A few years ago on Tisha B’av, a member of my shul spoke, Mr. Stimler z’l. He was a holocaust survivor, married to a holocaust survivor. I distinctly remember the first time I met him, when he made a ‘tikun’ after davening. Usually there is a name to mention when you say your brachos. The paper next to the snacks and drinks listed five names; the names of his mother and sisters who were killed on one day in the town where he grew up. When he spoke that Tisha B’av, he went through his history and his experiences during war times. I believe it was in response to someone’s question that he described the feeling people had before the war. There was a sense that everything would be fine, and that the storm clouds would pass. That belief couldn’t have been more naive.
I don’t know if the question was asked at the time, but it definitely began to whirl around in my own mind over the next few months. Here in Israel, there is a sense that everything will be fine, and that the storm clouds will pass. It seemed to be that very same belief that the Jews of Europe so foolishly held. Was it ludicrous and dangerous to keep my family in a country that was explicitly threatened with another holocaust?
On a trip to America, I asked this question to a number of Rabbis who I greatly respect. One of those I asked was my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yechiel Perr. His response puzzled me. He asked me what my friends think. I didn’t know. When I came back to Israel, I started asking around, and the response I got was that we are protected here in Eretz Yisrael; Hashem is watching out for us here.
I was uneasy with what I felt was a somewhat tenuous resolution to my question, but I convinced myself that this feeling of safety wasn’t just based on naivete, rather it was founded in fact. Since the Jewish people have returned here to the land of Israel and stood up as a nation, we have experienced miracle after miracle that have clearly shown Hashem’s protecting hand. This has been our continuous experience throughout the decades since World War II. To believe that He would protect us and help us so openly, only to forget about us in the end, did not seem likely.
Recently, through the vehicle of my Parsha Podcast, I became deeply aware of a much more beautiful and satisfying answer to my question.
In this past week’s Parsha, Moshe reviewed how the Jewish people had sinned with the negative report of the land of Israel, distrusting that Hashem would be in their midst, and instead choosing to believe that Hashem’s hatred led Him to take them out of Egypt, to destroy them at the hand of the Emorites of Canaan. This feeling was rooted in the Jewish people’s sense of inadequacy. They felt unworthy of Hashem’s presence, and felt that it was a fleeting moment of grace, one that could easily be lost at a moment’s notice. This lack of faith in their own worthiness led them to send the spies to see if they could take the land of Israel on their own, in a natural manner. The negative report of the spies reinforced their low self-esteem, and they began to believe that not only were they unworthy of Hashem’s Divine assistance, but just the contrary, they were the subject of Divine hatred, heaven forbid.
This lack of self confidence led Hashem to indeed recognize that they were not yet ready to enter the land, for they could not be a vehicle for Hashem’s Presence if they indeed felt unworthy. Their low self-esteem started a cycle ending with the realization of their very fear.
Hashem accentuated this when He said, “וְטַפְּכֶם אֲשֶׁר אֲמַרְתֶּם לָבַז יִהְיֶה וּבְנֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ הַיּוֹם טוֹב וָרָע הֵמָּה יָבֹאוּ שָׁמָּה וְלָהֶם אֶתְּנֶנָּה וְהֵם יִירָשושׁוּהָ.” – “Your children who you said would be plundered, your children who do not yet know Good from Evil, they will come there, to them will I give it, and they will inherit it.”
The midrash points out that there are three different statements here in regards to the Jewish people getting the land of Israel. The first is that “they will come there.” The second is that “to them I will give it.” The third is that “they will inherit it.” The midrash explains that each of these three correspond to three different points in history. The statement that “they will come there” corresponds to the first time the Jewish people entered Israel with Yehoshua. The statement that “to them I will give it” corresponds to the return of the Jewish people to Israel with Ezra, after the seventy year Babylonian exile. The last statement, that “they will inherit it” refers to the end of days, when the Jewish people will finally return, once and for all, after the long exile we now experience.
What is the difference between the first time, when the Jewish people only “entered the land,” as opposed to the third time, when they will “inherit the land?” The difference is that the Jewish people at that time had not yet developed a true sense that Hashem was with them, and that Hashem was protecting them. They could not truly inherit the land because they did not yet believe in themselves enough for Hashem to indeed bring them the supernatural success that was necessary to conquer the spiritual plane of the land of Israel. This would only be possible after the Jewish people had gone through the most difficult and grueling process of intense exile, difficulty after difficulty, pogrom after pogrom, crusade after crusade, inquisition after inquisition. These difficulties are meted out upon the Jewish people because of the very fact that we represent Hashem in the world, and we represent the light of truth and good. The more we have suffered for Hashem, the more we could begin to believe that we truly deserve His Presence to indeed dwell in our midst.
I realized that this is what we are witnessing today. The Jewish people stands here on the holy soil of the land of Israel, ready to metaphorically walk into the land of Israel, not just in a physical sense, but in a spiritual and Messianic sense. This is coupled with the fact that we truly believe that Hashem will protect us from a physical holocaust. This is in stark contrast to the Jewish people who stood poised to enter the land 3300 years ago. They did not yet believe in themselves, nor in their connection to Hashem, and they therefore could not ‘inherit the land.’ They could only ‘enter the land.’ Through the blood and tears of an exile that has seemed like it would never end, the Jewish people today senses that Hashem will be in its midst and protect it from harm, come what may.
May we indeed be the generation that finally merits to ‘inherit the land.’