Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Spies and Stones - The Shepherd Sticks with His Flock
Much of the first section of parshas Devarim is devoted to Moshe
Rabbeinu's bitter rebuke of the nation with which he has spent his
last 40 years. He criticizes, albeit in a roundabout way, their
rebelliousness, their fickleness, and their stiff-necked inability to
accept Hashem's authority. Not to be forgotten, of course, is that the
very fact they are still in the desert, almost 40 years after having left
Egypt, is also of their own doing. G-d had originally wanted to bring
them to Israel immediately; it was as a result of the sin of the
Meraglim (spies), and their negative description of the Land, that our
sojourn in the desert was prolonged. In order that all those who said,
"We would rather die in this desert than to enter such a land!" would
indeed meet the very fate they so desired.
The Torah originally discusses this episode in parshas Shelach. Here,
however, Moshe adds (1:37):
With me, as well, Hashem became angry because of
you, saying, "You too shall not come there!"
Moshe implies that he too was punished for the episode of the spies;
if his nation was not to enter the Land, nor would he. The problem
with this is that we all know the Torah itself gives a completely
different reason as to why Moshe was not allowed to enter Eretz
Yisrael. It was because of the incident at the rock, 38 years later,
when Moshe, instead of "coercing" the stone to bring forth its waters
with words, strikes it (see Bamidbar/Numbers 20:1-13). How can
Moshe imply here that his demise in the desert was a result of the Sin
of the Spies?
Ramban understands that there are in fact two separate incidents
here; the spies and the stone. Moshe juxtaposes them only because
the end result of both was the inability to enter the Land. With me,
as well, Hashem became angry because of you - at another time
and another place, when you angrily complained about the lack of
water, and caused me to hit the stone. Hashem thus told me then,
as He had told you 38 years previously, "You too shall not come
Panim Yafos explains that the root cause of the sin of the Meraglim
was the nation's dwindling faith. When they first left Egypt, the Torah
praises their simple, unshakable belief: "And they believed in Hashem
and in His servant Moshe (Shemos/Exodus 14:31)." By the time the
spies go out, more than a year has passed. Hard as it is to
understand, the impression of the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, and the
splitting of the Sea was by then a distant memory. They lost
confidence in Hashem's ability to make their journey a successful
one, and bemoaned ever having left Egypt.
At the end of the forty year decree, as they stood poised to finally
enter the Land, Hashem staged a drought of sorts, in order that
Moshe would bring forth water by simply speaking to a stone - a sort
of "booster shot" for their emunah (faith) - thus guaranteeing that they
would not err as their parents had before them. When, ultimately, the
plan failed as a result of Moshe's angrily striking the stone, he too lost
his chance to enter the Land of his desire. The sin of the stone only
came about because of the need to rebuild the faith lost during the
period of the spies. The two events are thus inextricably entwined.
Ultimately, With me too Hashem became angry because of you,
saying, "You too shall not come there."
Others explain simply that were it not for the sin of the Meraglim,
Miriam would not have died in the desert, and the well, which had
accompanied them in her merit, would not have dried up. There
would have been no drought, and no need to talk to the stone, and
Moshe too would have entered the Land. Thus it is true that
indirectly, the sin of the Spies precipitated Moshe's not entering the
According to all three explanations mentioned above, when Moshe
said, "With me too Hashem became angry," he referred not, as it
would seem, to the sin of the Spies, but rather to the incident with
the stone. The Rosh, based on a Midrash (Pestikta Zutrasa) however,
tells a mashal (parable), through which the verse can be understood
according to its most simple meaning:
A poor peasant girl once went to the well to draw water.
To her great distress, her pail, which was her only,
slipped from her hands, and fell into the deep recesses of
the well. She despaired of retrieving her pail, and did not
know how she would ever replace it.
Just then, a maidservant from the royal palace came to
fill her bucket. It was an elegant bucket, made of gold
and studded with jewels. Alas, her bucket too slipped and
fell into the deep well. "How fortunate am I," thought the
peasant girl, "for now they will surely come to retrieve
the royal pail, and once they are there, they will retrieve
my pail too!"
The captain, they say, must go down with his ship. Moshe Rabbeinu,
the faithful shepherd of his generation, must lead his flock into Eretz
Yisrael. Hashem would not allow him to abandon them in the
wasteland of the desert. The time will come when Hashem will call
upon Moshe to arise, and once again, for the last time, lead his flock
into their Land, to rebuild once-and-for-all the Holy Beis HaMikdash.
Hashem, as it were, will return to the desert, to awaken our eternal
leader. And along with the shepherd, Hashem will awaken His
forsaken flock, and breathe souls of life back into their motionless
Once it was decreed that Moshe's generation would not enter the
Land, it was a forgone conclusion that Hashem would not allow him
to leave them. Now it was simply a question of working out the
details: How, exactly, would Hashem "pull the strings" so that Moshe
would indeed be forced to remain in the desert. Were it not for the
well, there would have been some other excuse; the shepherd must
remain with his flock.
During this difficult period, as we contemplate the bitter exile, we try
to find comfort and consolation. At times we may despair - what merit
do we have, we ask, through which we will deserve redemption? But
we remind ourselves that Moshe, too, silently waits to enter the Land
he so desired. When Hashem comes to get him, He'll take us along
too. May it be speedily, in our days.
Have a good Shabbos.