Right the Wrong
For some people who write commentaries on the weekly parshah, Parashas
Shlach-Lecha comes around only once a year. For me, however, every week is
Parashas Shlach, since I spend so much time writing and speaking about that
which went wrong with the Generation of the Spies, and what we must do today
to rectify the situation. What can I say that is new, even for me, after all
Sometimes I avoid the issue altogether, and talk about another part of the
parshah instead. However, that’s like going to visit a doctor about a
potentially fatal disease and focusing instead on a sore finger. Such a
waste of opportunity—such a dangerous waste of opportunity, especially
today. What to do?
However, there is a time-honored rule of public speaking that goes like
this: When in doubt, tell a story, so I will.
The Talmud speaks of certain Jews who, anticipating the redemption from
Egypt, left 30 years earlier than did Moshe Rabbeinu and the one-fifth that
survived elimination during the Plague of Darkness:
They were the Bnei Ephraim, who counted [the years] to the end [of the
Egyptian exile] and erred . . . (Sanhedrin 92b)
Apparently, they had counted the 400 years of exile foretold by God to
Avraham from that time, when in fact, as Rashi explains, the proper starting
point of the prophecy had been from the birth of Yitzchak, 30 years later.
As a result, they left Egypt 30 years before the rest of the Jewish people,
and were slaughtered in the process. Clearly, it had been a tragic mistake.
However, Jewish history is rarely straightforward, and those who treat it
like it is end up being consumed by it. Sometimes one has to wait to see the
true results of his effort, and very often the ones that immediately result
are only temporary, satisfying some historical need that usually has to do
with the issue of free-will.
In fact, all of Jewish history has been like this. The claim of being God’s
chosen people has not held up in the eyes of the world over the generations
for one simple reason: Jewish suffering. “If you’re the chosen people,” they
scoff, “why doesn’t God take better care of you?”
The answer reveals an unsophisticated understanding of God, how He runs His
world, and the role of the Jewish people. But, enough Jews have also asked
it without receiving any satisfying answers that we have lost many either to
other religions, or to no religion at all. They didn’t feel so chosen,
especially after the brutal pogroms of Europe, and the Holocaust in more
The end, of course, will justify the means. Once Moshiach finally comes and
rids the world of evil, it will be clear to everyone that the Jewish people
had been right all along. Vindication will be ours, regret, theirs. Jewish
history will finally make sense to all those surviving until that time, as
all the pieces of the puzzle fall into their rightful places.
In the meantime, you have to kind of be a zealot to be religious today. The
pressure from the outside world to modernize, and even from the inside, is
very great to the point that some are only observing those aspects of
Judaism that don’t interfere with a Western lifestyle. Anyone who doesn’t
agree with them is labeled “extreme,” or “Ultra-Orthodox,” terms that
imply, for many who are not of this category, misplaced zealousness.
“Extreme” is also a term being used to refer to Jews who refuse to
capitulate to international demands to make “peace” with an Arab world that
clearly has no desire to make it. Those who stand up for their land, and for
the protection of their people, and are prepared to trust in God to help
them survive what may come their way, are called “Extremists,” when in fact
those calling them this are the real extremists—extremely secular and
extremely detached from Jewish history.
Perhaps, God works this way with individuals and the nation to test us, to
make sure that we are acting altruistically. We know from the Talmud how
important it is to serve God lishmah—for His sake, not our own. We know that
even though we are the real benefactors of this attitude towards life, this
is only true as if we act as if we’re not. As the Talmud says, honor runs
after those who run from it (Eiruvin 13b).
The point is, that when it comes to Jewish history, you can’t always draw
the correct conclusions from what occurs immediately after an event. How
many times have good immediate results, down the road, soured and become a
source of regret? How many times have negative immediate results eventually
become a source of redemption? Far more times than we’ll ever know at this
stage of history.
Take the B’nei Ephraim, for example. Were they over anxious to leave exile?
Apparently, yes. Did they leave Egypt too early? It certainly seems so. Yet,
because of a strange twist of history, it turns out that they fared better
than the Jews who left Egypt 30 years later with Moshe Rabbeinu. Almost
every male between the ages of 20 and 60 who left “on time” died in the
desert, and some even lost their portions in the World-to-Come. Even Moshe
Rabbeinu, Aharon HaKohen, and Miriam did not make it to the Promised Land in
However, with respect to the Bnei Ephraim, it says:
Rebi Eliezer, son of Rebi Yosi HaGalilee said: “The dead whom Yechezkel
revived went up to Eretz Yisroel, married wives and had sons and daughters.
Rebi Yehudah ben Basira rose up and said: ‘I am one of their descendants,
and these are the tefillin which my grandfather left me from them.’ ”
This is a remarkable example of just how convoluted Jewish history can be,
not because God likes to play games with us; He doesn’t (Avodah Zarah 3a).
