Parshat Shlach  תשע”ח

The Jewish people had been camped at Mount Sinai since the 1st of Sivan. Almost a full year later, on the 20th of Iyar, ten days short of the anniversary of their arrival at Mount Sinai, the special cloud that hovered over the Tabernacle lifted, indicating that it was time to go. During the time spent at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people had received the Torah and all its commandments, including the ones that would soon be relevant in the land of Israel. The tribe of Judah took its place at the head of the column leading the Jewish nation to their final destination, the promised land, Israel.

They travelled three days to the Desert of Paran, and, after a 30-day sojourn there, and a short stop in Chatzerot, they reached Kadesh Barnea on the 29th of Sivan. From there, it would be only a three-day journey to Israel.  In the first chapter of Deuteronomy, Moshe later describes what happened (19-22):

ספר דברים פרק א

יט) וַנִּסַּע מֵחֹרֵב וַנֵּלֶךְ אֵת כָּל הַמִּדְבָּר הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא הַהוּא אֲשֶׁר רְאִיתֶם דֶּרֶךְ הַר הָאֱמֹרִי כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֵינוּ אֹתָנוּ וַנָּבֹא עַד קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ

כ) וָאֹמַר אֲלֵכֶם בָּאתֶם עַד הַר הָאֱמֹרִי אֲשֶׁר יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֵינוּ נֹתֵן לָנוּ

כא) רְאֵה נָתַן יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֶיךָ לְפָנֶיךָ אֶת הָאָרֶץ עֲלֵה רֵשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקֵי אֲבֹתֶיךָ לָךְ אַל תִּירָא וְאַל תֵּחָת

כב) וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי כֻּלְּכֶם וַתֹּאמְרוּ נִשְׁלְחָה אֲנָשִׁים לְפָנֵינוּ וְיַחְפְּרוּ לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְיָשִׁבוּ אֹתָנוּ דָּבָר אֶת הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה בָּהּ וְאֵת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר נָבֹא אֲלֵיהֶן


19) We journeyed from Horeb (Mount Sinai), and we went through that entire great and awesome Wilderness that you saw, by way of the Amorite mountain, as Hashem our God commanded us, and we came until Kadesh Barnea. 20) Then I said to you, “You have come until the Amorite mountain that Hashem our God gives us, 21) See – Hashem your God has placed the land before you; go up and possess it, as Hashem, God of your forefathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear and do not lose resolve.”

22) All of you approached me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy the Land and bring word back to us: the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come.”

The people approached Moshe to send spies into Israel to spy the land before their arrival. Thus begins the story of the מרגלים  – the Spies whose sin caused them and their generation to die in the desert instead of entering the land of Israel. Their sin impacts us today as well, for had the same people who left Egypt entered Israel, exile from the land would have been impossible. Then, the occupation of the land of Israel would have been as much part of our nationhood as is the exodus from Egypt, for It would have been the anticipated conclusion of the Exodus. The death of that entire generation in the desert created a disconnect between the Exodus and entry into the Land such that our presence there was no longer guaranteed.

What was the purpose of the spies? The Midrash gives us the background information.

ילקוט שמעוני במדבר – פרק יג – המשך רמז תשמב

 אמרו ישראל למשה רבינו: נשלחה אנשים לפנינ. אמר להם, “למה?” אמרו לו, “שכבר הבטיחנו הקב”ה ואמר לנו שאנו נכנסים לארץ כנען ויורשין כל טוב, שנאמר ‘ובתים מלאים כל טוב,’ והרי שמעו שאנו נכנסים והם עושין בהן בתי מטמוניות אם מטמינים הן את ממונם ואנו נכנסין ולא נמצא כלום נמצא דברו של הקב”ה בטל, אלא ילכו מרגלים לפנינו, ויראו לנו את הארץ אין כתיב כאן אלא ויחפרו לנו ילכו ויעמדו על מה שחפרו בארץ, כיון ששמע כן נלכד בידן שנאמר וייטב בעיני הדבר, זהו שאמר הכתוב וישימו באלהים כסלם

