“And they took of the fruit of the land in their hands and brought it down to us; and brought us back word and said, ‘Good is the land which the Lord our God has given to us’. Yet you would not go up but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 1:25-26)
Moses recounts some of the actions taken by the children of Israel during their journeys in the desert, after the Exodus from Egypt. The one quoted above can be considered the worst because of its consequences. Questioning the Creator’s power or authority are one thing, and rejecting goodness is quite another.
God ultimately disregards our individual or collective opinion about Him, for He is not another person who takes things personally. He is beyond conception or perception, yet relates to us through His ways and attributes that are sustained on goodness as the ethical ruling principle for His creation.
Thus we assimilate “cause and effect” as an immutable directive that induces us to act according to the consequences of doing right or wrong, positive or negative, productive or unproductive, useful or useless, et al. Gravity is also another example by which we act according with something we can’t change.
Rejecting goodness means despising the reason for living in this world, for goodness sustains and nurtures life from beginning to end. Rejecting the essence of life, regardless the existence of God, is far a greater sin than not believing in Him.
This is why we consider that there is nothing to debate about the belief in a Creator or not, if we consider Him an ethical ruling principle in what we call “nature” as the given condition of the world we live in.
Our Sages understood this when they say in the Talmud that the way of the land preceded the way of the Torah. The “way of the land” meant living by pursuing goodness as the reason and purpose of life. Later the Torah was divinely given to strengthen this preexisting principle with detailed ground rules, guidelines and commandments.
Every reasoning human being agrees that goodness is what sustains and nurtures life; hence what gives meaning to it. If we defend and protect goodness as the reason of our way of life, there is nothing to debate about it. For us Jews, goodness is the purpose of God’s creation and the way He relates to it. Hence He wants us to relate to each other likewise.
The sin of rejecting goodness after knowing and living what it is, represents the worst act of rebellion only punishable by not allowing those who reject it to live in it. As the second verse reiterates, God commanded the children of Israel to possess and settle in the land He promised to their forefathers.
They simply chose not to “go up” to it, and rather remained in the comfortable tents with the cooled atmosphere under the divine clouds that protected them from the suffocating heat of the desert, and fed with the divine manna that descended daily from heaven.
From this we learn that a world conducted by spiritual protecting guidelines is quite different form the reality of a material world that compels us to strive for goodness in order to live in goodness.
Once we learn not to take goodness for granted, and fulfill God’s commandment to possess it and settle in it as the essence of our true identity, by which we live in this world, then we will realize that goodness also clears the obstacles placed by an egocentric mentality that obstruct the ways, means and attributes of goodness.
These obstacles are the negative traits and trends represented by the Canaanite nations that God helped us defeat when we went up to possess and settle in the Promised Land, as the final verse of this Torah portion states.
“You shall not fear them because the Lord is your God. He fights for you.” (3:22)