Rabbi Dror Brama
Former Rosh Kollel in London
In this week’s parsha, Moshe describes Canaan in vivid colors. On one hand, the land is replete with goodness, but on the other hand, dangers abound. When describing the land’s threats, the Torah states:
“Hear, O Israel: Today you cross the Yarden to come dispossess nations greater and stronger than you; cities great and fortified to the heavens. A great and lofty people, children of giants; whom you knew and [of which] you heard, ‘Who can stand against the children of the giant.’” (Devarim 9:1-2)
The reader may be somewhat put off by this description. Yes, there are potential perils, but the meraglim (spies) were criticized for casting aspersions on Eretz Yisrael. How can the Torah itself then portray the threats so dramatically?
In the Midrash, the Chachamim explain that this pasuk is an overstatement:
“R’ Ami said, ‘The Torah spoke in the language of exaggeration.’” (BT Chulin 90b)
Rashi, on this pasuk, concurs:
“The k’tuvim(Scripture) spoke in the language of exaggeration.”
But this is even more astonishing. The holy Torah, which carefully measures every word, suddenly verges on fantasy and begins exaggerating? If the meraglim were forbidden from speaking in this manner, why is the Torah itself permitted to do so? Are not truth and accuracy binding Torah values?
A subsequent pasuk provides the answer:
“Do not say in your heart, when Hashem, your God, repels them from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness, Hashem brought me to inherit this land, and because of the wickedness of these nations, Hashem drives them out from before you.’” (Devarim 9:4)
Am Yisrael might think that inheriting Eretz Yisraelis dependent on a combination of our righteousness and the nations’ wickedness. Hence, the Torah declares, unequivocally, that our righteousness is irrelevant. The land is to be inherited in merit of the promise made to the Avot, together with the wickedness of the nations who Hashem is banishing from the land. Why must we understand that our righteousness does not impact our inheritance of the land?
The Torah stresses that Eretz Yisraelis a dangerous place, which is located in a hostile political-security neighborhood and which relies on rainfall – a notoriously irregular water source. In this environment, the establishment of mamlechet Yisrael(the kingdom of Yisrael) appears to be an unrealistic goal. Furthermore, the very idea of maintaining a long-term existence on such a complex tract of land – Eretz Yisrael serves as an intercontinental bridge, a flashpoint between empires, and a narrow fertile strip between the desert and the sea – is inconceivable, especially when one considers alternatives such as Canada or Uganda.
Realistically speaking, conquering the land and holding on to it are both irrational. The Torah notes that those entering the Land will encounter superhuman challenges. In this respect, the cities are truly “fortified to the heavens”. The region’s trials and tribulations defy human logic. Even today, one who observes our foreign enemies will inevitably ask oneself: Why do they conduct themselves in this manner? Would it not be more beneficial to them to act otherwise? Would it not be to their own advantage to end the hatred, killings, and explosions?
The ordinary system of justice and logic simply does not apply in our case:
“And you shall know today, that Hashem your God, He is the One Who passes before you, a consuming fire; He will destroy them, and He will subdue them before you; and you will dispossess them and eliminate them quickly, as Hashem spoke to you.” (Devarim 9:3)
The difficulties here are extraordinary, and thus the solution is similarly unnatural. Hashem purposefully chose to position Am Yisrael in a place where our basic existence is dependent on miracles and Divine intervention. Only in such a location can Am Yisrael fulfill its mission to serve as an example of a mamlechet kohanim vigoy kadosh(literally, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation). At the same time, “vihayah im shamo’a” (“and it will happen that if you listen”) determines life’s successes as well as natural, national currents. In this regard, everything is “to the heavens” – the fortified cities as well as our victories over them.
Usually, the Torah only provides us with the Divine viewpoint. It does not focus on the human perspective, except in unusual cases where the Torah wants to emphasize the differences between the human outlook and the Torah’s proposed outlook, which is based on miraculous Divine intervention. Such is the case with respect to the concerns and apprehensions about the Shemitah year, and such is also the case here, with respect to the concerns and apprehensions which precede Am Yisrael’s entrance to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah cites the human viewpoint – i.e. “words of exaggeration” – and then proposes the Divine alternative:
“For if you observe this entire mitzvah which I command you to perform it, to love Hashem, your God, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him. And Hashem will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. Every place where the soles of your feet shall tread will be yours: from the desert and the Lebanon, from the river, the Euphrates River, and until the western sea, will be your boundary. No man will stand up before you; Hashem your God will cast the fear of you and the dread of you on the face of the entire land upon which you will tread, as He spoke to you.” (Devarim 11:22-25)