The American Dream.
There is an understandable desire to own a home in which to raise a family and live a peaceful life in a beautiful environment. Something like this is even expressed by the Prophet, who describes the End of Days as a time in which, “they will sit, each man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid….” (Micah 4:4)
But today, peace eludes us.
Rabbi Moshe Shapira zt”l said, years ago, something to the effect that we cannot expect a comfortable, peaceful world until Moshiach comes. Crisis is everywhere. And, if we are not immediately conscious of crisis, then our obsession with news will guarantee that we can hear and see it instantly, at the mere touch of a button. Today, if we hire a gardener to create our paradise, he arrives with an infernal machine that sounds as if it comes from Gehenom!
Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) seems so far away.
Our daughter Yaffa told us a beautiful explanation of the words in “Shir Hamalos,” the Psalm we say before bentching on Shabbos and Yom Tov. “B’shuv Hashem es shivas Tzion … when Hashem will return the captivity of Tzion, we will be like dreamers.” (Psalm 126)
What does it mean that “we will be like dreamers?”
Let’s say we are dreaming about a family vacation in Switzerland, just like the scene on the postcard. So we book the flight, pack the suitcases and head for the airport. The flight is bumpy, the kids are sick and it’s pouring rain when we land in Switzerland. The fog never lifts and the hotel is mediocre. You get it …. It’s more like a nightmare than a dream vacation.
But when Hashem will return us to Tzion!
Then we will be like dreamers! Then … it will be exactly like the dream: perfect and beautiful! Now, at the end of history, there is nothing left for us but the ultimate dream. As the Prophet says, “Ki mi tzion taitzai Torah … from Tzion will the Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.” (Isaiah 2:3)
All else has failed.
King David says “a thousand years in Your eyes are but a bygone yesterday.” (Psalm 90:4) The Ramban also compares the days of Creatioin to the Millenia. (Genesis 2:3)
In my book, Worldstorm, I suggest that, since the rebellion in Eden, mankind has been gradually unraveling the process of Creation by which Hashem built the world. We have not learned from our colossal failures. With each millennium, we have regressed one day. Now, as we near the end of history, we are moving ever closer to the conditions which prevailed when the universe was first created, which are described as, “tohu vavohu … [when the world was] astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2) We are nearing a state in which rebellious mankind has destroyed much of the beautiful and perfect world which Hashem created in six days.
This week we read Parshas Shelach, which describes the terrible trouble which our ancestors unleashed into the life of Am Yisroel with the incident of the Spies, when the Nation lost heart and gave up on entering the Land of Israel. The bottom line here is that Am Yisroel did not trust Hashem. That is the essence of all rebellion. The lesson is so clear, my friends, but we do not want to hear it. The Spies did not trust Hashem. As a result, they bequeathed to their descendants a world of catastrophe, one crisis following another. “Rabbi Yochanan said: If you see a generation upon which numerous troubles come like a river, expect [Moshiach].” (Sanhedrin 98a) Yes, Moshiach is clearly close, but the River of Troubles is deep.
The Or Hachaim on this week’s Parsha makes a fascinating and subtle point, which I believe provides a hint as to how we can rectify this terrible situation. “[The spies must be made to realize that the purpose of the spying is] not to assess whether the Jews have the strength to conquer [the Land] and drive out its people, because – and these are the words I want to emphasize – it is absolutely certain that [using only their own strength] they are not able to stand even against the smallest of [the Canaanite] cities, let alone conquer the entire Land!”(Numbers 13:2ff)
This is staggering.
“Rather, [they must understand that the Land] ‘I am giving’ [to the Children of Israel …is not a conquest, but a gift from Hashem.] And since the thing is coming to them as a gift, [it falls] upon the Giver [that is, Hashem] to expel those who have seized it [that is, the Canaanites…. Therefore] Hashem will fight on [Israel’s] behalf, and will put [the Land] into their hands, without adversaries or obstructions.” (ibid)
The whole point of the spying, according to the Or Hachaim, is that Israel should see it is totally impossible to conquer Eretz Yisroel under our own power, and therefore to appreciate the incredible miracles that Hashem is surely bringing to pass on our account! We have everything backwards! Today, when we contemplate the deep tzouris, the enemies surrounding us, the hatred on every side, we could understandably feel hopeless.
No! That was the mistake of the Spies!
The Or Hachaim explains the proper attitude:“When they would see … the immense strength of the fortified cities of Canaan] they would not be alarmed or frightened, for [they would understand] that they were not to inherit [the Land] through the strength of Israel, but [only] through the might of the All-Powerful Creator, since it is He Who is giving [them the Land]!”
Last week we read, “Not through armies and not through might, but through My spirit, says Hashem, Master of Legions….” (Zecharia 4:6) Understanding this is our path to redemption.