It was a pivotal moment. Moses had sent the twelve spies into the land to search it out, to know what it’s people, cities, the agriculture, and basically what the overall layover was like. In the end, ten out of the twelve spies gave a bad public report about the land, causing upheaval in the nation, and in the end, an entire generation was sentenced to wander in the desert. What became known to us as, “The Sin of the Spies,” taking place on the Ninth of Av, the saddest and most tragic day in the Jewish year.
And yet, we could ask ourselves a simple question: What was so wrong with the desert? In our tradition, dwelling in the desert for the nation of Israel actually wasn’t so bad. G-d gave us everything–food that tasted better than anything anyone had ever eaten, clothes and shoes that never wore out, and not to mention the spiritual bliss of being under the teachings of the greatest prophet of all time and being led around by G-d… hearing His voice and seeing miracles and revelations that we today could only dream of! Yes. We honestly had it SUPER good in the wilderness and in our isolated spiritual comfort zone! Just us, Moshe Rabbeinu, and G-d! Indeed, it could be argued that our greatest goal in Judaism is closeness to Hashem.
Thus, if our goal was closeness to Hashem, why wasn’t the desert enough? Or even if He would have placed us out on some isolated island where no one would ever visit? Because G-d did not want us to be isolated from the rest of the world.
Indeed, when we open the Tanach, we find that it is full of statements talking about the other countries of the ancient world, and Hashem’s reputation with them. Moses, asking Hashem what Egypt, the super power of the ancient world would think if He blotted out the nation of Israel after taking them out of slavery (Exodus 32:11-12). In the Song of the Sea in which the nation of Israel breaks out in song of Hashem splitting the Red Sea, a list of apparently powerful chieftains and nations are given who heard and became terrified at the idea that such a wonderous event could happen (Exodus 15:14-15).
Indeed, later in Numbers, the nation takes on the mighty ancient Amorite Empire, on the eastern side of the Jordan before crossing over to the other side (Numbers 21:21-31). When we open into the books of the Prophets, though these are still spiritual accounts, they are nevertheless also great political and even international events happening in the ancient Middle East–wars and diplomacy between tribes, nations, countries and empires; kings, strategy, rebellions and coups. Granted, we must always remember that Tanach is not a history book, indeed it is a book of high connection to the Divine full of deep and hidden meanings–this should never be doubted. Nevertheless, it is a book of high connection to the Divine within a historical context. For better or for worse, a nation’s identity is rooted in it’s past. Thus, without understanding the historical context of all that is happening inside of the Tanach, we find ourselves with blurry vision in our learning.
And when this happens, we also find ourselves lacking in understanding of our identity, and this at best leads to a carelessness in the individual–at worst it leads to confusion, weakness, and a lack of healthy boundaries and self discipline, sabotaging the very mission for which we, the nation of Israel, were chosen.
But once again, we have to ask ourselves the bottom line question, if we are a “Kingdom of Priests,” why get involved with the international political world since we are meant to be such a spiritual people (Especially considering the Western idea of separation of church and state that we’ve grown to treasure so much in our diasporic lifestyles)? Why jump to the stage of the international theatre? Why bother with the Goyim when we can spend our time simply clinging to Hashem? Because we truly are souls within bodies, meant to become like angels.
One answer of many answers to this question comes from the Tanach, Isaiah’s pronouncement that we are to be a “Light unto the Nations” (Isaiah 49:6). While this pronouncement was made several centuries after the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan and conquered the land of Canaan, it should be known and acknowledged, as it already is by our sages, that this was always the intention form the beginning. I would ask the reader to take a moment again and look above at the picture of the map posted.
We were not only placed in an area that wasn’t so isolated, we, the People of Israel were placed in an area exactly between the two great cradles of civilization in the Middle East–Mesopotamia (Babylon, Asyria, modern day Iraq) and Egypt–exactly on the roads in which they would travel and conduct international trade with each other. We as a nation were placed in an area in which we could be the most effective in exerting our influence on the world: the forefront spotlight in the ancient international theatre–the ancient international world trade center. This is what the ancient land of Canaan was, and this is also why so many empires made such great effort to conquer and/or control it throughout the ancient world. I would also assert that when I refer to the ancient world, I am referring to before the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. Egypt, Hatti (Modern day Turkey and home of the ancient Hittites), the Sea Peoples (A Mediterranean people from whom the Philistines came from), Amorites, and more all vied for control of the ancient land of Israel/Canaan. This would also explain why we are constantly under attack from surrounding nations in the book of Judges. It is also why King Solomon in his wisdom was able to take control of the ancient Middle East through great diplomacy and bring such great prosperity to the nation.
