“They brought the Children of Israel an evil report saying ‘The land that we passed through to spy it out is a land that devours its inhabitants!’” Numbers 13: 32
Is it ever right to criticise Israel? It is a question that we confront every year as we read about the spies who went to investigate the Promised Land. They all reported that the country was beautiful, but most of them claimed that conquering it would be impossible. Their pessimism led to a national rebellion, leading God to ban that entire generation from entering Israel and condemning them to death in the desert.
A Chasidic interpretation suggests that the spies were "too religious". They recognised that the desert provided pristine conditions for religious development. Dining on manna from heaven while being taught Torah by Moses, the greatest of all rabbis, was bliss. Entering Israel to begin a life of farming would surely lead to religious compromises. So the spies resisted God's call to face the challenges of the real world.
Religious living is not only about observance of mitzvot, it is about identifying the challenges of the hour and setting our agenda accordingly. Learning Torah at Mount Sinai was right for one time, but not for another. Loyalty to the state of Israel is always essential, and sowing despair is always irresponsible, but in our times we see that blind loyalty can also be dangerous. Alongside material necessities, and Torah learning, Israel needs to maintain an ethical system of government which ensures the democratic rights of every citizen.
Preserving the moral stature of our state is one of the key tasks of our generation. If religious leaders do not speak about it with moral clarity, disaster beckons.