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The Spies and What They Teach Us
The Spies and What They Teach Us
(Wrote this a while ago, but didn’t find the time to post until now… sorry! Still is Torah…) In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shelach, we are told the story of the sin of the spies. However, there is a very fundamental question that needs to be asked when it comes to this story: Why? Why do I need it? What is it coming to teach me? After all, there are many stories that the Torah does NOT tell us, stories which were left for the oral Torah to tell, so why is it that the Torah actually wrote this story? Our sages, ob”m, teach us (tractate Megilah) that there were 1.2 million prophets in Israel. All of them prophesied many of them wrote down their prophecies, however, only those prophecies which were needed for all generations were recorded and canonized in the Tanach. I feel that this rule is just as true for those stories recorded in the Torah itself. If the Torah wrote it down, it’s not only interesting, but it’s teaching us a lesson for life and for all time. So, what’s the lesson here? The story of the meraglim, (the spies) say our sages, ob”m, isn’t just a one-time thing. Their story repeats itself throughout time. Let me explain what I mean. I recently went on behalf of the Yeshiva (www.ohrdavid.org) to the United States on a recruiting mission. While I was at a certain school, one of the boys asked me “Rabbi! I don’t understand it! Why is it that the spies did what they did? What possessed them?” It’s a deep question and there have been many answers that have been told on this point precisely, but I feel that there are two underlying issues that Chazal teach us here. First of all, the human side: change is hard and we don’t ever really want to do it. Let me illustrate what I mean. As a lecturer at the organization Nefesh Yehudi, I was asked to complete my degree in education so that the organization could offer credits to potential students as an incentive to join. One of the lectures that I had was in coaching, and the man leading the course, a wonderful man named Zvika Eidan, in laying out the steps that a coach needs to go through in doing his job said the following. Whenever a coach sits down with a potential client, one of the most important steps to take with him is to lay everything out clearly. This means that he has to fully recognize not only what it is he wishes to gain from the coaching, but of equal importance is what it is he is going to be giving up to make that change. The reason for this, said Tzvika, is because if a person doesn’t know what he’s giving up, many times he won’t make the change, even though he wants to. He’s just too comfortable where he is to give it up, regardless of his actual circumstances! It’s possible to bring a very simple proof to this from the Torah itself: for the people of Israel kept being tempted to go back to Egypt, even though their Egyptian experience was one of abject, degrading slavery! Change is hard. We can understand this issue, because we experience it ourselves, all of the time. However, beyond that, there is a deeper message as well. Because that doesn’t explain the behavior of the meraglim. True, change is hard, it is hard to sacrifice that with which we have become accustomed to, but at the same time, the experience of the land should have been so wonderous, so amazing, that it should have spurred them to make the effort, and to make any sacrifice necessary to get to that wondrous place. So why didn’t it do its intended job? Here, our sages, ob”m, give us an astounding insight. The Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin (104b) asks the following question. Why is it that in the megillah of Eicha, whose stanzas are all arranged according to the alef-beis, the letters ayin and peh reversed? The alphabetical order is ayin and then peh, whereas in Eicha the letter peh comes first. Answers Rabbi Yochanan “This corresponds to the meraglim, whose peh (also the word for “mouth”) preceded their ayin (also the word for “eye”). Rashi explains this to mean, that when the spies left the encampment to spy out the land, they already knew what they were going to say when they came back! The conclusion was foregone! But why? What possessed them to leave on this trip to bring back terrible testimony concerning the land? What was there to gain? I cannot, of course, be 100% sure, however, I feel that the simplest answer is this: what did they need the land for anyway? If we stop and think about it, the children of Israel in the desert had an amazing Utopian society! There was literally nothing that they lacked. Food? Got Mann! Water? Be’er Miryam had them covered! Clothing? It