Shattered Illusions                        

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Shelach, describes a dark moment in Bibical history, the episode of the Spies. It has the effect of shattering our naive illusions that great men are perfect. They are not, and we had better get used to it. Ten of the twelve scouts were Princes of Tribes, leading figures of the Jewish Nation.

Yet, no one may rest on his moral laurels. Life continues to hurl challenges at us and past performance is no guarantee future success. One has to be humble, girded for battle and prepared to make whatever efforts the current situation requires.

The attitude of unquestioning adoration that people in some religious sects may  have toward their spiritual leaders is not appropriate. Some terrible tragedies have occurred in our recent past which might have been avoided with better guidance from the crowned authorities. The unquestioning acceptance of clearly problematic directives exacted a heavy toll.

The story of the Spies as well as other sagas depicted in Bamidbar reveal that no one has an immunity to sinfulness. Unknown challenges lie constantly in wait and the wise person recognizes his vulnerabilities and seeks to maintain his spiritual assets in a high state of readiness.

In considering this story we need to understand why there was a need for a spying mission at all. In the Wilderness all of the movements of the Jews were regulated by the “Clouds of Glory” that accompanied them. When the cloud lifted upward from above the Mishkan that was the signal to move and when it descended back toward the Tabernacle, that was the sigh to encamp. The Jews did not have to plot their own course but only to follow the path marked for them by the clouds.

So why did they now need spies to direct them about “the path we should go up on and the cities we should come to?” Yet as Moshe recounts in the Book of Devarim, when he communicated Hashem’s comment that they should “go up and inherit” the Promised land, they responded with their request to send forth an exploratory party.

According to the Rabbis Moshe wasn’t sure what to do so he deliberated with Hashem. Hashem then responded that He was not going to resolve this matter but that it was entirely up to Moshe. Moshe opted for the mission which included a report about the agricultural and climactic aspects of the area as well as military information needed for the ascent and conquest.

It is not readily understandable why Moshe agreed to the project. It is also strange that he instructed the team to gather information about the topographical quality of the country. After all Hashem had explicitly said that He was going to bring them to a “ goodly and broad land, a land which flows with milk and honey.”  Why was it necessary for the Spies to report on the particulars pertaining to the flora and the fauna?

Perhaps a clue can be found in Moshe’s unusual assignment to bring back a sampling of the land’s produce. The Spies complied and “arrived at the valley of Eshcol  and cut from there a vine with one cluster of grapes, and bore it on a double pole, and of the pomegranates  and of  the figs.” What was the necessity for this?

In my opinion the battle to conquer Eretz Yisrael was not simply a mundane political necessity. Rather it constituted a “Michemet Mitzvah” (Religious War). Thus Moshe wanted the nation to conduct this operation with the joy that is appropriate to the service of Hashem.

Moshe wanted to reassure the people of Hashem’s love for them as manifested in His choice of this very special land in which they would establish a special and holy society which would be a “light unto the nations.” He therefore assented to the spying/scouting mission so they could  see with their own eyes what Hashem had in store for them.

But it was, inexplicably, to no avail. Instead of uplifting the spirit of the Jews  the Spies instilled in them a lethal panic which resulted in catastrophe. What went wrong?  Why was it that “In this matter you do not believe in Hashem, your G-d?” 

In my opinion it was because the Jews lost “faith” in themselves. The verse records them as saying that, “because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt to put us in the hand of the Emorites to destroy us.” In explaining why they imagined that G-d hated them the Sforno says, “because we worshipped idols in the land of Egypt.”

It is important for a person to feel guilty about his sins, especially serious ones. For if his conscience is active it will motivate him to repent. But we must be aware that excessive and incurable guilt leads to self-loathing and is destructive of one’s relationship with Hashem. One must always remember the Torah teaching espoused by the Rambam that no sin is beyond the reach of teshuva. No matter what one has done, if he returns to Hashem with a whole heart Hashem will forgive  him and will shower His love upon him once again. May the Jewish people return to  Hashem and be worthy of all His blessings.

Shabbat Shalom 

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