Searching out the land, de Tocqueville beheld the spirit of equality, celebrating the promise of representative democracy. It was a promise in its making of severely limited parameters, its call to be heard both then and now in lofty declarations and in echoes from the breach. With a striking immediacy of language, perhaps as warning and aspiration, de Tocqueville spoke of the tenuous nature of America’s greatness: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Not someone who often comes to mind, I thought of the French Count as I engaged with the weekly Torah portion called Sh’lach L’cha (Num. 8:1-15:41) as it came this year in the week of Juneteenth. Scouts are sent to search out the land, entrusted to bring back report of what awaits the people. They see the fullness and the beauty, and they see the challenges. There is a painful reality in all of this; the greatest challenge acknowledged in the scout’s report is that there are other peoples living in the land. As Israel had once lived in that land, cycles of exile and return begging for humane resolution, so for other peoples living in the land then and now; an endless cycle of claiming land through power that insures that no one will ever be secure in the land. Engaging with Torah on all of its levels and layers, I am often comforted by the Chassidic reading that sees in this narrative, as in other instances of violence and struggle, a mirror in which to see our selves, a lens through which to look within and search out our own inner landscape.
Searching out the land both of self and nation, a challenge from Parashat Korach to search within our selves and allow a different spirit to emerge. It is the spirit of Calev, as we might embody it today, a spirit that is bravely able to see the beauty in the ideals and landscape of this nation, and also to see the way in which that beauty has been so cruelly defaced. Atoning for the original sins of both slavery and genocide, we can yet create wholeness from out of brokenness. In worlds so far apart in both time and context, perhaps never before cited together, as Alexis de Tocqueville saw the fierce tensions at play in early nineteenth century America, the Slonimer Rebbe sees powerfully conflicting forces in the very character of the Land of Israel. Of fierce historic tensions desperately seeking resolution, the Slonimer writes in his probing teaching on the scouts and their report: the holiness of the Land of Israel is of the highest level/k’dushat eretz yisrael hi g’vo’hah b’yoter; and in contrast to this, the forces of the sitra achra/the demonic side are greatest, centered, so too, in the Land of Israel/ha’yu m’ruchazim az b’eretz yisrael….
Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein