Taken for Granted
Volume 6 Issue 40
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Parshas Shlach marks a sad turning point for our nation. It is in this
portion, that the Jews, poised to enter the land of Israel, suffer a severe
setback one that would leave them meandering in a desert for forty years,
only to enter it missing an entire generation of their forebears.
It all started when the Jewish nation was not confident enough in Hashem's
assurance of sweeping victory in their conquest of Canaan. In order to
add a human dimension to what should have been a Divinely directed
cakewalk, they decided to see whether they could conquer the land by
themselves. So they sent spies. Barring Yehoshua and Calev, the spies
returned with horrific tales of unconquerable giants and impregnable
cities. The sordid tales brought a cloud of despair upon the people.
Hashem responded to their fears saying, in turn, if you don't think you
can go in, then you won't go in. All the sinful spies and those who cried
with them remained doomed to the sands of Sinai while the next generation,
their children under the age of twenty entered Eretz Yisrael.
But a look at the original charge may help us understand why the mission
was doomed from the onset. Despite his misgivings, Moshe instructs the
spies to "See the Land -- how is it? And the people that dwells in it -- is
it strong or weak? Is it few or numerous? And how is the Land in which it
dwells -- is it good or is it bad? And how are the cities in which it
dwells -- are they open or are they fortified? And how is the land -- is it
fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in it or not? You shall strengthen
yourselves and take from the fruit of the Land." (Numbers 13:18-20).
Moshe tells them to do some daring acts, check the fortified cities,
examine the strengths of the people and find out about the strategic
location of their encampments and try to find out their strengths and
weaknesses. Yet Moshe never tells them to strengthen themselves upon
executing any part of their mission, except when it comes to picking fruit!
Why would picking fruit, require strengthening of either body or
faith? Shouldn't going into a Canaanite vineyard and plucking a sample
cluster be the easiest part of the mission? Why is that the only time that
Moshe encourages them to strengthen their resolve and "take a fruit"?
Ramban and Siforno seem to approach this question with a practical
approach, but I would like to take a homiletic one.
The classic compendiums of Jewish humor contain the story of an elderly
Jewish man who sees an ad for a $20 cruise to Miami Beach.
The minute he boards the ship, he is strapped to a chair along with one
hundred other saps and handed a pair of oars. All of a sudden a giant of a
man, whip in hand, enters the galley. He begins screaming at them to begin
rowing. He walks up and down the aisle and the moment anyone stops rowing
and cracks his whip across their back!
After two weeks, they finally reach Miami Beach. The old man has lost
fifteen pounds and is about to collapse. But now the journey is over and
the vicious taskmaster says they can go.
But before he departs the old man whispers to the man next to him, "You
know I've never been on one of these cruises before. How much do we tip
In charging the spies to take something back from the land, Moshe Rabbeinu
points to the weak nature of the personalities that doomed the spies from
the onset of their mission. If the spies really felt that Canaan was their
land, they would have needed no coaxing to take its fruit! After all, it
was "their" fruit on "their" land!!
Unfortunately they did not feel that way. Unless strongly prodded they
would not take fruit from the land that Hashem promised was theirs. They
needed to be told "Strengthen yourself and take a fruit!" You see they did
not feel it was theirs to take. They were hesitant. They were scared. It
is that same insecurity that makes modern day Jews dismiss Jerusalem as
their capital or readily relinquish their cherished holy places. To
insecure guilt-ridden Jews, even taking a cluster of grapes from the land
that was actually theirs was to them an exercise in
pilfering. Perhaps, had the spies gone in with confidence, as if the land
was theirs, its fruit theirs and its inhabitants theirs to inherit, they
would have come back with a positive feeling and a victorious
attitude. But their guilt, lack of enthusiasm and a feeling of
subservience to the Canaanites, rendered them hopeless. They could not
carry home the pride in the land that would be theirs. Because with the
burden of improper guilt, even a cluster of grapes is a heavy load to carry
home. Good Shabbos ©2000 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated by Mr and Mrs. Larry Atlas in honor of their second anniversary
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