The Jewish people said to Moshe. “We want to send spies to spy out the land.” Moshe asked, “What for?” They answered. “Because Hashem promised that when we enter the land of Canaan, we will inherit houses full of riches and wealth… but they have heard that we are coming and they have hidden away all their wealth. If we enter and don’t find anything, Hashem’s promise will be falsified. The spies will see where they are hiding their wealth and show us, thus Hashem’s promise will be fulfilled.” This sounded good to Moshe and he presented their request to Hashem.  

The Midrash then explains that this was a ruse, and Moshe fell for it.

Hashem gave Moshe permission, who then chose one righteous leader from each tribe to spy the land. He instructed them to observe the people who live there, are they strong or are they weak? If they live in walled cities, it’s a sign that they are weak since they need the protection of the walls. If, however, they live in open cities, it’s a sign that they are strong since they are confident in their might. Are they many or few? How is the land? Is it fertile or lean? Are there any righteous people whose merit may protect them from our attacks? Bring back samples of the indigenous fruits to show us.

The spies toured Israel for 40 days and returned with a very disturbing report. Ten of the twelve spies said that it would be impossible to conquer the land. “The people whom we encountered there are so mighty and powerful that we  stand no chance against them. There are giants there, too, and ”the land itself devours its inhabitants.“ Everywhere we went they were burying their dead! It looks like the food that they’re eating is what’s doing it.” They said this because the fruits there were so big! It took eight people to carry the sample cluster of grapes they brought back with them, and a fig took two men. Their report concluded that there is no possible way that we can live there!

The two spies who disagreed were Yehoshua the son of Nun, and Kalev the son of Yefuneh. They tore their garments and countered by saying, “The land is extremely good! Don’t fear the people, they are a piece of cake! Remember what Hashem did to the Egyptians! When Hashem is with us, there is nothing to fear!”

The people accepted the testimony of the ten and threatened to stone Yehoshua and Kalev.

Of course, Yehoshua and Kalev were right. Hashem became angry with the spies and with the Jewish people who believed their false report. The 10 errant spies died a gruesome death, and the punishment to the rest of the people for rejecting the Land of Israel was that for every day the spies spent in Israel, the Jewish people would serve a year in the wilderness. During those 40 years, the men between the ages of 20-60 would die. The Midrash tells us that when a man reached the age of 60, on the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the return of the spies from Israel, and the day of the decree, he would dig his grave and lie in it. He did not wake up in the morning.

This, in short, is the story of the spies and their sin. We need to ask ourselves what went wrong here? What prompted these 10 hand-picked righteous men to ruin Hashem’s plan for the Jewish people in the promised land? Although their report was truthful in that they reported accurately only what they saw, why was their assessment of the facts so negative? And what about the Jewish people? Why were they so eager to accept the negative report? Why didn’t they respond by saying, “Wait a minute! Hashem has promised to give us this land! He will surely keep His promise! How can you contradict Hashem?” What got into them?

We must also ask how were Yehoshua and Kalev able to see things in the proper light and not be influenced by the opinions of the other spies?

The Sages answer these questions, and there is much for us to learn from their answers.

Our Sages teach us that each of us has a private aspiration that lies deep within us. The Hebrew word for this is רצון  – ratzon. The root of this word is רץ , which means to run. This private aspiration ––רצון – is the deepest source of what motivates us to pursue what we seek. This רצון   is what influences all of our life decisions.

Most people start out motivated by the most primitive of all desires, pleasure. From the time that they are little babies, they seek to satisfy their רצון for what will make them feel good right now. Whether it is the gratification from a tasty food, or a colorful or clanging toy that belongs to someone else, all a child knows is, “I want it!!” As one matures, however, he realizes that living solely for pleasure is a selfish and unworthy goal in life. He also realizes that there are many forbidden pleasures that he cannot give in to; he cannot satisfy every desire. When a person’s wants conflict with what is legal and correct, he may seek to ignore the law, or find a way to circumvent it to fulfill his רצון. This is most often where people run into trouble: they must immediately have what they want no matter what and will permit nothing to stop them from fulfilling their רצון.

