There are many turning points in the narrative of the Torah, and most of them are bad, like the sin of the Egel and the sin of the Spies. This weeks Parsha, Hukat, is a breakthrough signifying the arrival of a new generation of Bnei Israel who will finally inherit the land. At the end of the Parsha, Bnei Israel sin and are punished by God. But instead of blaming Moshe or complaining they find a simple and unprecedented remedy: they say “hatanu ki dibarnu be hashem bavah.” They internalize their mistake and ask Moshe to pray for them, which is all that Bnei Israel ever needed to do in order to be pleasing in the eyes of God. Now they are ready to enter the land, and this time it is the whole nation, not just Moshe or Miriam, who breaks out in a song of praise.
This is all well known, of course, but the first turning point signifying that the nation has finally changed comes earlier, in a seemingly insignificant choice of words.
After the death of Miriam bnei Israel find themselves once again out of water, and as usual they complain bitterly. The complaint follows the by now familiar formula – the somewhat disingenuous desire to have perished earlier, asking Moshe why he has brought them to the desert only to die there, followed by an expression of sentimental longing for abundance of food. But this time, something is different. Bnei Israel no longer dream of the fish, onions, and watermelons of Mitzraim. Having never set foot in the land of Israel nor seen its vegetation, they fantasize about the grapes, pomegranates, and figs of the land of Israel. These same exact fruits: vines, pomegranates, and figs, that were brought back by the Meraglim forty years earlier have become legend.
It is often noted that the story of the generation of Jews who perished in the midbar has a particularly cruel ending. After the Korah rebellion in last week’s Parsha the people exclaim “you have killed the congregation of the Lord” (speaking no doubt about themselves). Indeed, this episode is followed by a cold silence, and the entire generation vanishes never to be heard from again. It seems that in keeping with God’s initial threat following the sin of the Egel, the entire nation was wiped out entirely, and a new generation replaces them as the inheritors of Eretz Israel.
But this Parsha tells us that there was at least one thing that this lost generation was able to accomplish. The parents who forfeited their chance to enter Israel were nevertheless able to instill in their children a longing for the legendary over-sized fruits of the promised land, which was the seed that eventually germinates into their salvation.