If news services like the Yated and Matzav had been around at the time the events of parshas Shelach were happening, one wonders what their headlines would have been like.
Consider the scenario from this perspective. The twelve spies sent by Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, have just returned from their whirlwing tour of Eretz Yisrael, the very first Birthright trip if you think about it. All of them are pillars of the community. Remember that the Torah describes them each as a nasi and an ish, terms of renown and distinction.
Yet when it comes time for reporting, ten of the them - a clear majority - make the plain case that aliyah to Israel is simply not an option for the people. Through a combination of selective reporting and outright scare tactics they convince the nation en masse that crossing the border is a bad idea. God's promises? Feh! Moshe Rabeinu's assurances? Feh! Within almost no time at all everyone was complaining about the idea and rallying against Moshe Rabeinu's leadership. We hear of only two prominent people who oppose this sudden shift in opinion:
So imagine the Yated and Matzav headlines. "Virtually all 'Gedolim' agree: Zionism a bad idea!" "'Gedolim': Don't move to Eretz Yisrael!" "'Embrace a return to Egypt' say the leaders of the generation!" Imagine being there and saying that you think that trusting Moshe Rabeinu is a good idea. How many folks would angrily snap back at you "But all the 'Gedolim' are against him!" And if you pointed out that, in fact, two very important leaders, Yehoshua and Caleiv, supported Moshe Rabeinu, you'd be told that they could be safely ignored. After all, one of his student so how could you expect anything else and the other was his brother-in-law.
No, it would be the general consensus that going to Israel was bad, certainly not what God truly wanted. Rav Avi Shafran himself would probably post something on Cross Currents noting Moshe Rabeinu's "true" track record and scoffing at the idea that he knew what God really wanted.
Orthodox Jews are, by nature, a very conservative people when it comes to change. A lot of that is tied into the importance of what we practice. The observance of Torah is the fulfillment of God's will in this world. It is a task designed to bring the Divine light into creation. It also charts the path for our immortal souls in the Next World after we die. With stakes like that care and precision are quite important. As a result, when a situation arises that demands a change in how we view things we are likely to be quite skeptical or hesitant to change anything we're doing as a result.
One of the explanations I've heard regarding the reason for the Spies' treason and Bnei Yisrael's immediate acceptance of it was because of this factor. Life in the desert was quite good for our ancestors. Man and quail every day, fresh water right outside the tent door, handy clouds of glory shielding one from the son, clothes and shoes that never wore out and all day to appreciate the ziv haShechina and learn Torah. Although it's rarely presented in this way, that time in our history was as close as living people could get to the ideal existence.
The logic is also simple. If it is our goal to be a Torah-learning people first and only then the situation in the desert was vastly preferable to that of living in Israel. In Israel things would change. Fields had to be ploughed and irrigated. Water had to be drawn. Homes had to be built. Wars had to be fought. How could one sit and learn all day in that kind of environment? It could be every easy to argue that entering Israel would be a step back for the Am HaNivchar if immersion in Torah learning was the true goal of the nation.
There is another factor to consider, one which is also rarely mentioned. Leaders in any given social situation almost always prefer things not to change. After all, change might present a threat to their leadership or vision for society. Didn't you ever wonder why, 33 years after taking over Iran the government there still talks about "the revolution" as if it's still happening? Few leaders to change things around him in such a way that he loses his power, even if it's for the good of society. Call it the Mikhail Gorbachev fumble.
Then remember that the Spies were leaders. Would they be once the people entered Israel, decentralized and settled down? Would they face challenges to their positions? Would circumstance change how they did things? And would they reject change because of these possibilities?
All this is quite relevant because, as many people either happily or unhappily acknowledge, the world has changed around us in huge ways in the last 125 years. For those who still haven't noticed, Israel is once again ruled by a Jewish government. It is the largest community of our people on the planet. Every corner of the Land is flourishing with batei medrash and yeshivos. We live in unprecedented times that present us with opportunities unheard of by us for 1900 years.
And yet for many of us in the Torah observant community, all this is ignored or viewed with disdain. No one would propose that the current State of Israel is living a Jewish ideal or that many of its citizens are living properly observant lives. With the opportunity for kiddush HaShem has come opportunity for chilul HaShem of equal and opposite magnitude. But for these folks the latter is all they see.
With that selective vision they also invoke canards that are accepted as truths due to frequency of repetition. Lines like "it's against the Three Oaths" or "all the 'Gedolim' were and are against Zionism!" get tossed around as justification for ignoring our God-given (literally) opportunity to advance history towards the Final Redemption. Nothing special is happening here according to them and we need see no special significance in the events of the last century. New York and Lakewood are just as holy, maybe even more so.
When one reviews last week's parasha it's sad to think that this refusal to see the hand of God in history, or to even willfully line up against it while claiming to be His greatest servants and defenders, is actually nothing new for us.
The Spies aren't even the only example. It seems that every time we are called to return home and claim our Land there is resistance. Those with an education in the books of Ezra and Nechemiah will recall how poorly the great aliyah in those days went. Although we have no alternative Jewish records from that time one can only imagine the reason a tiny minority of the Jews living in Babylon returned to Israel despite the direct encouragement of the Persian emperor. Were they similar to those of today? Was life in golus so comfortably by that point that they couldn't or wouldn't countenance a change in the situation?
If I was a mussar kind of guy I would point out that it one of our axioms that whenever a great chance for us to fulfill God's will is presented to us the yezter hara receives a corresponding boost in strength in order to create a real challenge in realizing the opportunity. As the person is, so is his yetzer. If you combine that then imagine the force of deception that would have arisen to combat the first stirrings of the Final Redemption 125-150 years ago. Is it then any wonder that this deception could ensnare so many leaders and convince them that anti-Zionism was the most pleasing philosophy to serve God with?
"It's against the Three Oaths!" Really, which Oath was violated?
"All the 'Gedolim' were and are against Zionism!" Really? There weren't any great authorities with trans-community importance who didn't support the idea of Jews returning to Israel to rebuild the Land?
"Well they were a minority. Almost all the Gedolim were against Zionism!" And almost all the Spies were against Zionism too. And who was right?
When confronted with the superior numbers of the Reformatives and our refusal to recognize the legitimacy of their religious practices, we remind people that Judaism is not a democracy. The logical extension of this goes further. Lines like "All the 'Gedolim' say..." have no intrinsic weight of their own. It is possible for the greatest, most pious men to line up on the wrong side of Jewish history.
And the results are never encouraging. In the time of the Spies it meant an entire generation wandering through the desert looking for that dropped penny until they died. In Ezra's time the lack of interest in returning cost us a chance to have the Final Redemption at that point. Even the Shechinah had no presence in the Second Temple as a result.
The paradigm has changed. The tafkid of the Religious Zionist community must be to push this concept forcefully. Forget Aish and Chabad. We should be promoting outreach, connecting to our disconnected brethren and forcefully promoting the truth that our return to Zion is not an aberration or error of history but part of fulfilling the Divine Will. And we should remind people of the consequences should we fail.