grew with them, got pressed and cleaned by the clouds of Glory, (ananei ha’kavod), their shoes never wore out too! Shelter? Aside from their tents, they were in the world’s greatest climate-controlled environment! Never too hot, never too cold, always just right… So physically it was the perfect place, but that wasn’t all! Spiritually, what could be better? They were all encamped only a hop, a skip, and a jump away from the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), they had Moshe Rabbenu, the world’s greatest and holiest teacher there with them. The chavrusos (learning pairs) were all pretty geshmak (“great” in Yiddish) … what more could they possibly want for as a people? It was pristine Torah Judaism at its best! Don’t think this is a thing? Consider this: the yetzer ha’ra to keep this society going in its present configuration was so great, that Moshe Rabbenu himself had to pray for Hoshea, whom he forevermore dubbed Yehoshua at this point, by adding a letter yud to his name, “Yah (yud and hey together, which form a shortened form of HaShem’s name) should save you from the scheming of the meraglim”. Consider as well, that Calev went to the kivrei avos (the graves of our holy Fathers, at Ma’arat ha’machpelah) to beg HaShem in prayer to give him the strength to overcome this yetzer ha’ra (a lesson in how to prepare for nisyonos (tests) when we know we are going to be faced with them), so that he, too, shouldn’t be counted among the meraglim! This was a really hard test! On the outside, from a practical standpoint, however, the spies were correct! Why not keep doing what they were doing up until now? What was wrong with staying in the clouds of glory and living in this Utopian society forevermore? What was their mistake? The answer is: because that wasn’t what HaShem wanted them to do. HaShem didn’t want them to live as a people in the desert surrounded by the clouds. HaShem wanted them to live in the Land, and to keep the Torah in the place which was created just for that purpose. It was what the people were comfortable with, it was their ratzon, but it wasn’t the ratzon HaShem, and that is the real issue here. We aren’t here to do what we are comfortable with, we are in this world to do that which HaShem wants us to do. I said over this d’var Torah in a certain shul in the USA, where I felt I had to be a bit political about this issue. On my own website, however, I’m beholden to no one but HaShem (even though I’ve still got a long way to go myself, in becoming a real oveid HaShem (servant of HaShem)). I don’t say this as a judgment of anyone, I don’t have an opinion in the matter, and some people are far greater talmidei chachamim than I am, however, it seems that the Torah here is screaming this message out in no uncertain terms: if you are not living in the land of Israel today, are you doing so to fulfill the ratzon HaShem, or because it is more comfortable for you? I don’t know about 100 years ago, even more so before that point in time. There is no doubt that when HaShem expelled us from the land those 2000 years ago, that those people from those generations could, shouldn’t, and wouldn’t ever see the land. That wasn’t their choice, that was them living with the ratzon HaShem. It didn’t stop them from wanting to change HaShem’ ratzon, we are granted that ability through the mediums of teshuva (repentance) tefillah (prayer), and ma’asim tovim (good deeds), however as long as that is the ratzon HaShem, we have to live with it. However, does that stand true today? I feel that anyone with a shred of honesty, who looks deeply at himself recognizes that that is no longer the case. The land is there, easily available for anyone who has the fortitude to make the change. Yet, there are so many who aren’t coming, many of them learned and holy Jews. When asked, why is it that they remain in this country, I have heard that the reason is that it’s easier to live a frum lifestyle in chutz la’aretz, and I can see why! B”H, in all of my galuyos (exiles) around the USA meeting with people, and speaking to new bachurim, I have seen amazing institutions of Torah, and of Jewish education, of chessed, of community and prayer. I have seen all of the Kosher products, restaurants, and more that are easily available. It seems so nice, pleasant, and easy to be Jewish in chutz la’aretz, and yet I ask myself, wasn’t that the claim of the meraglim (the spies) as well? It was so powerfully easy to be a Jew in the midbar (desert), and who could blame the spies for wanting that? They had fantastically good intentions, they told themselves that that was the ratzon HaShem, and yet… they knew in their heart of hearts that that wasn’t really true. The ratzon HaShem was that they keep