OU Torah Insights Project
Parshas Shelach recounts one of the major tragedies during the Israelites saga in the desert.
The hand-picked leaders of the twelve tribes are sent to tour the Promised Land and upon returning to the nation they report: "We will not be able to overcome the inhabitants of Canaan" and conquer the land.
Hearing this, the nation of Israel immediately became depressed. Ignoring Yehoshua and Calevs positive account and encouragement, they resigned themselves to failure, demanding, "Let us head back and return to Egypt."
These pivotal words, displaying a lack of faith in G-ds ability to bring them to the land as He had promised, had tragic consequences--the generation of Jews, who had left Egypt through the Mighty Hand of G-d, would now not enter the Promised Land.
One group, however, retracted these words and tried to make amends. They awoke the next morning and ventured on their own to Canaan, acknowledging that they were doing so "because we have sinned."
But the A-mighty does not react positively to their move. Moshe admonishes them, saying, "Why do you transgress the word of G-d? You will not succeed. Do not go up, because G-d is not in your midst." Once G-d had forbade their entry, they could not enter.
But why? Now, suddenly, G-d does not want them to enter the land? If their repentance was sincere, why did He reject it?
Moshes words address this question: "Because G-d is not in your midst." This comment describes the nature of their repentance--G-d is not in your midst; you have not internalized what you are doing. What you are expressing verbally and exhibiting externally, says Moshe, is not flowing from the essence of your existence. It is not "in your midst."
The desire of this group to repent flowed from an incomplete process. Yes, they felt regret for what was said. Yes they felt a desire to right the wrong. But the regret remained a superficial expression of remorse, rather than a deeper desire to change.
In our century, as well, the doomsayers and pessimists said "lo nuchal"--we can not do it. We will never see halachic Judaism take root, let alone flourish, in America. Observance of the Shulchan Aruch is unpopular and obsolete.
Yet the Jewish people stepped up and frustrated that prognosis, as evidenced by the proliferation of yeshivos, day schools, outreach movements, daf yomi classes and more.
Nonetheless, we must still ask ourselves the question, "Is G-d in our midst?" Despite all our wonderful accomplishments, have we forgotten to internalize our relationship to G-d? Do our successes lack sufficient follow-through and a quest for further growth? Are we complacent?
The answer must be a resounding "No!" We must constantly renew our efforts as individual Jews, as Jewish communities and as a Jewish nation to internalize and deepen our understanding of Yiddishkeit and our commitment to its observance.
May we all be granted the strength to continue to grow both individually and collectively so that our very selves reflect the Presence of G-d.
Rabbi Robert D. Block
Rabbi Block is rabbi of The Roslyn Synagogue in Roslyn Heights, New York.