What was wrong with sending spies to check out the land?
Rashi explains, quoting Chazal, that Hashem told Moshe to “send for himself” spies to check out the land, because Hashem himself was not altogether happy with the idea.
And indeed, we know that this action ended in disaster.
Yet, we find that when finally entering the land 40 years later, Yehoshua also went to spy out the land, seemingly forgetting this important lesson.
Furthermore, Moshe gives the spies precise instructions regarding what to look out for, including the nature of the inhabitants and their cities, and they seem to come back with a report that follows those questions.
What exactly did they do wrong?
It seems to me, that as with many things in life, sending spies was not in itself a bad thing, but completely dependent on the attitude and intentions of the spies.
It is completely acceptable and even advisable not to rely unnecessarily on miracles and to take whatever steps one can take to prepare for whatever situation one might encounter.
Entering the land was not supposed to be subject to debate, but it was still up to the people to plan their strategy as to the best way to conquer it, and that depended very much on the nature of the inhabitants and their cities.
Had the spies had the correct attitude, realized that Hashem’s promise to take us into the land was not subject to question, kept their ultimate faith in Hashem’s ability to so, and merely used the mission as a strategy planning session, hence doing their part and then “letting” Hashem do his, the idea would have been very positive, and Moshe indeed saw It this way.
Yet Hashem, of course, knew their most intimate thoughts and understood that their intentions were not so correct, and thus disassociated “himself” from it.
The Ramban indeed follows this approach- from the words of Rashi, I think that one can take it a step further as well, focussing not only on strategy, but also on the importance of positive thinking.
In explaining the instruction to check out the land, Rashi comments :
את הארץ מה היא – יש ארץח מגדלת גבורים ויש ארץ מגדלת חלשיםט יש מגדלת אוכלוסין ויש ממעטתי אוכלוסין:
“There are some lands that breed strong people and some lands that breed weak people. Some lands breed large populations and others limit them.”
It is clear that the spies were instructed to see a large and powerful population as a positive sign, as proof that the land was good to its inhabitants, and would be equally or even better to us.
The spies were expected to go in with positive thinking, and interpret whatever they saw in a positive light, and come back and use the information to encourage and motivate the people – even a large and powerful population was supposed to be seen as a positive sign.
Yet the spies did exactly the opposite , and used their findings of a strong and powerful population to frighten the people out of entering the land- their words ” we won’t be able to go up to the nation because they are too strong for us”, gives them away.
Not satisfied with interpreting the people’s strength as a negative, they then proceed to talk bad about the land itself.
Instead of using this holy mission to plan their strategy for the promised entry into the land, and to find information that would help inspire and motivate the people to do so, they use the information they saw to frighten and scare the people and convince them that going to the land was a suicide mission, despite Hashem’s promise.
Our mission is to follow the guidelines Hashem has given us to the best of our ability, and to take whatever practical steps are necessary to help us fulfil that mission.
In addition, whatever challenges we face along the way should be interpreted positively, and used to further motivate ourselves to follow this mission.
Using the challenges we encounter as excuses to absolve ourselves of this mission is simply not an acceptable option- we need to see the cup as at the least “half full”, not “half empty” appreciate the good in whatever challenges we face, and use it to inspire us to do more good.
This is no small challenge, and indeed, most of the greatest men of the generation failed this test, but it is no excuse not to at least try.
Yaakov Avinu’s final condemnation of unconstrained zealotry
In what seems to be a most unlikely and inappropriate setting- his final words to his children, Yaakov gives a brutally harsh rebuke to his second and third eldest sons, Shimon and Levi.
Referring to their genocidal elimination of the village of Shechem (כי באפם הרגו איש) , in retaliation for their complicity in the kidnapping and rape of their sister Dina, he refers to their tools as “weapons of Hamas (literally stolen weapons). “
Rashi comments that Yaakov is telling them that they had stolen the tools of Eisav, the man of war, the hunter, in carrying out this impulsive and unacceptable operation.
It could possibly be the equivalent of calling the Jewish Underground, that placed many a bomb in civilian Arab areas, Nazis and worse- the way of the Aryan “Master Race””, not of the Torah’s “Chosen Nation- a light unto the nations.”
His condemnation continues:
בְּסֹדָם֙ אַל־תָּבֹ֣א נַפְשִׁ֔י בִּקְהָלָ֖ם אַל־תֵּחַ֣ד כְּבֹדִ֑י כִּ֤י בְאַפָּם֙ הָ֣רְגוּ אִ֔ישׁ וּבִרְצֹנָ֖ם עִקְּרוּ־שֽׁוֹר:
(ז) אָר֤וּר אַפָּם֙ כִּ֣י עָ֔ז וְעֶבְרָתָ֖ם כִּ֣י קָשָׁ֑תָה אֲחַלְּקֵ֣ם בְּיַעֲקֹ֔ב וַאֲפִיצֵ֖ם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ס
“In their council, let my soul not enter, in their assembly, let my honor not participate, for in their anger, they killed a man ,and with their will, they uprooted an ox.”
Those who get offended when extremist Jews who advocate “death to Arabs” or forced transfer, are accused of being Jewish fascists or even Nazis, might take well to note that the first person to accuse fellow Jews of behaving in such a way, appears to be none other than Yaakov Avinu- a frightening thought indeed!
