Take the trip and explain later

In Parshat Dvarim (Dvarim 1:22), Moshe recounts: “You approached me, all of you, and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us to spy out the Land for us, and let them bring back word to us, the route that we are to go up on and the cities that we will be coming to.’”

The Midrash, Sifre (20-1:22) quotes Rabbi Shimon: The people were wretched in the fact that they asked for spies. Moshe said to them, when you went into the wilderness, you didn’t ask for spies, now that you are going into the “good and spacious land, the land flowing with milk and honey” you are asking for spies?

Sifre d’Bei Rav elaborates: When you emerged from the Red Sea and went out into the large wilderness, you didn’t ask to send spies to see how it would work out. Rather, you followed along without asking any questions, because you believed in God and trusted in Him. And now that you are on the verge of entering the good land, you ask to send spies- you didn’t believe that it was a good and spacious land.

We still have this problem today. Only about 30% of American Jews have visited Israel. A small percentage of those who have not visited can’t afford the trip, are unable to fly or can’t leave family members behind. Yet a large portion of those who don’t go to Israel fly to other destinations so it is not that they can’t get away. Either Israel is not on their radar screens at all or they are afraid to visit based on what they have heard or seen on the news.

Jews who have never visited Israel may feel alienated. They only know about what they have seen in the media such as violence and politics so they don’t get the whole picture of what is really going on.

Birthright has been helpful in getting more American Jews to Israel with free trips. Yet lately there have been participants who have been taking advantage, skipping time that they are supposed to be with the group and going to show solidarity with the Palestinians. Also, how much commitment to Israel do people getting a free ten day trip have in general?

Longer term, five and ten month programs have more potential as a student has more time to live and study in Israel and see what is really happening as opposed to quickly touring the country.

Israel is a place that each person must experience for themselves. We see this from the story of the spies and how they scared off the rest of the nation. The only way to know for sure what a place is like is if you go and visit. Once you have seen the land with your own eyes you can go back and describe what you have seen.