Meraglim, Mafilim and Israel’s Ultimate Potential

The Desert: Home Sweet Home

Our sefarim hakedoshim, the works rooted in kabalistic teachings, tell us that the Meraglim wanted to stay in the desert, not because of the beautiful scenery, but because life in the desert was a particularly lofty spiritual existence. In the desert, God provided food and shelter and protection. Their every earthly need was miraculously taken care of. Their only concern, and the focus of all their efforts, was to soar higher and higher in their closeness to Hashem.

For the nation in the desert, entering the land of Israel was like the neshama descending into the body. With the desert behind them, what would lay ahead would be a life of toil and work and pain and struggles. Life in Israel, life in the “real world,” requires enormous efforts to survive and make a living; it requires constant work, as well as work on one’s middot, one’s character, and the work of derech eretz, of interacting with integrity and honesty and discipline. And in the desert, none of these sorts of effort were necessary.

The spies thought that entering the land would be tantamount to sinning. It would be the willful diminution of spirituality, a regression, not an advancement, of the spiritual state of Am Yisrael. As a result, they were repulsed by Eretz Yisrael—by eretz chemda—the most precious of all lands, and so they disparaged it. In this sense, “a land that devours it’s inhabitants” meant, “a land that would swallow up the people in physicality and overwhelm all we have become spiritually.”

Up There, Not Down Here

The Meraglim were mistaken, and their mistake was rooted in thinking that Godliness resides primarily in the rarefied air of the higher dimensions, dimensions that are infused with brilliant, pristine spirituality. They thought that this world, the world of every day physical living, and the world of elevated spiritual existence, are diametrically opposed. And to an extent they were correct. It’s true that with birth, the soul descends from a realm of pure spirituality to a realm where at any moment one can become consumed by the needs and urges of the body.

It’s true, there is something startling about “forcing” an innocent neshama into the confines of a physical body and a physical life. One can easily look at the soul in this world like a caged bird. Where once it could soar unencumbered, now it is imprisoned by the shackles of a body and it’s needs, and a physical life and it’s relentless demands. However, there is an even deeper truth. The truth is that entanglement with this world actually offers an opportunity for unique growth, and unique closeness to God, that can’t be accessed in any other way.

In this world, one doesn’t just instinctively live a spiritual existence, rather one chooses to live a Godly life; to uplift and inspire others, and to breathe spirituality into an otherwise mundane existence; to not just be in harmony with the spiritual world, but to ennoble and elevate the physical world. In the higher worlds, the soul basks in God’s presence. In this world, the soul and the body together—the person—becomes an extension of God, an emissary of God’s Will, and a partner with Hashem in creation. In partnering with God, we become like God. We become co-creative forces that, together with Hashem, move this physical world closer and closer to it’s ultimate completion and fulfillment. And this was the essence of what entering the land of Israel was, and is, all about.

A Light Unto the Nations

In becoming a nation with a land, in a sense, a nation like any other, the Jewish nation in the land of Israel is able to become a nation unlike any other: A nation that, like all others, lives in the context of the physical world, yet imbues that world with the ohr of Godliness, and thus, becomes a radiant source of enlightenment for all mankind. Had we remained in the desert there would never have been a common denominator with the rest of the world, and no potential to both bring Godliness into the world, and elevate and inspire the world. This fundamental misperception of where ultimate Godliness and ultimate spiritual potential reside—up there, and not down here—was the fatal mistake of the Meraglim. The Meraglim saw two distinct worlds, the higher world of the soul, and the lower physical world of the body. What they failed to see, was that God was calling them to the highest world; a physical world infused and directed and refined and elevated by the world of the soul.

Now That We Know, Let Us Ascend

After the decree that the nation would not be able to enter the land, there were those who realized that they were about to lose the greatest of opportunities, and so they took it upon themselves to insist that the people ascend to the land. Moshe told them, “Don’t go up, for Hashem is not among you.” But they ignored Moshe and were determined to enter the land no matter what. Why? Because they thought that to enter the land, and to build the nation, did not require God’s Presence. They thought they could do it on their own by virtue of kochi v’otzem yadi alone—by virtue of their own efforts, whether God was involved or not.

These people, the Mafilim, the Insisters, made a similar mistake as the Meraglim. They too saw two distinct worlds, God’s world, and man’s world. They both saw a world up there, a world down here, and a barrier that kept the two from ever meeting. And so, the Meraglim sought to remain exclusively in God’s world, and they were wrong. The Mafilim sought to immerse themselves in this world, with or without the Presence and partnership of God, and they too were terribly mistaken.

And As For Our Times

In our era, clearly, there are those who see the establishment of the State of Israel as being solely the work of man’s efforts. This is the world of physicality, of labor and effort, and it’s our labor, our devotion, and our building that created this country. God? That’s another story, not of this world, and not part of building this state. And, just like we built it on our own, so we will continue to develop it on our own; and so it will realize it’s great potential as an outgrowth of who we are and what we want, and not as an expression of any deeper reality, of any ratzon Hashem. That was the Mafilim.

On the other hand, there are those who seek to separate themselves from the this-worldly nuts-and-bolts building of a country, a society, and all that is necessary for the nation of Israel to become the light-unto-the-nations, nation of Israel. That was the Meraglim.

The tikun ha’shalem, the complete fulfillment of Am Yisrael’s potential as a spiritually centered nation on the stage of human history, will only be found in the understanding that Hashem is the sovereign Presence both of the heavens and the earth. Yes, God’s ohr shines bright in the absence of involvement with the distractions and burdens of this world, but His brightest light, so to speak, shines when it illuminates all worlds, and every dimension; the higher world, and the lower, the physical and the spiritual, together. Shalem, complete, shining; in every place, every realm, and in every corner of this life. In this world, in this land, and in relationship to the rest of the world in a way that shows a path to suffusing Godliness and goodness into this world, and thereby joining heaven to earth, for the elevated benefit of all God’s creations.

L’sheiym yichud Kudsha Brich Hu V’shinteih

This joining of heaven and earth.

This joining of the heavenly Torah with the down-to-earth needs and requirements of God’s sovereignty in this world.

This infusion of kedusha and tahara within the world’s physicality, and ours.

This is the key to our life, and the ultimate accomplishment of our potential, here, in the land of Israel.

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Translated by Shimon Apisdorf