Kahane on the Parsha
Rabbi Meir Kahane- Parshat Shlach
PIKUACH NEFESH IS IRRELEVANT
"Send forth men to spy out the Land of Canaan" (Numbers 13:1). ("All 'men' mentioned in Scripture are men of importance."--Rashi)
"So I took 12 men from among you, one from each tribe" (Deuteronomy 1:23). ("From the choicest of you, from the most excellent."--Rashi)
The Children of Israel approach the Land of Canaan. It is only a matter of days before they enter it. They turn to Moses, asking him to send spies to search out the land. Moses is not displeased, for after all, one does not count on miracles. Moses agrees. But he knows that the word of G-d is true and unbreakable. He chooses, therefore, not men of great military or technical knowledge in intelligence work, but rather "men." Men of importance; men of quality; THE VERY BEST among the Jews, the heads of the tribes. These are learned men, these are righteous men, these are men who studied Torah at the feet of Moses. These are the leaders of the generation.
"Go," says Moses, "and spy out the land." He has no doubts or fears. After all, with whom are we dealing here? Little people? People of small mentalities and vision? No, we deal here with the scholars and great ones of the generation.
They return. THEY TELL THE TRUTH. They tell the entire truth. It is a fine land, a wonderful land, truly a blessed country. BUT WE CANNOT GO UP TO IT; WE CANNOT CONQUER IT. Why? Because "the people that dwell in the land are powerful and the cities are fortified and very great, and we saw the children of giants there...and we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so did we appear in their eyes" (Numbers 13:28-33).
And the people heard these words and began to weep. All night they weep; it is the night of the ninth of Av. They gather about Moses and cry out: "What are you telling us to do, to go up to the land? Surely we will be killed! Why did we leave Egypt? LET US GO BACK..."
The Torah is NOT a book of stories meant to entertain or titillate. "The deeds of the forefathers are signs for the children," the Rabbis tell us (Tanchuma, Lech Lecha 9). They are there for us to learn what to do, and what not. Every story is a lesson for our times. Let us see what occurred.
Is it possible that the chosen men of scholarship and greatness defied the word of the L-rd with impunity? Was there some heedless revolt here? Hardly. The great heads of the tribes looked about the land and saw exactly what they said they saw: powerful people, powerful cities, dangerous giants. Of course they wished to enter the Land of Israel and settle in their own country. But there was something that stood in their way. DANGER! TRUE DANGER! A danger to their VERY LIVES and the lives of the Jewish people!
And so they ruled halachically: DANGER TO LIFE TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER TERRITORY. Danger to life takes precedence over the Land of Israel itself. "Let us appoint for ourselves a leader and go back to Egypt" (Numbers 14:4). Not, G-d forbid, to assimilate, but rather - in the face of the danger of war - to build for ourselves a Jewish community there in Egypt. One that will be religious, one that will have an eruv; one that will have very kosher meat, on that will be a Crown and a Borough and a New Zion.
And the Almighty hears the halachic ruling and asks: "How long will this people FAIL to believe in me and in My sings and power???" (ibid. 14:11-12).
What is G-d saying? Why is He angry? Is there not justification for giving up land, the entire country, in the face of danger? Do not the mitzvot of living in the land and the prohibition against giving up the land pale into secondariness in the face of the great admonition to flee from danger?
But the Almighty has long since taught the Jews that this is not so. He lays down a mitzvah that is known as milchemet mitzvah, an obligatory war. It is a war that is binding upon the people and that needs no Sanhedrin, no prophet, no Temple. It is a mitzvah that declares: to conquer the Land of Israel, to repel an enemy that comes and demands your land or who refuses to give up a part of the land, is an OBLIGATORY WAR. Danger to life? Danger to life transcending and cancelling the mitzvah of an obligatory war? The contradiction is obvious. Is there a war that is NOT dangerous??? Is there a war in which we do NOT face danger??? Is there a rule that says: We must go to war unless it becomes dangerous! Say this and you permanently uproot the entire concept and mitzvah from the Torah.
Of course, wars are dangerous, and of course, there are times when the enemy is powerful and more so than the Jew. But the very essence of an obligatory war is to manifest faith in the Almighty, to sanctify His Name by going to war with the enemy and by triumphing against the natural odds. An obligatory war is Kiddush Hashem. It is the PROOF and MANIFESTATION of our FAITH!!!
And so the Almighty looks at the great men who are tiny of faith and cries out: How much longer will it be before they learn to believe in Me??? How much longer will it be before they have the faith to leave their Exile and come willingly up to the difficult land? How much longer will it be before they rule that one is not allowed to give up one inch of My land and that the concept of "danger to life" is irrelevant in the case of an obligatory war whose purpose is to manifest faith in and sanctify the Name of G-d? How much longer must G-d wait for men of faith???
The Jewish Press, 1979
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