In contrast, the fourth son, Yehuda, is the epitomy of both strong leadership and calculated restraint- a master of strategy, but not afraid to confront the enemy when necessary.
It is he who stopped the brothers from killing Yoseif, he who convinced Yaakov to send Binyomin with him, he who confessed to his misadventure with Tamar and said “she is more righteous than me “, and he who confronted Yoseif with respect but absolute confidence.
He was NO whimp, and certainly had NO “exile mentality”, but he wasn’t a Jewish version of the Ku Klux Clan or the A.W.B.
It is he, who is compared to the lion, and he who is given the sceptre of Kingship.
and it is from him, that the final Mashiach will come.
As is so often the case, the weekly Haftorah is linked to the parsha, not only superficially, in this case with the final words of David haMelech [Melachim 1/2], but also at a deeper level.
Here also, David haMelech condemns his former strongman, Yoav, to death, for his over zealous and violent behaviour, particularly in his assassination of his rival generals: Shaul’s general Avner ben Ner, who David was in the process of making peace with, and Amasa ben Yeter, who David had appointed in his place as general, after that tragic episode.
Despite Yoav’s strong qualities and loyalty till near the end, and the fact that according to Chazal, he was actually a great and hospitable man, this “trigger-happy” style was not to be left unchecked, and was indeed, stolen weapons from a different ideology.
Those of us who have been following both the parsha, as well as last week’s events in Israel, cannot help but be shaken by the timing.
I do not think Moshe Feiglin is Eisav, and I am far from convinced that Netanyahu is a modern day “Yehuda”, but I also truly believe that the Kahanists of this world and their followers make one simple but fatal flaw: the use of stolen weapons- the weapons of Eisav, of the power of the hunt, of survival of the fittest, and forget the basic traits and qualities of the Jewish people, a merciful nation, a people chosen to be a “light unto the nations”, not to oppress the nations.
It is indeed comforting that Likud voters rejected the rash and zealous faction that has tried to turn the Likud into a racist party Menachem Begin would have been ashamed of, and of values that are totally the opposite of the Torah’s ways of דרכיה דרכי נעום וכל נתיבותיה שלום .
It will also be comforting if the victorious faction re-embraces both the “national dignity” and “human rights” values of Begin, who despite not being fully observant, had many values largely consistant with those of the Torah, and learnt the essential balance that Yaakov Avinu taught us this week, one that President Rivlin has done us so proud by publically upholding: One can be a dignified Jewish leader who stands up for our G-d given rights, without trodding on the rights of others, and without making us seem like Nazis in the eyes of the world.
ה עוז לעמו יתן ה יברך את עמו בשלום
As Jews, who suffered genocide after genocide, we cannot be silent when the same fate faces others.
How much more so, when friends and allies, the friendly and civilized Kurdish people, are facing imminent genocide right now in Kobane.
When we say “Never again”, we need to mean it!
“הנסתרות לה’ אלקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם ”
“Hidden things are for Hashem, our G-d; and the revealed things, are for us and our children forever”
The Torah has already told us that we are all responsible for one another, and that when one see’s someone doing something wrong, he is obligated to rebuke him, gently, in a way that he will want to listen.
If one fails to do so, or does so in a way that makes him more rebellious or shames him unnecessarily, one shares some responsibility for his wrong-doing. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19/17 and commentaries there-on )
In the parsha we just read, Hashem warns us once again that people who forsake the ways of Hashem can bring collective destruction upon all of us. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 29/17-27)
After the Torah tells us that the result of people who betray Hashem’s covenant can be catastrophic for all of us, people might feel that if we all responsible for each-other’s numerous failings most of which we are unaware of, then there is no hope for any of us , G-d forbid.
To this- the answer is clear:
We are NOT responsible for things that we have no way of knowing about, or things that we have tried to correct and failed- “Hidden things are for Hashem, our God.”
However, failure to protest constructively against wrongs and injustice , once one is aware of it, is the moral equivalence of participation in it – “The revealed things are for us and our children forever…”
There has been much debate in the community about Jews attacking one another in public.
It is truly disturbing that this is happening so much and being exploited by our enemies.
However, just like crooks and child abusers love to hide behind “loshon horoh” and rogue Rabbis love to hide behind “kavod Talmid Chochom” to avoid justice, those who are hurting their own people from within love to hide behind “Jewish unity” to keep their public image and support.
and just like the Halacha is clear that the laws of loshon horo do not apply when there is risk to someone else involved, and the laws of honouring a Talmid Chochom are pushed aside when that Talmid chochom is involved in public abominable behavior, so too, it is clear that when someone publically betrays his own people, he is to be shamed in public.
Our prophets never held back from publically rebuking the people when they were out of line.
some of them were persecuted or even killed for it, but who did history show to be right?
When my father attacked Jews who didn’t do enough to fight Apartheid from the pulpit, he was told not to make Jews look bad in public- who did history vindicate?
yet we must proceed with great caution and great יראת שמים and balance everything we do very carefully.
In the era of social media, very little is private anymore.
Everyone has to be careful what they post or even say or do in front of others, and know that it could be shared, screen-shot, and quoted everywhere.
It is a fine-line I tread with great trepidation, and ask my friends to hold my hand when I waver.
As Chazal warned us so long ago וכל מעשיך בספר נכתבים
“and all your deeds are being written in a book”