Sunday 14 June 2009

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

The Torah reading that was read in Israel over last Shabbat was "Shelach Lecha". Although many readings are closely associated to the Land of Israel, this reading is probably most closely associated with our homeland.

This is the reading where Moses sent his group of spies to "scout" or reconnoitre the land. One spy was sent from each of the twelve tribes. They spent 40 days on their mission to investigate the promised land, after which they returned to Moses, Aaron and the Children of Israel to report back on their findings. One by one, the spies provide pessimistic reports about the land and the people living there. This caused panic amongst the listeners. All the spies brought similar stories except for Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Yefuneh. Not only did they provide an upbeat report, they declared that the land is "very very good", using superlatives that are seldom used in the Torah.

It is clear that all twelve spies went to the same place. So, there was no case of some parts being good and other parts being bad. It is a classic case of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Everybody saw the same things with their eyes. Some liked what they saw more than others. It seems to me that the first recorded "aliyah pilot tour" in history set the tone for all future pilot tours, and indeed for the experiences of people making aliyah to live in the promised land.

If we fast-forward approximately 3,000 years, it would appear as though nothing has changed since the twelve spies first set foot in the Land of Israel. Those who were somewhat sceptical or indifferent before their arrival to investigate, reported back in a sceptical and indifferent manner upon their return. Those who were believers and enthusiastic before their trip returned with an enthusiastic and optimistic report of what they had seen. In this case, the lower the enthusiasm and the expectation, the lower the outcome. The same is also true once people come to live in Israel. The more positive and optimistic the outlook, the greater prospect of success.

Israel is undoubtedly a difficult country to survive in. The combination of constant security threats, so many diverse cultures and culture clashes, language difficulties and economic challenges make this country tougher than most to survive in. And yet, there are so many positive aspects of living here, as a Jew and a human being. As much as I know that there are people who arrive with a positive outlook and who are ultimately broken down by the system, I am pleased that there are more people who manage to survive and raise children and grandchildren in the Holy Land. I am also often astonished to hear even about non-Jewish people who choose to make Israel their home, and love every moment of living here. Fortunately, and unlike the spies, those with good stories are in the majority.

Perhaps the story of the 12 spies was a precursor and warning of what would come in the future? The naysayers of the spies were condemned in history as "sinners" for speaking out against the promised land, and for doubting G-d's promise.

Whilst I don't necessarily feel that those in the modern day who have not succeeded in making their lives here should be condemned in the same way, it is my hope that the followers of Caleb and Joshua will continue to be in the majority.

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