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Friday, 26 June, 2015 - 12:45 pm




(From a previous Good Shabbos Email)


Earlier this week, I paid the first of my two annual visits to summer camp. Twice during the summer, I typically enjoy a day engaged in “Chabad style” Jewish programming with the campers.


Aside from time with the campers, there is also time to meet some of the staff, many of whom are former students of mine. This time, I also met a staff member from Israel, who had been hired to work at camp for the summer.


This staff member approached me with a question. She related that her job at camp was to impress upon the campers the importance of Israel from a cultural standpoint. Although this young lady is personally not strictly Jewishly observant, she is still well aware of, and familiar with, Jewish history, and the central role the Land plays for the Jewish people in all generations, including this one, especially from the Torah’s margin-bottom: 12pt;">And so, this staff member, in one of her presentations during the week, asked the campers what they knew or thought regarding the importance of Israel in their lives. The essential question was: “Is Israel part of the common destiny of the Jewish people?”


The staff member was shocked, she said, that only one Jewish camper identified with that fact. Even that camper, related the staff member, was referring to the Messianic era, but not that the common-day Jewish experience would also include a shared destiny with Israel, the Holy Land. I responded that she had a few more weeks to do her job with these campers…


Against this background, the staff member challenged me passionately: “You, as a Chabad Rabbi, surely agree that living in a land called “Holy” is the destiny of the Jewish people. And if so, I hope you don’t mind me asking the following question: ‘How come you don’t live in Israel, the Holy Land? How do I explain to the campers about the destiny of the Jewish people, when visibly observant Jewish people like you are not living there?’”


It is a fair question, and one I have fielded before. I explained that, despite its own challenges, the holiness of the Holy Land is unquestionably more powerful than in any other place in the world. Also true is how Israel is the destiny of the Jewish people. It is the Land promised to the Founding Fathers and Mothers of the Jewish people, and to their descendants. This promise continues to this day.


For personal spiritual gains and satisfaction, the Holy Land of Israel would surely be the superior place for my family and me to live. But we have chosen a path in life that does not focus on personal and private achievements in the conventional sense. As a family privileged to be included among the Chabad “Shluchim,” representatives or emissaries of the movement, we live our lives – wherever they may be – to be there for the sake of others.


And even if it means that Chabad emissaries must be there for just one person who may need them, the communal mission and goal continues in that place. Even if the remaining person has minimal redeeming spiritual features, that person still requires attention, as can be seen from some strange wording in this week’s Torah portion, “Chukas.”


The Jewish people had been in the desert for close to forty years. It was now mid-summer, about eight months before their eventual entry into the Holy Land. At this point, following the death of Aaron, the High Priest, “The Canaanite King of Arad… heard how the Jewish people had come by the route of the spies.” The king waged war against the Jewish people. (Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:1).


What is “the route of the spies?” This was the route taken by the twelve men Moses sent some thirty nine years before this episode. They were asked to scout the Land and bring back a report. Their report was scandalous, with which they incited the people to complain about entering the Land. It was the fault of these spies, in fact, that the Jewish people were reprimanded, remaining in the desert for four long decades.


The question, then, begs to be asked: Why would the Torah reference these wicked spies here, by describing how the remnants of the people on their eventual journey to the Holy Land took the particular “route of the spies?” Is it not enough that one hears about the evil spies in the context of when it happened?


The Torah is conveying a very powerful lesson: As the Jewish people journeyed towards the Holy Land through the same route as the spies, the Torah is reminding the reader that, when the spies left, they were fulfilling a charge and a duty transmitted by Moses. True, it ended in a self-made disaster, yet, when they were first leaving on this journey, they did so in order to fulfill the mandate given to them by Moses.


In other words, their only redeeming feature was how they followed Moses’ instruction at the outset of this mission. And the Torah chooses to highlight this specific feature in order to stress how, even if but one good thing is found in someone, it should be discovered and highlighted for all time.


This lesson is pertinent to everyone. Each physical, positive act, is significant and wide-reaching. The hand, distributing a donation to charity, has performed a Divine act, and that purely physical cash has been elevated to a lofty spiritual level.


As a result of this act being Divine, the person has now forged a connection with the Heavenly Father. As such, it is eternal in its lofty place on High.


For the above reason, one will find Chabad Houses all over the world, including, but not especially, Israel. Those Chabad Houses are typically manned by those who do not necessarily externally appear similar to those around them. But that is why they are there: So each person can have the opportunity to do one more good deed.



SUMMARY: On their way into Israel, the Jewish people were shown how the individual is important, not just numbers of people. 


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