned with the ten scouts as recorded in our parsha of the week.
A group of student Rabbis (all non-Orthodox) published a letter while Hamas rockets were descending on Israeli civilians. In this statement which the media of course lapped up these aspiring spiritual leaders of US communities accused Israel of “violent suppression of human rights and of enabling apartheid in the Palestinian territories.” They were following in the footsteps of certain Jewish groups who had already repeated these disgusting untruths but what makes it so much more revolting is that the next generation of US progressive religious leaders stand poised to spread these ignorant and poisonous opinions to their prospective communities. I know that some senior members of the progressive clergy are aghast at this chutzpa and the self-destructive trend of their American brethren but unfortunately, this is now unstoppable.
Hard on the heels of this scandalous situation was a report in the Jerusalem Post that the “Jewish” American organization, IF NOT NOW, had recited the mourners’ Kaddish for Hamas terrorists killed in the recent Gaza military operation. This took place at a demonstration in Los Angeles. It may be of interest that this NGO has received funding from the New Israel Fund as recently as 2019.
According to the PEW survey approximately 1.5 million, a quarter of American Jews, identify as Jews of no religion. Some of these individuals were interviewed and as far as Israel is concerned their common attitude towards this country is one of complete indifference if not outright hostility. “I never think about the country. I feel zero connection to Israel. To me it’s the same as any country I haven’t visited.” These are their words. It is no wonder that active involvement in groups which delegitimize the Jewish State is predominately composed of such individuals.
The generation of the Exodus had to be replaced by others for whom fulfilling the Divine promise was a priority. Today’s Jews who believe that Israel is irrelevant will also sink into obscurity, most of their descendants in all likelihood having become estranged from anything meaningfully Jewish.
Watching the rise of hate against Jews and Israel becoming once again a plague infecting countries where Jews reside what will it take for the majority to face reality? We have in our long history of dispersion always put our trust in authorities to protect us. For most of the time this has been a futile exercise in wishful thinking and there is no reason at all to believe that the future will turn out any differently than the past.
Israel is also surrounded by those who wish us dead. It’s tough going when one has to be on guard every moment of every day of the week. However we hold the destiny of our re-established homeland in our own hands and Jewish life in all its varied aspects is flourishing as never before. We don’t need to hide our kippot and Magen Davids, we can live proudly as Jews without having to hide our mezuzah on the front door. We don’t need to worry that Shechita and Brit Mila will be banned. Judaism in all its multi-faceted traditions is flourishing and pioneering innovative paths despite the frantic rearguard actions of those who prefer to remain stuck in a medieval time warp.
Of course, there is a myriad of problems to overcome and deficiencies to correct. After all, 73 years is a mere blip in our millennia of existence.
The burning question is whether Diaspora Jewry will follow the doomed agenda of those who hesitated, vacillated and fell into the trap of believing the slanderous reports of the ten scouts.
The message and agenda couldn’t be clearer.