By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
"We cannot rise up against the nation because it is stronger than us... And the whole nation that we saw there are very big." [Bamidbar 13:32]. Rashi explains this to mean that the people were tall and large. However, the SHELAH brings a surprising interpretation: that the people had good traits. (This is also brought by the Kli Yakar.) However, why should the scouts want to praise the moral traits of the Canaanites, to tell us that they behave in a righteous and proper way? Evidently this is meant to imply that "the sin of the Emorites is not complete" [Bereishit 15:16], and it will be difficult for Bnei Yisrael to conquer them and take the land. And that is why the scouts added, "We were in our eyes like grasshoppers" [Bamidbar 13:33]. Not as Rashi explains, that the scouts felt as small as grasshoppers, rather that they felt the opposite of those "people with good traits," for they were honest and good while we were like locusts and grasshoppers which come and steal away the produce of honest owners of the fields. As is written in the Talmud, "If one steals a field which is then ravaged by locusts" [Bava Kama 116b] he can give it back to the original owner (see the Talmud and Rashi's commentary). Thus, the claim of the scouts was that the current residents were behaving in a proper way, and that Bnei Yisrael had come to steal their land (does this sound familiar to our ears?).
This claim can be countered by the words of Rabbi Yitzchak quoted by Rashi in the beginning of Bereishit. "Why did the Torah begin with Bereishit? The answer is because of the verse, 'He told the nation about the power of His deeds, to give them the heritage of the other nations' [Tehillim 111:6]. If the nations claim that you are robbers in that you conquered the lands of the Seven Nations, you can reply: The entire land belongs to the Holy One, Blessed be He, He created it and gives it to whomever He sees fit. When He wanted to He gave it to them, and when He wants to He takes it from them and gives it to us."
At first glance, this reply is hard to understand and even sounds unjust. Every robber can use this claim, to say that the Master of the World took possession of an object and gave it to him. If this is so, how can any sense of order be maintained?
The answer to the above question is that the claim of Divine intervention is only valid when it is absolutely clear that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is the one who took the land from them and gave it to us. When it can be seen that we who are small and weak, a nation which was just freed from slavery, who conquered "a great and mighty people, children of giants" [Devarim 9:2], it is clear that we are not robbers, and that the Master of the World took the land from them and gave it to us. As Rachav said to the scouts sent by Yehoshua, "We have heard that G-d dried out the waters of the Red Sea before you... And what you did to the two kings of the Emorites... And we heard this and our hearts melted... For your G-d is the G-d of heaven above and of the earth below." [Yehoshua 1:10-12].
In our generation too, it is impossible to deny that the hand of G-d has wrought all that has taken place. On one hand Jews were led to slaughter, but a magnificent nation was established right after the tragic events. Rabbi Amital wrote that if the world would have been destroyed and later on studied by historians in the distant future they would certainly have come to the conclusion that many hundreds of years passed between the two events, the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.
A hundred years ago, when Theodor Herzl asked for help from the Pope to return to Eretz Yisrael, he replied that he could not agree to our return to the land because this was against the Christian religion. If only we could uncover the eyes of that Pope and show him that when his successor visited our land a few months ago he placed a bouquet of flowers on Herzl's grave – almost as if to say: You were right and we were wrong.