Every year as we read the Torah portion, Shelach Lacha, which deals with the Sin of the Spies*, I am amazed from anew that Jews from all over the world hear the verses with their ears and not with their hearts. They listen to the words of Joshua and Calev, “The Land that we passed through to spy, the Land is very, very good. If HaShem desires us, He will bring us to the Land, give to us a Land that flows with milk and honey” (Numbers, Chapter 14, verses 7 and 8). No matter how many times they hear this, many Jews living outside of Israel remain unmotivated to come to that Land that is figuratively flowing with milk and honey. Somehow, my husband and I were among those who were blessed to hear the significance of Shelach Lecha. We moved to Israel and I am thankful that we did so.
Eighty years ago, on Shabbat Shelach Lecha, my father, may he rest in peace, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. It was a simple affair. He lived in a small village near Frankfort, Germany and elaborate celebrations were not the norm. Besides, Hitler had come to power five months earlier. There was no need to call attention to any religious practice.
Four years later my father finally succeeded in leaving Germany and coming to America. His brothers and parents arrived a year later. As a young teenager I once asked him why they did not go to Israel. After all, his Aunt Emma and Aunt Rosa, two of his mother’s sisters, had moved to Israel in the early thirties. Before answering me, my father smiled at my innocence.
“It was not easy to get entry certificates to enter Palestine, as it was then called. We had Uncle Jake (his father’s oldest brother) already well established in America. He was willing and able to sponsor us so, of course, we came here.” As a patriotic Yankee my father was satisfied with his choice for almost seventy years. He continued to ignore the message of Shelach Lecha.
And then came the day that the doctor told him he had only two months to live. I, his only child, was living halfway around the world. We invited him to come live with us and were euphoric when he accepted our offer. My father made Aliyah at the age of eighty-six. It could not have been easy for him to leave behind his friends, lifestyle, and the place that had been his home for seven decades. My father never complained. Instead, he gave us a powerful lesson in the meaning of appreciation.
The doctor’s two months turned into eleven and my father felt good for seven of those months. Some people thought it was because he was surrounded by the love of his family. I like to think that it was our love combined with the special air of the Land of Israel. My father had come full circle from his Bar Mitzvah Shabbat. With less than eighteen hours of flights he entered the land flowing with milk and honey. What had been an unrealistic pipe dream for most Jews in 1937 is now a most obtainable reality. If old men like my father could make Aliyah so can everyone.
This Shabbat please pay attention when the Torah portion is read. Hear the words of Joshua and Calev. Listen with your heart, not just your ears, and seriously think about coming home.
My father with three of his grandchildren in the Land of milk and honey
*The Sin of the Spies is a very complicated subject and volumes have been written about it. This is not the medium to explain it. Briefly, before the Jewish people were to leave the desert and enter into the Land of Israel they became nervous. They approached Moses and requested that spies be sent ahead to check out the Land. Moses sent twelve spies, leaders from each of the tribes. Unfortunately ten of those leaders were lacking in faith. Even though HaShem had preformed miracle after miracle for the Jewish people they did not believe that He would be able to protect them in the Land. Their misguided belief was that they should remain in the desert. And so they maligned the Land of Israel. The tragic result was that HaShem killed the ten misguided spies and decreed the Jewish people would stay in the desert for forty years. All the men over the age of twenty would die before entering the Land. And the date that the spies returned with their evil reports would become a dark day of Jewish history. It is on that date, the ninth of Av, that numerous tragedies occurred including the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition, and the start of World War One, the precursor to the Holocaust.