Parshas Shelach

This week, we read of the Chet Hameraglim (the Sin of the Scouts). From the very beginning of the story, there are some rather curious points. Hashem tells Moshe “Shelach Lecha – send for yourself” these scouts in order that they should give a report regarding Eretz-Yisroel. Rashi comments on the phrase ‘send for yourself’ and explains that Hashem was essentially permitting us to send scouts, but He was not actively commanding Moshe or Klal-Yisroel to send any such scouts.

While not discrediting Rashi’s opinion (Rashi’s approach is based on Tanchuma), the Ramban has numerous (see Ramban) problems with accepting such an approach as Rashi presents it. Thus, Ramban suggests a different angle to virtually the same approach. True, it seems that Hashem isn’t actively commanding us that we must send scouts, but it does nonetheless seem to say that we may and perhaps, should send them. Maybe Hashem is lending credence to the idea and consenting to our wish of scouting the land. Ramban concludes that Hashem is telling Moshe Rabeinu that although it isn’t His commandment, He is content with Klal-Yisroel’s practical suggestion, and it should be acted upon.

The Ramban does seem to harmonize the simple meaning of the Passuk with that of the Tanchuma (Rashi), but it is nonetheless left somewhat unclear as to where exactly the sin of the Meraglim started. Their sin is clear once we see that the Meraglim returned and spoke negatively of Eretz-Yisroel and doubtfully regarding Klal-Yisroel’s ability to conquer it. The question is: where did this Divinely approved mission turn sour?

The Passuk tells us that Moshe sent these scouts in exact accordance to the instructions he had received from Hashem. The Passuk also tells us that all the Meraglim were Men of Repute—the Nessiyei-Yisroel (the various tribal leaders of Israel). These details make it even more peculiar that they ended up sinning so gravely.

The Medrash (Tanah Divei Eliyahu and Yalkut, and see Chassam Sofer) tells us that although Hashem engineered the entire infrastructure of this scouting mission, He did not desire to kill ten tribal leaders of Klal-Yisroel (as was the Meraglim’s punishment). The Meraglim were only killed because they pursued Moshe and Aharon until they (the Meraglim) entered under Hashem’s Divine ‘Wings’. This Medrash is rather cryptic and hard to understand. The Chassam-Sofer explains the Medrash in the following way: Hashem did indeed intend to send these ten men as His Scouts to report back to Am-Yisroel regarding the land. These men were cut out for the job—but the problem was that they were too eager on their own accord to be the ones to do it. It would seem from the Medrash that they tried to convince Moshe and Aharon until they agreed to allow them to be selected for this Divine Mission.

Generally, eagerness to be involved in bringing Divine Will into fruition is a rather virtuous act; but here it was different. In this instance, Moshe was acting purely upon Divine Will and there was no place for anyone to make any of his own persuasions to Moshe in order to be picked for the job. Furthermore, where does Aharon come into the picture? Why did the Meraglim chase after Aharon? Thus far, the whole episode of choosing the Meraglim occurs between Moshe and Hashem, yet the Medrash tells us that the Meraglim chased Aharon as well in order to ensure themselves a part in this mission.

It would seem that there was some sort of personal agenda that these Tribal Leaders had in wanting to be involved in this mission. It would seem that in some capacity this is what spoiled the outcome of their mission. Personal agendas and God are not synonymous. When we serve Hashem we can’t have any self indulgence. We must fulfil Ratzon Hashem solely for the purpose of doing what Hashem wants.

Whether the Meraglim did or did not want to go into Eretz-Yisroel was inconsequential. The main focus of their trip wasn’t meant for anything else other than to report back, because it was Hashem’s will that they do so. If we place our personal preferences and agendas into our Avodas Hashem, we can end up far from fulfilling Ratzon Hashem.

 

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This week’s Sedra starts with Hashem telling Moshe Rabeinu to send Meraglim to scout out Eretz-Canaan. Although Chazal learn from the fact that the Torah says “send for yourself scouts” and not simply “send scouts”, that it wasn’t Hashem but Klal-Yisroel who wanted to send scouts. Nonetheless Hashem definitely instructed Klal-Yisroel to send these scouts.

It was apparent from the start that their mission was doomed to fail. This is quite clear from the whole discussion of Yehoshua’s name – in which Chazal emphasize that Moshe Rabeinu davened that Yehoshua should be saved from the evil plotting of the Meraglim. This is also evident from the idea which is relayed by Chazal in the Medrash and Zohar that Calev went to daven by Mearas Hamachpaila in order to be saved from the Meraglim’s plotting.

