The Gedolei HaDor, Leftist Intellectuals, and Peace with Syria

This week’s parsha affords people the opportunity to transpose the sin of the spies onto contemporary anti-Israel or anti-Zionist leaders. It can really be a lot of fun. Perhaps the two best-known expositions along these lines are those of the Sefat Emet and that of Emanuel Levinas.

The former appears in his posthumous magnum opus on the Parsha. He basically calls the spies “gedolei ha-dor” whose flaw was that they wished to remain in the idyllic desert existence where they could focus on spiritual pursuits and bask in God’s presense instead of engaging in agriculture and fighting wars.

The latter appears in the chapter entitled “Promised Land or Permitted Land” in Nine Talmudic Readings where he explicitly calls the spies “European leftist intellectuals” for whom engagement in the business of nation-building and putting ideals into practice sullies the pristine, ideal philosophical concepts at they exist in the academy.

I believe that, although the targets differ, the approach is essentially the same. Both groups wish to keep the Torah (which, in Levinas’ writings, is an ethical system) pristine, and fear that “bringing it to life” would damage and sully it.

Another approach which resonates today is that of the Zohar. It says that these men were, indeed, leaders, but they felt that they would lose their power once they came to Israel. Their hold on power corrupted them into going against the good of the people and the wishes of God out of self-interest. To my mind, in addition to being a flaw of the spies, it’s also a flaw in the system which allows it to happen (power tends to corrupt…). The system of government must make a greater effort to keep people in power from facing dilemmas which pit the right thing to do against the one in which they stand to gain the most. One need not look too hard to find examples of this same phenomenon today. Note that the Zohar believes that this can even happen to great rabbinic leaders, not just politicians.

The Syrian peace thing is a throw in. The only thing that Israel has to gain from peace with Syria is the disruption of the IranàSyriaàHamas/Hizbullah pipeline. Syria made it clear that this isn’t going to happen. That makes me wonder whether certain of our elected officials aren’t facing the dilemma of the spies according to the Zohar (this example being really one of many). I hope I’m wrong though.

I really want Israel to make a real peace with Syria. My reasons, however, are unabashedly self-interested. You see, if there’s peace with Syria, them I can take the greatest road trip ever. It’s in the plans. I’m going to take a road trip one day to the fjords of Norway. I will tour Europe in my own car. It will be epic. Once there’s peace with Syria, there will be territorial contiguity between Israel and Europe via friendly nations. I can’t wait.

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