Rather, history is interactive, and depending upon our free will choices and
approach to opportunities of the generation, it will respond with whatever
is necessary to further the goals of Creation, without interfering with our
decisions, be they good ones or bad ones.
Of the 15,000,000 Jews who lived in Egypt at the time of the redemption,
12,000,000 chose to remain in Egypt rather than leave with Moshe Rabbeinu,
and consequently, died in the Plague of Darkness. Of the remaining 3,000,000
that went out, together with an additional 3,000,000 Erev Rav, most of them
complained in the desert, and seemed ready to run back to Egypt the moment
the going got tough. Not a good score for the newly emerging Jewish nation.
However, apparently, the Bnei Ephraim seemed to have been set apart, very
set apart. They seemed to have been the only ones willing to risk everything
to leave exile and fulfill the prophecy made to Avraham Avinu of the fourth
generation returning to the Land. In truth, they had been the ones that
Moshe Rabbeinu should have led when the time for redemption came; their
journey to Eretz Yisroel would have been different than the one the Torah
actually relates to us .
However, to leave with the rest of the nation on time could have been
disastrous for them. In this week’s parshah, Caleiv bee-lined it right to
the burial place of Avraham Avinu to prostrate himself on his grave, and to
beg for Heavenly help not to be pulled into the evil plan of the 10 Spies.
He actually had to worry about being made to buy into their point of view,
because there is power in numbers. Perhaps the Bnei Ephraim, being amongst
the rest of the nation, would have had a much greater difficulty remaining
so zealous when the rest of the nation was talking about staying in the desert.
Admirable as their zealousness was, they could not take the Land earlier
than the intended time. However, they were not to be stopped, since their
feelings about leaving were so strong. Therefore, their history was put on
hold: They died along the way, and were brought back to life, and allowed to
pick up their dream of reaching the land of their ancestors where it left
off, long after those who left Moshe Rabbeinu either died in Egypt in the
Plague of Darkness or, because of one punishment or another, in the desert.
Recently, I was directed to a web site, religious in nature, against the
modern State of Israel. Obviously, all religious Jews can’t wait for the day
when the country will be a Torah country, and the government will operate
its affairs according to Torah law. No Torah observant Jews can accept the
present-day situation as being ideal, when so much is done in the country
that flies in the face of Torah.
However, whereas some reject the present reality of Eretz Yisroel
completely, others see it as step along the way to the final redemption, and
have learned to work with the situation, to make the best of it, and to help
move the country more in the direction of the Jewish ideal. Some, knowing
concepts such a mirmah u’tachboles, even understand how and why God often
brings about redemption through backdoor means.
The site, which condemns those who choose to see a path of redemption that
runs through the presently existing State of Israel, uses the story of the
Bnei Ephraim to push their point about what happens to Jews who pre-empt the
proper date of redemption. Instead, they’d rather hand back authority of the
country to the Arab population, and sit tight until Moshiach comes.
However, it is a small-picture, superficial approach to Jewish history. To
be zealous for redemption can be a frustrating and often dangerous path.
However, as the Talmud states, it’s what a Jew supposed to be (Shabbos 31a).
Many have already died, or been injured trying to make the Final Redemption
a reality, but far more have died in the Diaspora, in the desert, ignoring
In another week or two, I will have published a new book called, “Drowning
in Pshat: a deeper look at the final redemption.” I wrote it based upon many
deeper sources that most do not see, but which are crucial for making sense
of Jewish history, especially current Jewish history. After thousands of
years of exile, and terrible suffering throughout, it is important that we
understand what it is that we do, and why, to prolong our own agony.
It is also based upon historical facts that point to incredible moments of
Hashgochah Pratis—Divine Providence—that clearly show the hand of God in the
formation of the present State of Israel, and how it was a necessary step
along the path to redemption since we weren’t taking enough of our own, all
from a mainstream Torah perspective. It’s already for sale in advance in my
Online Bookstore (www.thirtysix.org), in softcover format or as PDF.
Yes, that was a plug for my new book at the end of a Perceptions, as much as
I hate doing that, I did it more because of what the book is meant to do,
than to sell it. It is meant to show how Jewish history took a wrong turn in
this week’s parshah, and how the rest of Jewish history has been about
getting back on the main road once again. It has been about bringing an end
to the tragic mistake of the Generation of Spies, which has continued now
You can’t do that without the proper sources. You can’t do that with the
relevant historical facts. It is one thing to be zealous for redemption, but
it is something altogether different to understand where that zealousness is
supposed to come from. And, as the book makes clear, we may have little time
to right the wrong before it is righted through us, as opposed to because of
us. So, yes, I have just plugged my new book, but the reader, and for Jewish
history, and to try and mitigate what may be coming our way, God forbid, if
we don’t get back on track soon.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.