While Chazal offer various explanations as to what pushed them into sinning, the question remains regarding how they had the audacity to display such a lack of faith in Hashem?

A careful examination of the psukim reveals that there were two main misunderstanding by the Meraglim. All that Hashem had commanded the Meraglim was to go and see the land and to bring back its fruit. This was a carefully expressed command. If that’s all the Meraglim would have done their mission would have been a success. The problem was that they applied their own logic and reasoning to Hashem’s command.

The Meraglim decided that they were meant to scout it out as traditional scouts, in order to aid Klal-Yisroel in their ability to capture Eretz-Yisroel. The second was that even if this would be the case they should have come back and merely reported the facts to Moshe and Aharon (and perhaps the Zekainim) for them to then act accordingly. Instead they offered their interpretations of what they saw.

Moshe and Calev both recognized in this mission a very difficult Yetzer-Horah, the Yetzer-Horah of logic.

What the Meraglim were supposed to do was just to fulfill Hashem’s basic command. Instead, they tampered with it.

While logic may sometimes seem to offer not a contradiction, but rather an explanation to the Torah, we must be very careful. We must pay very close attention that our logic doesn’t alter Retzon Hashem – Divine Will, as Hashem uses but the most precise explicit words in His holy Torah.

 

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In this week’s Sedra we read of the Chet Hameraglim – the sin of the Scouts. It is unclear whether Hashem had instructed or merely allowed Klal-Yisroel to send these scouts. What the specific transgression involved was is also somewhat unclear (see Ramban and Rashi)? The Torah tells us that the Meraglim spoke Diba (slanderous talk) regarding Eretz-Yisroel. Hence it would appear that the Meraglim sinned simply by speaking (Rashi seems to imply that the Meraglim actually blasphemed Hashem). An examination of the story shows that everything the Meraglim said seemed to be factual other than their saying: we (or Hashem according to Rashi) aren’t strong enough and won’t be able to conquer Eretz-Yisroel. The latter statement, while it was incorrect, wasn’t said as fact, but rather as opinion. What was wrong with the Meraglim giving their opinion? After all, they went to scout the Land. Weren’t they supposed to provide their thoughts after seeing Eretz-Yisroel?

Regardless of whether or not Hashem desired Klal-Yisroel to send the Meraglim, it was definitely done with Hashem’s consent. The Meraglim were instructed by Moshe Rabeinu to scout out the land and to come back and to tell the rest of Klal-Yisroel if the people were mighty or not; if the land lent itself to population growth or not etc. (see Rashi). Hashem had also promised Klal-Yisroel that they would merit Eretz-Yisroel and that they would conquer Eretz-Yisroel.

Before Yaakov Avinu went down to Mitzraim Hashem promised Yaakov that He would take him (Yaakov) back up from Mitzraim. Hashem even promised Yaakov Avinu that Yosef would close his eyes after his Petira. Yaakov Avinu nonetheless made Yosef promise him that he would take care of him after his death and that Yosef would see to it that he would be buried in Eretz-Yisroel.

Yaakov Avinu knew exactly what Retzon Hashem was and he therefore acted accordingly. Yaakov took advantage of the fact that he knew how things were supposed to work out and he therefore worked towards creating what was supposed to be. The Meraglim on the other hand didn’t.

Hashem promised Eretz-Yisroel to Klal-Yisroel; this should have been the goal they were working towards creating. Once they had the knowledge (via Hashem’s promising us Eretz-Yisroel) they should have understood our being victorious as a given. The Meraglim should have realized that their role was just to come up with the advice and tactics for actually accomplishing the conquest of Eretz-Yisroel. The Meraglim failed their task because they couldn’t place Hashem’s word as the absolute truth.

Hashem has given all of us the gift of the Torah. The Torah has many laws and rules. The Torah also has an abundance of deep and penetrating insights as to how we should conduct ourselves. We all grapple daily with the very same Nisayon (trial) as did the Meraglim. What Hashem expects from us is spelled out quite clearly. We must understand Retzon Hashem to be the absolute truth. We must work towards actualizing Retzon Hashem in every aspect of our lives.