When we more maturely realize that pleasure in and of itself is not a worthy goal to pursue, we are able to develop a worthier and more altruistic רצון. In the world we live in, ideas for aspiration abound. How exactly we arrive at the רצון that makes us tick is the result of many factors. But one thing is certain: When evaluating what course of action to take in any situation, the options will either consciously or subconsciously be scrutinized by the question: “Will this fulfill, or not, my deepest רצון , my strongest aspiration?”  If the goal is appropriate and worthwhile, the decision will always favor of the option that ultimately brings forth my deepest aspiration, my רצון.

Our Sages explain that the 10 spies were under the impression that upon entering the Land of Israel they would lose their jobs as the leaders of their tribes. Their very deep רצון  to lead was what subconsciously influenced their perspective causing them to see everything in a negative light. If the land is no good, and the people cannot enter it, the spies keep their positions as leaders.

This aspiration, to remain leaders, colored their vision and did not allow them to see the good that Hashem was doing for them. They saw so many people dying so that the inhabitants would be preoccupied with burying their dead, which was to distract them so that they wouldn’t notice the spies. They also missed the most obvious message that Hashem had given them: Had the spies attributed the deaths to Hashem, as they should have, they would have realized that Hashem could eliminate the enemy in a moment. Conquering Israel would be simple. But, because they let theirרצון  to be leaders influence them, they negatively interpreted everything.

What should theirרצון  have been? By what stick should they have measured their options? Their aspiration needed to be that they be faithful messengers for those who sent them. The mission of bringing back a true and unbiased report should have been foremost in their minds. Had they remained true to this goal, they would have been able to overcome the selfish concern over their own positions.

What about the Jewish people? What was really on their minds when they asked to send the spies?  The Midrash’s concern about the hidden money was just a cover up for their real רצון. But what was it? Why did they really not want to enter Israel?

They were simply afraid. They were trying to cover their fear of fighting the enemy. They thought that they would have a better chance of defeating the land’s denizens if they knew all about them, viz, where they were camped, their might, etc. For the nation who had just experienced so many miracles from Hashem, this fear was inappropriate. They should have known that they would be secure in Hashem’s protection.

There is yet a deeper level to their fear. Moshe reveals it when he subsequently admonishes them in the book of Deuteronomy (1:27):

ספר דברים פרק א

כז) וַתֵּרָגְנוּ בְאָהֳלֵיכֶם וַתֹּאמְרוּ בְּשִׂנְאַת יְדֹוָד אֹתָנוּ הוֹצִיאָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם לָתֵת אֹתָנוּ בְּיַד הָאֱמֹרִי לְהַשְׁמִידֵנוּ

27) You slandered in your tents and said. “Because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us.”

  1. Ovadyah Seforno explains.

ספורנו עה”ת ספר דברים פרק א פסוק כז

כז) בשנאת ה’ אותנו. על מה שעבדנו ע”ג במצרים: לתת אותנו ביד האמרי. שאע”פ שיש לאל ידו לכבוש את האמורים ולהמיתם יתן אותנו בידם להנקם

Because of Hashem’s hatred for us – because we worshipped idols in Egypt. To deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us – Even though Hashem can conquer the Amorites and kill them, He will give us into their hands to take revenge for our actions. 

          In other words, they did not doubt Hashem’s might and ability to destroy their enemies, but, rather, their own worthiness. Here, again, they should have thought about all the kindness that Hashem had done with them up to this point and realized that had He wanted to kill them for what they did in Egypt, He could have done it many times over! But they came up with this “righteous reason” to justify their fear, as if it was warranted.

