Walter G. Wasser

Facing Giants: Faith and Duty in Modern Israel

The story of the twelve spies sent by Moshe to scout the land of Israel is both well-known and deeply instructive. Upon their return, they brought back enormous fruits, and their report was filled with fear and doubt about the land’s inhabitants, leading to the Israelites wandering in the desert for another 40 years.

An interesting point from the Midrash tells us that the fruits brought back by the spies were abnormally large, requiring multiple people to carry them. At first glance, this seems like a whimsical detail, a story that children might find amusing. However, there is a deeper meaning here.

The giant fruits symbolize the immense challenges and the great potential that the land holds. The land of Israel is described as a place with giant fortified cities and powerful inhabitants. The spies saw themselves as tiny grasshoppers in comparison. This perception of being small in the face of great obstacles is crucial. It wasn’t just about physical giants but about the perceived insurmountability of the challenges ahead.

The key lesson here is that despite the daunting obstacles, the land’s blessings are proportionately immense. The fruits are not just physically large but symbolize the tremendous rewards that come from overcoming great difficulties. The sweetness of the land’s produce is a metaphor for the profound spiritual and material blessings that come from possessing and holding onto the land.

This ancient story holds significant lessons for our present-day challenges in Israel. Just as in the times of the spies, Israel today faces significant threats from surrounding nations and internal struggles. The land of Israel has always been at the crossroads of great empires and powerful nations. This makes it a challenging place to hold and maintain.

Yet, the promise from the Torah is clear. If we keep Hashem’s commandments and stay true to the Torah, we will find unexpected success. This doesn’t mean that we should expect miracles without effort. It means that our faith and adherence to the Torah give us the strength and resilience to face and overcome these challenges.

The story of the spies teaches us about perspective. When we see ourselves as small and our challenges as insurmountable, we are defeated before we begin. However, when we recognize the potential for immense blessings that come with overcoming these challenges, we are motivated to strive and succeed.

In today’s context, whether dealing with external threats from hostile nations or internal conflicts, the lesson remains the same. We must remain steadfast in our faith and our commitment to the Torah. This faith will guide us and provide the strength needed to navigate and overcome the difficulties we face.

Expanding on this, let’s consider the broader implications of the spies’ report. The negative report of the ten spies led to a national crisis of faith among the Israelites. This crisis wasn’t merely about fear of the physical dangers but reflected a deeper spiritual and psychological struggle. The spies’ inability to trust in Hashem’s promise revealed a lack of faith that paralyzed an entire generation.

This lack of faith is not a historical relic but a recurring theme in Jewish history and, indeed, in our own lives. How often do we encounter challenges that seem insurmountable? How often do we feel like grasshoppers, small and powerless, in the face of overwhelming odds?

The story of the spies is a cautionary tale about the power of perception and the importance of maintaining faith in the face of adversity. It’s a reminder that our attitudes and beliefs profoundly influence our ability to overcome obstacles. The negative outlook of the spies spread fear and despair, while the positive and faithful outlook of Yehoshua and Caleb offered hope and courage.

This brings us to another critical point: the role of leadership and communal responsibility. Yehoshua and Caleb’s courage was not just personal bravery; it was an example of true leadership. They saw the same giants and fortified cities as the other spies, but their faith in Hashem and His promises gave them the strength to advocate for taking on the challenge.

In our communities, we need leaders like Yehoshua and Caleb who can inspire faith and courage. We also need to recognize our responsibility to support and uplift one another. Just as fear and negativity can spread quickly and cause widespread despair, so too can faith and positivity. Our collective attitudes can shape our communal resilience and success.

Let us also consider the personal applications of these lessons. In our own lives, we face personal “giants” and “fortified cities” – whether they are health issues, financial struggles, or personal conflicts. The story of the spies teaches us that our perception of these challenges and our faith in overcoming them are crucial.

By staying true to our values and maintaining our faith, we can find the strength to face and conquer our personal challenges. This doesn’t mean that the path will be easy, but it assures us that the rewards for perseverance and faith are great.

In reflecting on these timeless lessons, we should commit to seeing the potential blessings in our challenges. We must support and inspire one another with faith and courage, just as Yehoshua and Caleb did. And we must hold fast to the promise that with Hashem’s help, no obstacle is insurmountable.

Now, let’s relate this to our current situation in Israel. Today, Israel faces formidable enemies in Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. These threats can seem as intimidating as the giants seen by the spies. Hamas continues to launch rockets, Hezbollah builds up its arsenal in Lebanon, and Iran persists in its nuclear ambitions and support for terror groups. These are significant and real threats that can make us feel like those grasshoppers facing giants.

However, the story of the spies teaches us not to be paralyzed by fear. We must recognize the greatness of the challenges but also remember the potential for great blessings. The modern State of Israel, with its technological innovations, vibrant culture, and strong defense forces, is a testament to what can be achieved with faith and determination.

Just as Yehoshua and Caleb believed in the possibility of overcoming the giants and inheriting the land, we too must believe in our ability to defend our country and thrive despite the threats. Our faith in Hashem and commitment to the Torah provide us with the spiritual strength needed to face these modern giants. The story of the spies encourages us to trust in our ability to prevail, just as Israel has done time and time again throughout its history.

Moreover, we must acknowledge the immense responsibility we bear in protecting our land. This responsibility extends to all segments of our society, including the Haredi community. While religious devotion is essential, equating religiosity with refraining from military service is a misinterpretation of our duties. The Torah teaches us the importance of defending our people and our land. Throughout Jewish history, our greatest leaders and sages were often also warriors who took up arms to protect our nation.

The current struggle against enemies like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran requires the participation of all able-bodied individuals. We must resist the pull from certain Haredi elements that suggest piety is incompatible with military service. True religious devotion includes fulfilling our obligation to defend the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Serving in the IDF is not just a civic duty but a mitzvah – a sacred commandment – to protect and preserve our nation.

As we reflect on the lessons from the story of the spies, let us also remember our collective responsibility. Just as Yehoshua and Caleb demonstrated faith and courage, let us also show our commitment to the land by supporting and encouraging military service as a vital expression of our dedication to Israel’s security and future.

Reference: England, J. “The God of Israel will Smash the Cedars of Lebanon.” Machon Shilo, YouTube Video. Accessed 27 June 2024.

About the Author
The author is a specialist in nephrology and internal medicine and lives with his wife and family in Jerusalem.