Here is an excerpt from a lecture of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, of blessed memory, explaining to his students at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem how it can happen that Torah-observant Jews can turn their backs on the very foundation of the entire Torah, the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael.
Rav Tzvi Yehuda said that just as there are levels of Torah knowledge, there are levels of emunah – faith in G-d. There are people with great belief, and there are others of rickety belief, stemming from a mistaken understanding of the Torah.
“Emunah is certainty,” Rav Tzvi Yehuda explained. “Contrasting this is emunah stemming from philosophical inquiry alone, which can bring about a situation of partial faith. This is the false emunah, which is mentioned in the Torah in connection with the Spies.”
The Spies were the leaders of the Children of Israel who were sent ahead to spy out the Land of Israel after the Jews had departed from Egypt. They came back with a negative report, saying that while the Land itself was good, the Jews would be eaten up by the fierce inhabitants of the Land, intimating that Hashem did not have the power to protect them. Fearing to journey on to the Promised Land, they persuaded the newly-formed Jewish Nation to rebel against Hashem’s command to conquer and dwell in the Holy Land. Their sin caused the destruction of that generation in the wilderness and led to the destruction of the Temples and exile amongst the nations, (Yalkut Shimoni 1:743).
The Torah calls the Spies rebels for not obeying Hashem and for murmuring in their tents against the Land of Israel. The Midrash explains that the Spies spread their deadly report in the following manner: they would go into the tent of a Jew and describe the fearsome giants they had seen in the Land, instilling fear in his heart until the whole family cried out in the fear. Hearing the loud weeping, the neighbors would hurry to the tent to find out what was happening. When they heard the frightening report, they too broke out in weeping when they returned to their homes. Their next-door neighbors, in turn, rushed over to discover the source of the great lamentation. In this manner, the Spies succeeded in spreading their poison from tent to tent, weakening the hearts of the Jewish People, in order to discourage them from making aliyah.
HaRav Tzvi Yehuda said:
“Referring to their sin, the Torah says, ‘In this matter, you did not believe in the L-rd your G-d’ (Devarim, 1:32). In this matter, in not making aliyah to Israel, they did not have emunah. In other matters, they did believe. They believed, and yet they didn’t believe. This is a state of half-emunah.
“In contrast, the foundation of faith is seen in Avraham Avinu, as it says, ‘And he had emunah in the L-rd (Bereshit, 15:6). He wasn’t a half-believer. He believed with a complete faith, with ‘emunah shlema,’ in the language of the Rambam (Thirteen Principles of Faith).
“The Spies had a deficiency in their emunah, as it says, ‘Yet you would not go up to Israel (Devarim, 1:26). You have emunah, yet in this matter of aliyah, you don’t have belief.
“There are types of ‘Tzaddikim who don’t believe,’ as it says in the Talmud (Sotah 48B). These religious people select words of the Torah and choose between the commandments, saying, ‘This matter is arranged properly by the Almighty. It is very nice, it pleases me, it’s easy to do, therefore I agree to abide. However, this matter is not so pleasing in my eyes.’ This approach to Torah leads to heresy.
“In contrast to this selective Judaism comes the true approach of, ‘Everything that the L-rd said, we will do and listen’ (Shemot, 24:7) We will do it, whether it pleases us or not, whether we intellectually agree, or whether the matter is above our logic.
“When the Torah is seen in its true light, there is no criticism of Hashem and opposition to His commandments. In place of criticism comes cleaving, harmony, and complete emunah.”
Rav Tzvi Yehuda emphasized that this piecemeal practice of Torah, as exemplified by the tragedy of the Spies, occurs when the Torah isn’t learned in the proper fashion.
We understand that aliyah is a demanding and difficult mitzvah. We understand that fear is a difficult emotion to master. The Torah itself allows frightened soldiers to return home from the battleground, lest they melt the hearts of their brothers. However, people who declare that there is no mitzvah today to make Aliyah lead other Jews astray and perpetuate the sin of the Spies. Behind their convoluted arguments is a simple lack of belief. That’s the source of their fear, as it says in the Torah, “Yet in this thing (making aliyah to Israel) you did not believe in the L-rd your G-d (Devarim, 1:32). Sure they keep kosher. Sure they keep Shabbat. But when it comes to the mitzvah of living in Israel, they suddenly get cold feet.
To have complete belief in Hashem, and to “follow after Hashem completely” (Devarim, 1:36,) a Jew must live in Israel, whether or not there are frightening giants there, or idol worshippers, or corrupt politicians, or obligatory army service.
That’s what it says in the Torah. It’s as simple as that.