Once again, the Torah reveals to us that they invoked these ideas just to mask their true fears that they did not want to acknowledge or deal with. “We need the spies to make sure that Hashem’s promise is true,” not because we are afraid. “Without spies, we will lose the war because Hashem wants to take revenge on us for having worshipped idols.”

When they approached Moshe, they believed that they were sincere! What about Hashem’s promise? This is the lesson though, it is very difficult to know the true source of our motivation.  It may be coming from an inappropriate fear that needs to be addressed, and we don’t even know.

How did Yehoshua and Kalev stay on course and stave off the other spies’ influence? And, generally, how are we to know the true source of what motivates us to do what we do?

When the Torah lists the names of the 12 spies, Joshua is first called הושע Hoshea, but Moshe changed his name to יהושע. What is the significance of the extraי” “ that Moshe added to his name? Rashi explains that Moshe prayed for Yehoshua that Hashem should save him from the conspiracy of the spies.

Yehoshua had a very strong connection to Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest Torah leader. When one has a strong connection to a Torah leader, not only does the leader pray for his students, he also provides impartial advice on matters that may cloud a student’s thinking on an issue and conflict with his רצון. When presenting the information to an objective third party who is interested in our welfare, we are guaranteed to receive accurate and sound advice. This is one tactic for staying on track.

Kalev had a different way of dealing with the challenge.

The verse says (Numbers 13:22), “And he came to Chevron.”

ספר במדבר פרק יג

וַיָּבֹא עַד חֶבְרוֹן

Only one person made it to the City of Chevron. Rashi tells us that it was Kalev, who visited the gravesite of the forefathers to pray to Hashem that, in their merit, He would save him from falling in with the other spies. This is the second technique for staying on track: To pray to Hashem to help us see our goal clearly and avoid what will take us off track. When we ask Hashem to help us do what is right, He will always come through for us.

From the different methods that Yehoshua and Kalev used to save themselves from the other spies, the Chafetz Chaim identifies different approaches on how to deal with them. Yehoshua opposed them openly, letting them know that he was not a member of their party. Kalev, on the other hand, acted like he was one of them, not revealing his opposition. Only when they returned and reported their findings did Kalev speak up against them for the first time.

Each approach has a plus and a minus. Yehoshua’s approach is clear, with no danger of his falling into their way of thinking. But because he provides a direct threat, the people may kill him. Kalev’s approach, on the other hand, eliminates the danger of his being killed because the spies think he is one of them. But he is in greater danger of falling into their way of thinking since he is acting like one of them. This is why Moshe expressly prayed for Yehoshua, who was in mortal danger.  Kalev had to fortify his inner resolve and went to the graves of the forefathers to pray and strengthen himself against the spies’ influence.

Yehoshua and Kalev kept their mission in mind and took measures to guarantee that they would stay on task and get the job done.

This is the answer for us also. We each come to this world with a mission to accomplish for Hashem. In reality, our deepest desire is to do the will of Hashem.

This concept is expressed most clearly in the prayer of Rabbi Alexandri as recorded in the Talmud, Tractate Berachos 17a.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף יז/א

ורבי אלכסנדרי בתר דמצלי אמר הכי רבון העולמים גלוי וידוע לפניך שרצוננו לעשות רצונך ומי מעכב שאור שבעיסה ושעבוד מלכיות יהי רצון מלפניך שתצילנו מידם ונשוב לעשות חוקי רצונך בלבב שלם

After finishing his Amida, Rabbi Alexandrai would say the following: “Master of the Universe, it is open and revealed to You that our true desire is to fulfill Your desire. What is stopping us? The leaven in the dough (the materialistic part of us) and the kingdom we live in (societal influence). Please save us from them so we may fulfill Your desire as You wish us to.

If that is our רצון, and we measure all of our actions by that standard, we will always make the correct decisions. But if we allow ourselves to become sidetracked and substitute other רצון’s for the real one, we are sure to make many mistakes along the way.

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