From the: Parshat HaShavua Tapes of Rabbi Yaakov Spivak...


Parshat Shlach

The story of the meraglim (spies) is the story of the human psyche and how, no matter how great a person is, if he lacks self-confidence, if he sees life through his own agenda rather than through the eyes of Torah, he will ultimately bring tragedy upon himself. The first question which arises from this sedrah is why, after seeing all the great miracles the Almighty wrought in Egypt, would the people demand to send spies to the land. If G-d was able to destroy the most powerful nation in the world - the Egyptians - with his forefinger, (etzbah Elokim) what possible reason would they have to doubt His ability to bring Canaan's seven nations to their knees?

Insight into this can be gained from certain words spoken by the spies as they gave their report: "And we were in our eyes like grasshoppers, and so were we in their eyes" (Numbers 13:33). A Chasidic rebbe once said, "if you perceive yourself as insignificant as a grasshopper, so will others perceive you in the same way." The spies were frightened by their perception of the impression the Canaanites had of them. The source of that impression emanated from them. Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra informs us that, as great as the spies may have been, the years in slavery took their toll on all the people's self
esteem. Rambam tells us that a person should carry with him two signs: one that says "I am but dust and ashes," and the other saying "and yet, for me the world was created." The prophet Samuel had to remind King Saul of this when he told him: "Do you perceive yourself as small, you are the head of the tribes of Israel!" (Samuel I 15:17) Rambam's concept of the two signs stems from his thesis that one must walk the shvil HaZahav, the golden (middle) path. In relation to attitudes in life this means one should not be overconfident because it leads to arrogance and the feeling that G-d is not needed because the individual can take care of a situation himself. On the other hand, one should not be totally lacking in confidence because it leads to a feeling of unworthiness and, eventually to the erroneous and sinful idea that one is in such a pitiful state of existence that even G-d Himself cannot help him. The latter, say some commentaries, was the sin of the spies who described themselves as "grasshoppers" in the face of giants. This inferiority complex caused them to seek a leader to return to Egypt.

The former situation, where one exhibits too much confidence in one's self, can be ascribed to both Moses and Aaron. Aaron should have stopped the Golden Calf makers in their tracks as Moses did when he came down the mountain.
Aaron, however, had a philosophy in life of being a "lover of peace and a seeker of peace." Aaron had such confidence in that philosophy and in his ability to implement it that he chose what he thought was a diplomatic way of diffusing the situation, a method more in keeping with his own personal style. This was overconfidence on the part of Aaron, who should have realized how much the Almighty abhorred idolatry and should have made a direct effort to stop it immediately. Instead, he told the people to bring their gold, hoping that such a material sacrifice would discourage them. The situation backfired to the point that the Sages tell us that no calamity comes upon the Jewish People that does not have in it some portion of punishment for the sin of the golden calf. Moses also exhibited overconfidence in his own particular style which was the opposite of that of his brother. Whereas Aaron was inclined to diffuse a situation with diplomacy, when Moses saw an injustice such as an Egyptian beating a Jew, he stopped the perpetrator cold. He reacted the same way when
confronted with his co-religionists who were worshipping the golden calf. When told to induce a rock to give forth water, Moses was commanded to speak to it. When this did not work immediately he reverted to his style of getting things done and struck the rock. This was overconfidence, a belief that he could handle things his way. For this lack of kiddush Hashem Moses was denied entry to the Promised Land. The reader at this point should be reminded that when we talk of shortcomings of the aforementioned Biblical protagonists, we are speaking of individuals who attained the highest spiritual level known to man. Their transgressions were measured against a standard only applied to the most
righteous of human beings.

