PARSHAT SHLACH: RAV KOOK ON “OVERCOMING SPYFULNESS”

“A world of empty chaos preceded the world of building. And light came out of the darkness- ‘And the Creator said ‘Let there be light’ ” (Notebook 3:87) And hence “Existence is full of light and darkness, organization and confusion, repair and chaos.” (N. 1:172)

Thus Rav Kook writes amplifying the Torah’s  teaching  that Kilkul ve Tikun- Breakage and Repair are core forces of reality. We certainly are experiencing Kilkul in recent world events (and for a long time). Humankind is responsible for much of the Kilkul and we must act decisively to effect the Tikun.

Parshat Shlach -which recounts the episode  of the spies whose report scared the people of Israel and created a 40 year delay in the entry to Israel- reflects the reality of these core forces. What does Torat HaRav Kook teach was the reason for the breakage described in Parshat Shlach? What must we do to effect the necessary repair?

Let us review the story:

“God spoke to Moses, saying ‘Send out men for yourself to explore the Canaanite territory that I am about to give the Israelites’…At the end of forty days they came back from exploring the land.”  Returning on Erev Tisha Be’Av.

“They gave the following report  ‘We came to the land where you sent us, and it is indeed flowing with milk and honey, as you can see from its fruit. However, the people living in the land are aggressive, and the cities are large and well fortified. We also saw the giant’s descendants there. Amalek dwells in the area of the south…We cannot ascend for that nation is much stronger than us.’ They brought an evil report about the Land of Israel…’It is a land that devours its inhabitants…While we were there, we saw the titans…We felt like tiny grasshoppers That’s all that we were in their eyes.’ The entire community raised a hubbub and began to shout. That night, the people wept.” (BaMidbar 13:1-14:1)

That night was  the 9th of Av.  The Midrash explains that this moment of weeping brought in ‘weeping for generations’. As written in the Talmud (Ta’anis 28b) “You wept in vain, I will establish it for you as a time of weeping for all generations.” From this moment on, major tragedies have plagued the Jewish Nation on Tisha B’Av. The result has been generation after generation continuously weeping.

What was their fatal mistake? The truth is that the spies were correct in most of their descriptions about the strength and nature of the residents. Their critical error was in underestimating their own strength- “That nation is much stronger than us…We felt like tiny grasshoppers.”

They did not understand the power that is inherent in the Nation of Israel, its people and its eternal covenant

As Rav Kook wrote in Yaffo around 1912:

“Smallness of faith and distance from supernal holiness occurs when a person cannot raise their self-evaluation…Their lack of faith in themselves means that they do not recognize their own spiritual specialness…Hence they feel that they are not worthy of Divine greatness.” (N.3:91, 202)

In London during WW1 Rav Kook wrote:

“A lack of belief in the foundation of good [and its capacity to overcome evil] brings cowardice of heart. This cowardice prevents the person from following their spiritual desire for exaltation. They fear that they are not worthy of the elevation that the soul longs for. And thus they weaken, degenerate and fall.” (N.8:58)

The Torah describes the falling of the people of Israel after the fearful report of the spies:

“All the Israelites complained to Moses and Aaron. The entire community was saying, ‘We wish we had died in Egypt! We should have died in this desert! Why is God bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will be captives! It would be best to go back to Egypt!’

The people started saying to one another, ‘Let’s appoint a [new] leader to go back to Egypt’.”  (BaMidbar 14:2-4)

And return  to be slaves again.

How do we repair this tragic failing to honor our own deepest potential for greatness?

In Rav Kook’s revolutionary 1903 book “To The Confused Of The Generation”, Rav Kook writes:

“The foundation of life is to harness the power of action and doing-each person in their own way and each society in its own way…Often many obstacles can prevent one from fulfilling their own life path fully…One must overcome these with all one’s might...All the obstacles in the world cannot prevent one from living their lives fully when they are walking in the good and Godly path that will bring them to their fulfillment…We must not be afraid that this will not be possible for us. We are confident that God’s kindness and caring will not leave us.(P. 240) (underlining added)

And thus Rav Kook wrote to a conference of Jerusalem rabbis in 1908:

“[It is incumbent upon us] to draw the dew of the lights of our beloved land in a free flowing way that refines and sanctifies every spirit and being…The foundation of our exilic lowliness is our inability to fully acknowledge the Land of Israel, its importance and its wisdom. Thus we cannot repair ‘חטא המרגלים-the sin of the spies’ who “spoke badly about the land” (BaMidbar 13:32) unless we speak of and declare to the whole world the Land of Israel’s splendor and majesty, holiness and honor.” (Letters 1:96).

In “The Great Call: To The Land of Israel” a public declaration to Am Israel that Rav Kook wrote in Yaffo, 1907, we find:

“We have a great obligation to awaken the ancient love for Tzion.

That eternal love from the primordial days is now burning in the holy hearts of our people wherever they are. It is upon us to battle with all our might against the hate for the Holy Land…It is upon us to destroy the with a power spiritual force and with the eternal holiness of this beloved land- הזוהמה של המרגלים-the toxicity of the spies.  

המרגליות-this ‘spyfulness’ is struggling [to impose it’s fear-filled perspective] with all its remaining strength. However we can confidently say-in the name of Creator Of The World who chose this beloved land- that this is the final flare-up of the wick [of ‘spyfulness’] before it is completely extinguished.

The powerful affection, the love of Tzion and Yerushalayim will manifest its path to reality…The word of our God will be established forever.”

We are here to live fully. We must ensure that ‘spyfulness’-the powerful tendency to focus on our weakness and the strength of our opposition- not dominate our life. We must understand that we are at core created ‘בצלם אלוקים-in the Divine Image’ and no force in existence can prevent our yearning, acting for and manifesting the highest good. “The word of our God will be established forever.”

More Posts on This Topic