Chet HaEgel and chet HaMeraglim . The golden calf and the spies are the twin sins that characterized the fickleness of the generation that left Egypt . The tremendous faith of Am Yisroel in following Moshe to the desert, their eagerness to accept the Torah, their tremendous charitable giving during the construction of the mishkan, was tempered by constant complaining and bickering, their pettiness, their lack of vision and at times lack of belief. Yet G-d could apparently forgive all of their sins save one; their uncritical acceptance of the majority negative report vis a vis the land of Israel .
Surely chet haegel, idolatry is a much greater sin than listening to those sent to discover the merits of the land. Was it not a prudent decision to follow the majority report of twelve experts hand picked by none other than Moshe Rabbeinu? Would it be unreasonable to assume that the prohibition of gossip, like all mitzvoth between man and man, apply only to living human beings not to inanimate objects. And even if this is not so could such gossip be worse that idolatry? Is not the central tenet of Judaism to believe and accept the commandments of the One G-d who at Sinai proclaimed "thou shall have no other gods beside me". Was this not the entire purpose of the exodus, of Divine revelation? No wonder G-d wanted to destroy the Jewish people for this most heinous of sins - one that requires us to martyr ourselves rather than violate. Is it not surprising that G-d was willing to forgive His honour, yet the honour of the land of Israel was inviolable?
Our Sages found this troubling and, basing themselves on a close reading of the chumash, linked these two sins finding elements of idolatry within the episode of the spies. "We cannot go forward against those people. they are too strong mimenu" (13:31). While the standard translation of mimenu is 'from us' it can be - and is - translated by Rashi as "than Him". This was not an opinion on the merits of the Israeli army but rather a heretical proclamation that even G-d was no match for the land. Upon hearing this "the people started saying to one another, 'Let's appoint a leader and go back to Egypt " (14:4). Our Sages understood this not so much as a plea to replace Moshe but as a cry for a new god, hence the desire to return to Egypt with its many gods. When Moshe pleaded, unsuccessfully, for G-d's mercy his prayer sounded very much like the thirteen attributes that had worked so well in gaining forgiveness for the chet haegel. "G-d is slow to anger great in love, and forgiving of sin and rebellion. He does not clear those who do not repent." (14:17).
Yom Kippur celebrates G-d's readiness to re-establish the covenant after the tragedy of the golden calf. Yet the opening plea for forgiveness on this solemn day, "forgive the sin of this nation" (14:20) is taken directly from the meraglim story. Clearly our tradition saw much more in the meraglim than a lack of desire for a piece of real estate.
The Talmud equates those who live outside the land of Israel with idolaters (Ketubot 110b). Worship of G-d is an all encompassing endeavour, not just when it is convenient or in times of need. We must establish our relationship with G-d on a personal, communal and national level. And this can only be fully done in the land of Israel . Rejecting an opportunity to set up a nation dedicated to the service of G-d is to be deficient in our duties, apparently a form of idolatry.
It is obvious that our national mitzvoth; establishing a morally upstanding army, a caring economic system, a social welfare and justice system that is sensitive to all, can only be done in the land of Israel. What is less obvious is that both on a communal and personal level settlement in the land of Israel is qualitatively different. Our Sages understood that Jews outside the land only have the status of individuals - a community can only truly be formed in the land of Israel . It is worth noting that the concept of a minyan - a community of ten men - is derived from the meraglim story; "How long shall this evil group exist" (14:26). Only with the planned entrance to the land could we could begin discussing forming communities. Unexpectedly, our Sages teach that even such personal mitzvoth as mezuzah, kashrut and Shabbat lack complete fulfilment in exile and are, sad to say, a form of preparation, as we await our return to the land.
Yet for all the importance of Israel we must remember that it is one of many mitzvot, albeit one that greatly increases our opportunities to worship G-d more fully. While G-d instructed Abraham to move to Israel , Abraham was chosen to establish a great nation so that he would teach his descendants to embody tzedakah and mishpat, righteousness and justice. Let us follow the teachings and example of Avraham Avinu. Shabbat Shalom.