The Children of Israel had just spent almost a year at Mount Sinai while being miraculously supported by “Mon”, food which fell daily from Heaven, and a spring which was always available for the needs of all of the millions of people there, and their flocks and herds. They were protected on all sides by “clouds” which surrounded them. When they traveled, they followed G-d’s manifest presence through the wilderness. When it was finally time to bring the Children of Israel into The Land of Canaan, they asked Moshe to send scouts first. After all of the miracles they had experienced in Egypt and in the wilderness over this period of 15 months since they had left there, couldn’t they rely on G-d’s past record, and trust Him on entering The Land of Canaan without sending scouts?
In the traditional Jewish approach there exists a balance between “bitachon” (trust in G-d), and “hishtadlus” (human effort). Each individual must strike the proper balance between the two. If not, either material pursuits will be emphasized to the detriment of the spiritual pursuits, or vice versa. A proper balance takes into account that G-d provides our livelihood regardless of how many hours we put in. It is written that it is decreed on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) what a person’s income will be for the year. In that case why do we work? Since mankind was cursed with “you shall eat with the sweat of your brow,” which means that G-d’s providence doesn’t come to us openly, we work. We are enjoined by G-d to be spiritual people, and emphasize the spiritual even if we spend less time each day involved in it as opposed to its counterpart. In Torah terms this means studying Torah and performing it’s commandments.
How much “hishtadlus,” or human effort, was required by the Jewish Nation in the period after it left Egypt? At that time G-d’s providence was openly manifest, and all of their needs were given to them miraculously. There was no need to engage in activities related to earning a livelihood. They went out and collected their “mon” every morning, and it was enough for the day. They were free to be entirely spiritual beings with no other earthly pursuits.
However, being entirely spiritual is a tall order, and a very demanding one at that. The Jewish nation had not reached that level (although they could have), and they therefore expressed their desire to send scouts into The Land of Canaan before going in to conquer it.
The scouts returned after 40 days and the Jews panicked upon hearing their report. The scouts claimed that they could not enter the land. It was well protected by great and powerful nations. The Torah tells us that the Jews felt that G-d hated them and was planning on causing them to be killed at the hands of these nations. They even went as far as to say that even G-d could not stand up against the nations of Canaan. Our sages explain that what they meant is that as a result of their having worshipped the Golden Calf, and other sins they had committed, they would no longer merit G-d’s help, and they had to resort to natural strategies.
Rav Dessler explains that this was a very subtle, but grave sin. The Jews were really struggling with the aforementioned balance between trust and human effort. They leaned toward more human effort when less was indeed required. All that they complained about was really a subtle lie which they convinced themselves of out of fear.
The lesson we learn from this event is that our attitudes are easily swayed by subtle concerns which we harbor in our hearts. We must always question our motivations and approaches – where are they coming from? Rav Dessler says that the human being can discern what is not the objectively correct approach – if he wants to. Sometimes fears or other considerations can cause one not to want to discern. The Torah is teaching us the repurcussions of that kind of attitude.
Dedicated in memory of Leah Giza bas Shlomo Mordechai, by the Weinberg family, Baltimore, MD.