Fish N' Chips or New Frontiers
In this week's portion we find Moshe Rabeinu dispatched the 12 spies to
prepare for the people's successful entry into the promised land. Rather
than returning with an upbeat report, they instilled a chilling fear into
the people's minds and hearts causing them to doubt whether Hashem would
continue the miraculous chain of events that had been initiated with their
exodus from Egypt.
The commentaries touch upon the underlying motives behind the spies'
slanderous report. Surely these men of great spiritual stature grasped that
nothing was outside the realm of possibility. After all, they were living in
Hashem's world. The people were being led through the wilderness by a
heavenly cloud that traveled before them flattening the mountains that stood
in their way! The entire generation saw Divine revelation in every aspect of
their daily lives. They were eating heavenly Manna and being sustained from
water that flowed out of a simple rock.
The midrash tells us that the spies deeply desired that the people should be
able to stay in the wilderness rather than have to engage the necessary
challenges that would confront them when they entered the land of Israel. In
the wilderness they were living in the sheltered and secure comfort of the
Divine embrace. In the wilderness the spies all had comfortable positions of
leadership that they would have to relinquish once the people entered the
land. They had a vested interest in staying put and thus their ability to
evaluate the objectivity of their report and evaluation was inevitably
I recall as a young boy growing up in Manchester, England, I was always
somewhat peeved by some aspects of British society. I could never put my
finger on what irked me or what pulled me to the other side of the Atlantic.
England had been a safe haven for Jews since the 17th century. My family had
lived there since the turn of the century and had prospered without having
to compromise there religious values. Although the English are famous for
their stiff upper lip they are also fair minded, genteel and correct! The
food may not have been on par with French cuisine but I never felt deprived
with a good plate of fish and chips and a cup of English tea. Yet something
bothered me. I finally identified the source of my discomfort. England was a
country that was deeply invested in its cultural roots and way of life. The
predominant mindset was one that was mired in the past. The lower 'slum'
class were locked in a frame of mind that didn't allow them to break out and
improve their standard of living. As long as the corner pub and betting
parlor that they patronized were present they felt no need for change.
America, on the other hand, was invested with a pioneering spirit. It was a
land of opportunity in which even the lower rungs of society aspired to live
the American dream. Its mindset was fertile and open to change. It was here
that I felt I could step out of my own self imposed limitations, impact
others and make a difference!
The mindset of our host country has a profound influence on molding the
attitudes and mentality that form the template of our spiritual growth.
True, as religious Jews we are deeply committed to maintaining, with filial
devotion an uncompromising commitment to our spiritual heritage. We are not
willing to concede even a jot from the values and traditions that we
cherish. But at the same time we are in growth mode and never satisfied with
the way we were yesterday. We must always be open to change and not afraid
to embrace new charges of responsibility. We must constantly press on to
secure for ourselves a better spiritual tomorrow.
This fine balance of cherishing what was while boldly moving forward was
somewhat missed by the meraglim. The word "meraglim" is rooted in the word
"hergel" meaning accustomed and habitual connoting their character flaw.
They tenaciously clung to the past. It was comfortable in the wilderness,
they reasoned, why change? Yet the path of progress requires a bolder
approach. In our own lives let us bravely and courageously move forward
while traversing the wilderness that represents our own life's terrain. If
we remain undaunted by the challenges that we will confront, we too will
surely merit to feel Hashem's loving hand guiding and sustaining us.
Together, may we speedily enter our promised land and greet in unison
Rabbi Naftali Reich
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.