I admit it. I read MAD magazine as a child growing up. As a matter of fact, I not only read it, I subscribed to it! I received it every month and read it cover to cover. Recently, I saw a current issue of MAD and, like most things from yesteryear – including tv shows – it has become filled with indecent humor, immodest pictures and has become a publication of trash. Not so in the 60’s and 70’s when MAD – and the ever popular Alfred E. Newman – was an icon in America which made people from all walks of life laugh for hours.
One of my favorite parts of MAD was the cartoon “Spy vs Spy” which brought tears of laughter to my entire family. I remember that now, as we enter the Shabbat of Parshat Sh’lach, when we read a rather tragic story of spies. This one is not funny at all and has actually brought pain and suffering to the Jewish nation for thousands of years, and we will fast on Tisha B’av – yet again – because of this tragic episode.
Since we all know what happened, I will not go into it any more but have decided to try to do a “tikkun” to the original spies. They issued an evil report about the land so I will stand up and counter that with my own spy report. This one will focus exclusively on the good of the land, the blessings that Hashem has bestowed upon it and the bright future it offers to all who live in its borders. I call it the Jewish Spy vs Spy. Here is my report.
From Torah to technology, from buildings to beaches, from families to farming and from settlers to soldiers this land is a virtual “Gan Eden” for a Jew of every age, affiliation and background. You simply will never understand the concept we pray for 3 times a day called “Kibbutz Galuyot” (the ingathering of the exiles) until you come to Israel and interact daily with fellow Jews from Colombia, Ireland, Gibraltar, Italy and Kazakhstan! Nothing beats sitting with 5 Jews from 5 different countries, all breaking their teeth speaking Hebrew to one another. Say what you want about the lack of unity in the Jewish world but I feel it, and live it, each day in Israel.
Did you know that there is more Torah studied today in Israel than ever before in Jewish history? More Yeshivas and Kollels today than even in the days of Rabbi Akiva! Let’s also not forget about the Ba’ale Teshuva in Israel with an estimated 250,000 returning and now living a Torah way of life. That is an incredible number that will have positive ramifications on Jewish history for generations to come. These Israeli Ba’ale Teshuva range from sports stars to tv personalities to super models! Their stories are becoming more and more public and the young generation is getting deeply inspired by them and their new direction in life.
Much has been written about the IDF and their military might but are you aware that almost every army base has its own shul and sefer Torah? Speaking about shuls, did you know that there are 9 – yes, 9 shuls in Ben Gurion Airport? Each one has its own Torah, bima, mechitza and custom designed furniture. These are not rooms in the airport where people daven every once in a while. They are real shuls and I am not exaggerating: There are 9 of them! There are also shuls in most Central Bus Stations, shopping malls, government offices and in every Ikea in the country!
One of the most exciting things about Israel is the number of children being born. As incredible as it sounds, one Jewish child is born every 4 minutes in Israel! Delivery rooms across the country are full to capacity. People think that this is only true of cities like Bnei Brak but in reality, it is true everywhere. Baruch Hashem, Jewish children are being born at rates never seen before! In addition to the obvious advantage of more Yidden in the world, these births are changing the current reality by their “facts on the ground”. What a bracha!!
Another bracha is the return of forgotten and lost mitzvot such as the dozens of mitzvot connected to the land. Did you know that according to the Chofetz Chaim, there are 37 mitzvot (26 positive and 11 negative) that can be done today – even without the Bet Ha’Mikdash – in Israel only??? What a privilege to be able to keep these unique mitzvot, especially the big one headed our way in less than 100 days: Sh’mittah! I am personally connected to many farmers who are working night and day to get their fields ready for Sh’mittah. Recently, the Daf Yomi studied the laws about planting before Sh’mittah and the Halacha is clear that all new trees must be in the ground 45 days before Sh’mittah begins. This comes out to be the famous “Tu B’Av” which this year falls on August 11th. The difference between learning this Daf in Lakewood and Baltimore vs learning it in Jerusalem and Bet El is that after the Daf has been studied, the boys can go out to the fields and make this page of Talmud come to life! Recently, I met with a great Gaon in Torah, HaRav Yosef Efrati, who is the Rosh Yeshiva of Bet Midrash Gavoah for Halacha in Agricultural Settlements. His Yeshiva, located in Har Nof, deals with all aspects and laws of the “Mitzvot Ha’Teluyot Ba’aretz” (commandments dependent on the Land). Their students regularly visit fields and orchards, examine trees and fruit and answer all questions that the Jewish world has on mitzvot such as orlah, ma’aser ani, kilayim and even how to care for indoor plants in Tel Aviv during Sh’mittah. When is the last time you heard of Rabbonim who deal with THAT?
All of this is because we returned to the land! We revived our Nation and redeemed our land. We brought life to places that were dead and built cities on top of ruins. We not only read and studied the Torah, we lived the Torah by conquering, settling and building the land which Hashem gave to us. We revived an old language that had been confined to books and taught it to children so those books would be studied by them and not just by their scholars. We planted vineyards in fulfillment of prophecies, returned to holy places where millions of tears had been shed and changed the image of the weak and frail exile Jew to the Jewish warrior like David and Samson.
In short, my spy report is clear and simple. The land of Israel is the perfect place for the people of Israel and I urge you all to come home as soon as you can. 3,326 years ago the Jews heard from the spies and cried. I beg you to change those tears from sadness to joy and to listen to this one spy who would never steer you wrong.