Torah and mitzvos in the Land, not in la-la land. Does moving to the land, and living in the land require sacrifice? Is it difficult? Is there a chance that my children may go “off the derech”? There is. It’s hard. There are sacrifices to be made. Yet, in doing so, we are fulfilling the ratzon HaShem. As our sages, ob”m, tell us in Tractate Berachos (5a) there are three things that are acquired with suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisroel, and Olam ha’Ba. But in making the sacrifices, and bearing the difficulties, and yes, even sometimes suffering, we are fulfilling the ratzon HaShem, which is what we are here in this world to do in the first place. Let me give a few examples, which maybe will resonate with some people. If it’s late at night, and I know that if I don’t catch the last minyan for ma’ariv, I will miss out on davening with a minyan, and as I am going into shul, all of a sudden I notice… I need to use the bathroom… now, what do I do? Isn’t it HaShem’s will that I daven together with a minyan (also learned from this parsha, by the way)? Won’t I daven better? Won’t my tefillos be more powerful, more readily accepted, if I ignore my body, and go and join in the minyan? The answer: no. It isn’t. Ratzon HaShem in this case is that I go to the bathroom even if, as a result, I cannot daven with a minyan. If it’s Yom Kippur, the second holiest day of the year, (as Shabbos is the first!), I have gotten my Kittel (the white garment, traditionally worn by many Ashkenazi Jews) ready, and I am mentally, spiritually, and emotionally ready to face this day. I am ready, raring, and really want to spend this holy day in fasting and prayer, to tap into the holiness of the day, and be transformed. I’ve done this my entire life! But this year the doctor tells me, (chas v’shalom!) that due to an illness, I CANNOT fast this Yom Kippur… so now, what? If I fast, I will feel all of the above. If I don’t, I will lose out. I’ll miss the Yom Kippur that I have been keeping my entire life, but I will be endangering myself. Now, what? The answer is that I have to do whatever is ratzon HaShem, which in this case is to eat on Yom Kippur and not endanger myself. If I would do otherwise, I would be doing MY ratzon, my desire, but I would be using HaShem as the excuse to explain why it was OK. I would be literally doing the opposite of HaShem’s ratzon, in His name! How confused and fake is that? This isn’t the first time in Jewish history that the Jews were faced with this dilemma. The Navi (prophets) describes, that when the people returned from the exile of Babylon, at the behest of Koresh, king of Madea, only a small fragment of the people went. The vast majority, about 80% of the people remained behind in Babylon. Eventually, the Jewish community in the land of Babylon dwindled until there was nothing left until Rav came to Babylon and opened the first major Yeshiva there. It also wasn’t the first time that 80% of the Jewish people were left behind and almost, if not entirely, disappeared in our history. The first time was in Egypt when 80% never left. So, the spies, due to their desire to fulfill their own will, disguised as the ratzon HaShem, are duly punished, as are the people who, despite the outright miracles they experienced, didn’t have the emunah in HaShem to ignore the words of the spies, and instead prayed that they should have died in Egypt or the desert. At which point, HaShem says “wish granted!” The people are told that instead of going into the land as they could have, should have, would have, instead they are not going to enter the land, rather they are going to die in the desert. Like petulant children, having not internalized the issue, there are immediately a group of people who spring forward and say “OK! So, HaShem wants us to go into the land! Let’s go!”, at which point Moshe pleads with them “You don’t understand! It’s true that YESTERDAY that was the ratzon HaShem, but today is a different day. Today it is HaShem’s ratzon that you stay here. Of course, the ma’apilim, as they are called, didn’t listen, because they knew that it was “HaShem’s” ratzon (i.e., their ratzon, disguised as HaShem’s) that they go into the land, not that they stay in the encampment… and of course, not listening to Moshe, not really wanting to do what HaShem wanted, but rather what they wanted, they ignored Moshe and paid the ultimate price. The lesson of the spies, Lashon ha’ra aside, is that our life is supposed to be about doing the ratzon HaShem, and not to fool myself – even for great and holy reasons! – into doing what I want, and dressing it up in holy garments, and explaining to myself that it is the ratzon HaShem.
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