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They brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil report on the Land that they had spied out, saying, "The Land through which we have passed, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants! All the people that we saw in it were huge" (Bemidbar 13:32). But as for the men whom Moshe sent to spy out the Land, and who returned and provoked the entire assembly against him by spreading a report against the Land. The people who spread the evil report about the Land died in a plague before Hashem (Ibid. 14:36-37).
Just as it is a grave sin to speak lashon hara (slander) about a person, so is it a great sin to speak evil of the Land of Israel (see Arachin 15a). As a matter of fact, it is forbidden to even have bad thoughts about the Holy Land in one's heart. Therefore, the Sages who lived in Israel would not sit and learn in a place that was uncomfortably hot or cold, in order not to harbor any grievances against the mitzvah of living in Israel (Kesuvos 112b). On the contrary, it says to "see the good of Jerusalem" (Tehillim 128:5) which many interpret as a directive to always look favorably upon Eretz Yisroel. But to do so, one has to work on himself first.
Rebbetzin Goldie Elefant once told me a story she heard from the Rav of Tzefas.
A meshulach (lit. messenger; one sent from Israel to the Diaspora to collect money for a cause) from Tzefas once visited someone named Chaim in the United States and asked him for a contribution. While selling his cause, the meshulach began to extol the virtues of the Land of Israel, in general, and of the ancient, mystical city of Tzefas, in particular. While summing up his appraisal, the meshulach concluded, "What can I tell you Reb Chaim; in Tzefas, the stones are diamonds!"
Chaim was a simple, naive and gullible person and he took the mesulach's words literally; much more seriously than he had intended them. His statement penetrated his heart and gave him no rest. Imagine, he thought to himself, living in a place where the stones are diamonds. Why it sounded just like Paradise. He no longer enjoyed his home and the neighborhood he had lived in since he was a child. Sure, it was a nice place but it was no match for the Tzefas that the meshulach had described.
After weeks of agony, Chaim made a major decision. Who knows how much time he had left to live in this world? He could no longer allow himself to miss this wonderful opportunity to live in the Garden of Eden. He was going to liquidate all of his assets and make aliyah to Eretz Yisroel as soon as possible!
Once Chaim made up his mind, there was no stopping him. He had to get there as soon as possible. He accepted almost all offers and never wasted time trying to make a better deal. Within a few weeks, he was ready to go.
And go he did. Before long, he was treading on the soil of the Holy Land. But, at the same time, he experienced the shock of his life. True, the atmosphere was spiritual and holy, but…the rocks were rocks. On the other hand, in the Tzefas of those days he found other things prevalent: mainly intense poverty and widespread disease! Chaim stood in the street with his suitcases in his hands and his mouth wide open. He felt foolish and ashamed. But, most of all, he felt angry at the meshulach who had taken advantage of his innocence and had fooled him into making the biggest mistake of his life. If he ever found him again, he thought to himself, he would teach him a lesson he would never forget. No one could pull such a mean trick on him and get away with it.
It didn't take Chaim long to get his opportunity. Populated Tzefas was not that big then, and within fifteen minutes of his arrival, as Chaim still stood in the street in a state of shock and bewilderment, the meshulach came walking by; vibrant, energetic and full of contentment as he always was. Recognizing Chaim, he ran over to him and greeted him warmly. "Shalom aleichem a Yid," he shouted, pumping Chaim's hand so strongly he thought it might fall off. "What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here? That's exactly what I'm trying to figure out. I was such a fool to believe a shady character like you. How could I have sold everything I owned to move to Tzefas because some crook told me that the stones here are diamonds? How could I have believed such an obvious lie? Even if I find a way to get even with you," concluded Chaim furiously, "what will that help me? My life is ruined, and it's all because of you."
The meshulach did not feel at all offended at Reb Chaim's sharp words. On the contrary, he felt pity and mercy towards the disillusioned new immigrant to Israel. Briefly and curtly, he repeated his previous declaration. "My friend," he said, "in Tzefas the rocks are diamonds." But this time he paused for a while and added, "lemi shezocheh – to he who is privileged!"
Once again, the meshulach's words penetrated deeply into Chaim's heart. This time, though, he understood them properly and he knew what he had to do. He rented a humble hotel room and stayed there for 30 days; only coming out for prayers in the synagogue situated on the first floor of the hotel. All that time he recited Tehillim, learned Torah and holy books on his level, and contemplated upon the greatness of Eretz Yisroel and the superiority of spirituality upon corporeality. Day by day, his conception of life changed as he grew in Torah and Yir'as Shamayim (fear of G-d). He began to feel an intense happiness and serenity, the likes of which he had never before experienced. He felt his soul defeating his body. He was becoming more like an angel and less like an animal every day.
After thirty days, Chaim came out of his room and walked down the beautiful streets of Tzefas. And, behold – the meshulach was right – the rocks were indeed diamonds!
May we be privileged to appreciate Eretz Yisroel for what it is, and to live there, peacefully and happy, until Moshiach comes, speedily, in our days, Amen.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network