Moshe sent them to scout the Land of Canaan, and he said to them, “Go up this way in the south and climb up the mountain. You shall see what [kind of] land it is, and the people who inhabit it; are they strong or weak? Are there few or many? And what of the land they inhabit? Is it good or bad? And what of the cities in which they reside are they in camps or in fortresses? What is the soil like? Is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land.” It was the season when the first grapes begin to ripen. (Bamidbar 13:17-20)
Are they strong or weak? : He gave them a sign. If they live in open cities [it is a sign that] they are strong, since they rely on their might. And if they live in fortified cities [it is a sign that] they are weak. – Rashi
This Rashi is rather counter intuitive! We would think things should be just the other way around. If they are in walled cities they are secure and if they are in open encampments they are vulnerable and weak! What’s origin of this notion? What’s the relevance?
When peaking back at the earliest moments of human history we find a curious phenomenon. What was the first recorded human invention? Take a few moments to think before answering. Some will guess fire but that’s not explicitly related. Well surprisingly it’s clothing, albeit primitive and minimal. Adam and Chava felt the need to cover-up with a fig leaf after they ingested the forbidden fruit because their innocence was now lost. Prior to that moment they were naked and without any shameful or selfish tendencies. Now, however, afterwards, because of an inner weakness, a moral failing they needed to shield themselves from themselves.
The stronger a person is the less they are reliant on external devices. The weaker a person is the more they need stuff on the outside. We are never envious of a person who requires a wheelchair or someone who is hooked up to wires and tubes in the hospital. The outer equipment betrays a weakness in limb or bodily function. The same is true in the spiritual realm.
Armed with this information the conversation can move in many directions. Let us focus on this point for now. I wonder how our ancestors understood the Mishne in Pirke’ Avos, “Know what is above from you, an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded in a book!” This Mishne is thousands of years old and it predates the video, and the tape recorder. How did they conceive that what we do now is recorded forever?! The Chofetz Chaim had observed that the invention of the phone is an “object lesson” meant to reinforce the notion that what we say here and now can be heard and create an impact elsewhere. There is no such thing as a perfectly private conversation in the spiritual universe. Now the world of technology that envelopes us crying out for inspection to figure what deeper lessons these objects and devices come to teach us.
This list is long and the page is short. The ubiquitous GPS is a classic. I can remember taking a long ride to New Hampshire with a bunch of fellows. The driver of the luxury suburban had a GPS fixed in his car. Another guy sat in the front and attached his own GPS to the window. Both inputted the destination. One had a woman’s voice and the other a man’s voice, because his wife didn’t want another woman telling him what to do. Like an old married couple the GPS’s dueled and disagreed until the last half mile.
I was thinking the machine is teaching, “Harbe Drachim l’ Makom”. There are many ways to get to the place. Elu v’ Elu Divre’ Elochim Chaim! These and these are the word of the living G-d. Disputes in Hallachah allow for differing approaches. If you’re driving a truck it’s one way, and a regular car another. I drove back from Baltimore once with no money in my pocket and no EZEE Pass so the GPS directed me on a circuitous and toll-free way home.
Also we learn how to educate and correct. The GPS is never impatient. It recalibrates and then tells us calmly how to get to our destination. It reminds us we need a goal or it’s entirely useless. It affirms for us the value of having a Rebbe who knows us, and where we are at. It is just one machine, but it speaks volumes in volume.