Having contrasted the different shortcomings in the actions of the spies vis--vis Moses and Aaron, it should be said that there were moments in those days when klal yisrael and its leadership indeed lived up to the standard of shvil HaZahav as espoused later in history by Rambam. We speak here of two incidents. The first was the night of the killing of the first born of Egypt. The Children of Israel found the balance of humility and confidence. They realized they were antagonizing their slavemasters by slaughtering the lamb which the Egyptians worshipped, but this did not deter them. They possessed the confidence that G-d would protect them, but they were not overconfident. They did not initiate a rebellion. They rather went inside their houses and let the Almighty fight for them. The correct balance was showing an act of faith and yet depending on G-d for victory in the ultimate outcome. Such was also the case with Nachshon Ben Aminadav and the other heads of the tribes who walked into the sea up to their necks before it split. As the Egyptians bore down on them they neither threw up their hands in surrender nor tried to counter attack their enemy. Instead, they showed the proper balance of
humility and confidence: humility in the sense that they had no illusions of possessing the warlike skills to fight the Egyptians, and confidence in the sense that they knew that if the G-d of Israel told them to walk into the sea he would perform the necessary miracle to insure their safety. The story of the spies is also the story of free choice. The Sages tell us
"the path that a person chooses to walk is the one down which he is led" (Makot 10b). He who comes to purify himself is assisted, and he who comes to defile himself has the way opened for him. Rav Dovid Kronglas, ztz"l, the mashgiach of Ner Yisrael, once asked his students why Noah had to spend 120 years building the ark. "If there was only one floor for animals," asked Reb Dovid, "and that floor was only 450 feet long, it was impossible for all the sets of animals in the world to fit on it. If so, a miracle was needed. Why, then, did Noah have to build an ark that required 120 years of work. A miracle is a miracle. Noah could have taken all the animals in a suitcase!" The answer, said Reb Dovid, is the same as in the case of the spies. When the Children of Israel demanded to send spies to see the Promised Land before they entered it, this was considered by the Almighty to be a lack of faith. The Sages tell us that pursuant to this demand the Almighty replied, "If they do not trust My word, I swear by their lives that I will give them the opportunity to make a mistake" (Rashi, Numbers 13:2). So He opened the path of possible defilement to them since they had initially embarked upon it themselves. Sure enough, everything they saw that was actually for their benefit they distorted because they saw it through the agenda of their own feelings of inadequacy. Where G-d had caused a major wave of deaths in Canaan so that the inhabitants would be so involved in funerals that they would not notice the spies who were passing through, this was interpreted by those very spies as an indication that the land was undesirable because it "consumed its inhabitants" (Numbers 13:32). Thus the miraculous intervention of the Almighty was distorted by the personal agendas of the spies. So, said Reb Dovid, was the case with Noah. Those, who in the future, would choose not to believe in G-d would see the story of Noah not in the truthful way, as that of a righteous man who was saved because of his devotion to G-d, but rather, in their foolishness, they would view him as a man who spent many years building a boat who just happened to finish it when a flood came. In other words, in their eyes Noah was merely lucky. Had Noah taken all the animals with him in an openly miraculous way, this would have negated the possibility of the sinners making a mistake, an effect which would interfere with bechirah, the requirement that there be free choice in this world.

Lack of faith - for whatever reason - has serious consequences. When the spies returned with a negative report about Canaan, we are told that "the people cried that night" (Numbers 14:1). The Talmud tells us that the date was the Ninth of Av. The Almighty said: "You cried (that night) for no reason, so I will give you a reason to cry (on that date) in every
generation" (Ta'anit 29a). It is chilling to fast forward through history in order to see the frightening truth of those words. The First Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, the Second Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, the Jews were expelled from England in the thirteenth century on Tisha B'Av, the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 on Tisha B'Av, and, most devastating of all to our generation, World War I broke out on Tisha B'Av. Modern historians have come to see the two world wars as one event with a brief hiatus between 1917 and 1939. That being the case, the Tisha B'Av of August 1, 1914, the day World War I broke out, was the precursor of the Holocaust where six million Jews were killed. Why was the sin of the people crying on the night of the spies' report to become such a benchmark for Jewish catastrophe? It is because faith and loyalty are the basic reasons for man's purpose on earth. The sifre musar written by the great mystics tell us that the major purpose for the soul to descend onto this earth in the form of man was so that the soul could prove its loyalty to its Creator. Since that message was to be carried to the world through the Jewish People, any abandonment of it by am yisrael was met with the harshest of punishments, G-d Forbid. When "the people cried that night," it was not only a lack of faith and loyalty to G-d, it was also an abandonment of their mission as an Or Amiym, a Light Unto The Nations (Isaiah 51:4). The word had to go out to the world that the Almighty does not tolerate such disloyalty from his Chosen Ones.

Delivering to the world the holy message of loyalty to the Creator does not necessarily require a grandiose act. Merely displaying one's faith by following the precepts of the Torah is, in itself, a powerful message. On the passage "And the nations of the world will see that the name of G-d is called upon you and they will fear you," (Deuteronomy 28:10) the Talmud says, "this is a reference to the tephilin of the head" (Brachot 6a). Sometimes, the simplest of mitzvahs can be the greatest kiddush haShem, a true sanctification of G-d's Name, protecting Jews from tragedies, G-d Forbid, and bringing Salvation to the world.

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