When we read about our entering the land of Israel/Canaan in the book of Joshua, we see a conglomerate of seven nations in city states and small territories of land, several of whom have their home base elsewhere–economic and influential outposts near the trade routes. Again, a strong indication that everyone wanted a piece of Canaan’s economic piece of pie.
And once again, it is also the reason that G-d placed us in this region, because in the ancient international market, it was not only goods and merchandise that were traded back and forth between nations, but also diverse ideology, spiritual ideas, and ideological influence. Because as it was then, it is now, economic trade also involves national influence.
What does this have to do with us? And more importantly, what does this have to do with our mission?
While we are officially not the world trade center in our modern era, we are in an interesting position of influence–as the classic assertion of so many speculators of the nation of Israel goes, we are at the “crossroads of eastern and western civilization.” Not an outpost for Western civilization and democracy as so many political personalities in the U.S. insist on asserting, but an ancient people. A Semitic nation who carries an extremely unique spiritual and moral influence on the world, which can neither be categorized as “Western” nor “Eastern.” This places us in a very unique position. We have the potential to show the world a synthesis between the spiritual and the physical.
These days we as a nation are slowly evolving back into the entity we once were–a world power with influence. We are done with the shtetls and ghettos now. We are slowly washing off the diasporic mindset of isolation. We are most definitely in the process of disposing of the image of the helpless, victimized Jew who needs others to do his fighting for him. We are now not only a nation of priests, we are a nation of warriors once again. Because as much influence as diasporic Jews can have on the world, at the end of the day, diasporic Judaism’s political ideology can only live in the hypothetical. And the hypothetical involves a certain detachment and disassociation to true experience, relationship and reality, however hard one may try to empathize with the political realities. As a national entity, we become attached and fully associated with our political ideology and our goals. We enter a world of relationship. This is of the utmost importance in our mission–to be a political entity. Real example speaks louder than hypothetical words.
What does it mean to be a “Light unto the nations?” It means we embrace a new destiny that was talked about as far back as Moshe Rabbeinu’s last speech to us, “Hashem, your God will bring you back to the Land that your forefathers possessed and you will possess it; He will do good to you and make you more numerous than your forefathers. Hashem your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love Hashem, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:5-6) Possession of the land strongly implies international ideological influence, because of it’s very location. We are slowly coming to a place of leaving diasporic Judaism and coming to a place of national Judaism. A temple Judaism. An extremely meditative and spiritual Judaism, which still embraces the Halacha, but digs into it’s spiritual implications on a national level. As this becomes more and more apparent to those around us, our light will shine brighter and brighter.
We live in an era in which the spiritual and the day to day physical are extreme worlds apart. In many ways in modern society, it feels like we have to make a choice between shaving our heads and spending the rest of our lives in a monastery in Asia or to go to Wall Street and make a big pile of money and/or drop dead trying. Israel, and it’s Jewish message offers a unique perspective of the spiritual in the day-to-day physical. This is what was offered back in ancient times. It is what is offered today, a closeness to the Divine while in the physical day-to-day.
After two thousand years of relative isolation and quiet privacy of our personal, religious, Halachic and national lives (However so hidden our Jewish nationalism might have been in the day to life), suddenly we find ourselves thrust out into the international theatre again. And the world is waiting for and expects a message from us, whether they and we realize it or not. We are not missionaries or imperialists, but we the Israelite nation are here to live an example for others to see, so that all may learn to draw close to the Creator. We are here to stand boldly in our connection to the Creator, the Life of the universe.
“My dwelling place will be among them; I will be a God to them, and they will be a people to Me. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary will be among them forever.” Ezekiel 37:27-28.