 

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Prominent in this week’s Sedra is the story of the Meraglim. Hashem told Moshe that Klal-Yisroel could send scouts to Eretz-Yisroel in order to report back on the land. Hashem included many aspects of the Land among the topics on which they could report: from agriculture to topography, and from population to military tactics.

The Meraglim (scouts) came back from what was then still called “Canaan” (soon to be Eretz-Yisroel) and reported back to the entire Am-Yisroel. They gave all sorts of pessimistic interpretations of what they saw and discouraged Am-Yisroel from wanting to continue on to the Promised Land. Of the 12 Scouts sent out ten participated in this negative report and two (Kalev, and Yehoshua) didn’t. Kalev and Yehoshua remained positive and encouraging throughout.

It is clear from the Pesukim that all of the Meraglim were people of stature, and were Tzadikim. Chazal and the Meforshim offer all sorts of interpretations as to how such good and righteous people could so gravely sin. What is clear is that they definitely didn’t lie regarding the actual facts of the Land; they erred only in their negative interpretation.

A simple observation of the situation begs the question: if twelve righteous people see and report the same facts, how can it be that 10 of these (a minyan) fail to report properly and the other two succeed in a fair reporting?

Eretz-Yisroel is the Land that Hashem promised us. Hashem guaranteed us that we would receive this Land from Him. As such Eretz-Yisroel was a given.

In any algebraic equation there are unknowns. If we simply try to work around the unknowns we will find ourselves playing an endless guessing game. However, if we focus on the given aspects of the equation we will be able to figure out the unknowns. Furthermore, if we focus on the given aspects, once we do come to a conclusion we can then double check it.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu had promised Klal-Yisroel Eretz-Yisroel. While the ten other Meraglim were busy making all sorts of equations as to how to interpret and report Eretz-Yisroel, Yehoshua and Kalev didn’t lose focus of the given – Hashem’ s promise that Eretz-Yisroel was about to be theirs.

 

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This week’s Haftorah is from Yehoshua and recounts how Yehoshua sent scouts to check out Eretz Yisroel before Klal-Yisroel was to begin its conquest. The parallel between the Haftorah and the Sedra is clear. Our Sedra opens with Hashem instructing us to send scouts to check out the Land. Yehoshua was actually among those sent for the original scouting mission. That original mission, however, had ended badly as the Meraglim came back and talked despairingly about Eretz-Yisroel. In fact we are to this day suffering from that horrible episode. The scouting mission recounted in the Haftorah, on the other hand, ended up as successfully.

Since Yehoshua had already scouted out the land much earlier, why was it necessary to send Meraglim again?

At the beginning of our Sedra Hashem tells us אנשיםלךשלח (send for yourself people) to scout out the Land. Rashi tells us that the reason Hashem uses the expression ‘send for yourself’ is to say ‘send if you wish to’. This is usually interpreted as meaning that Hashem didn’t really want Am-Yisroel to send Meraglim, yet understood that the People wished to, and therefore allowed such a mission. This would lead us to believe that sending Meraglim wasn’t really the best thing to do. If this is the case why did Yehoshua do it again?

If we pay close attention in our Sedra the Pessukim do not instruct the Meraglim to come back and offer any advice. They were supposed to come back and tell Moshe some facts and bring back some of Eretz-Yisroel’s fruits. One of the Meraglim’s biggest mistakes was to start offering their opinions. Had the Meraglim not offered their opinion, it is likely that everything would have turned out fine.

If the Meraglim weren’t commanded to offer advice why did they decide to do so? Everyone knows that in an army every member must follow their precise orders and do nothing else. Why did the Meraglim act differently?

Rashi explained לךשלחas meaning for yourselves. If this is the case, they may have well understood that their purpose was to come back with a report. Part of reporting is to point out things one noticed and to draw conclusions. The Meraglim may have justifiably believed that they were supposed to offer their conclusions and advice.

The Meraglim erred by basing their belief on a false premise.

If one understands that one must do something and that this something is good, one must then understand that the only thing left to do is to figure out the best way to go about it. Had the Meraglim understood that going into Eretz-Yisroel was a must and that Eretz-Yisroel is perfect they would not have ended up sinning.

Yehoshua’s scouts went in with a different understanding. They understood that Eretz-Yisroel is a must and that it is wonderful. Thus when they went to check out the Land, they were Zoche to see how the entire land was in fear of Am-Yisroel.

All of Torah is a must and is truly good. If we truly believe this, we will always end up seeing the good and enjoy all of Hashem’ s Mitzvos.