Very few weekly readings send shivers up and down the spine of the Jew as much as this week’s parsha. It is not just that it resulted in 39 extra years of wandering in the desert, but that it also resulted is the destruction of two Temples, the fall of the city of Betar during Roman times, and countless other pogroms and disasters throughout our long history. Never before has forty days had so much impact on thousands of years of history!
The first question to ask is, why did the Israeli Ministry of Tourism decide to put the picture of two of the spies carrying grapes on the side of their official cars? Isn’t it an oxymoron? The spies represented a rejection of Eretz Yisroel, whereas the Ministry of Tourism is supposed to encourage travel to Eretz Yisroel! Perhaps, in the words of one person, the symbol was chosen to act as a warning to those who come here and leave: Whether it was the slow service in the banks, or the unwilling waiter in the restaurant, or the less-than-honest cab driver, just …
Remember the last group of “spies” who came to the land and spoke badly about it! Remember what happened to them!!
What exactly did happen to them? Where did things go wrong? How could the spies have made such a mistake and reject the gift of Eretz Yisroel, right before G-d whose very Presence enveloped them?
The answer is, we do it all the time. Let me give you an example.
If you were to tell a nine year old that soon he would be going out of town to school, and to live on his own away from his father and mother, he would look at you in terror and say:
“M-M-M-Me? Live on m-m-m-my own? I could n-n-n-never do it.”
Of course, four years later, there he would be, happily packing up to go and live away from home. If you told the same son four years later that, in five years time, he would be married and building his own family, he’d probably answer you,
“Me? Married? Maybe someday but not for a long, long time to come.”
Then, five years later, there he would be under the chupah, saying the words that would marry him to his wife for life!
Self-perception plays a major role in trust and faith in G-d. Very often, we look at the future through the eyes of the present, and we get nervous. “Based upon what I have today,” we think to ourselves, “how will I pay the bills next month?” Or, “How will I handle being married in five years time?” etc. Like the nine year old looking ahead to the future, we try to relate to the future based upon how we feel now in the present, even though so much can and will happen for us in the interim, all of which will have a major impact on what we do in that future.
Trust in G-d means that,
Though I don’t have now what I need for tomorrow, I trust that, just as G-d gave me today what I need for today, He will also give me tomorrow what I will need for tomorrow. I don’t know how, or when, or even why He will, but I believe that it will all come together by the time it has too.
Standing where you are today, you could get nervous about tomorrow, but then again, “today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday…” as the saying goes-and you’re still here. You survived, right?
The spies made the classic mistake of judging the future through the eyes of the present, and therefore, lost hope in the future. Were they ready to go into the land at that point? No, but that’s precisely why G-d wasn’t taking them into Canaan and that point in time. Had they been ready to go in at that time, they wouldn’t have had to spy; G-d would have simply brought them into to the Land.
The spies looked at themselves, and said, “In our present state, we could never fight against the Canaanim.” And they had been right-in their present state, they were not ready to take on the kings of Canaan. But then again, months before leaving Egypt, they hadn’t known how they would be able to overcome the mightiest nation on the earth. Moments before crossing the Red Sea, they hadn’t known how they would be able to flee from the attacking Egyptians without being killed by the sword, or by drowning. Yet, when the moment came, G-d had been there with them, and gave them the wherewithal to get the job done and get on with their lives.
What the spies should have said was:
“We don’t know how we will ever be able to overcome the thirty-one kings of Canaan, based upon who we are today and what we’re capable of doing now. However, just as G-d saved us from the Egyptians and Amalek, so too will He show us how to defeat the Canaanim-when the time comes to do so.”
This is the basis of trust and faith in G-d.
Rashi seems to contradict himself. First, in verse 13:15, he says that all of the people chosen to spy the land, one from each of the twelve spies, had been “kosher.” That means, the had all been quite admirable people, and could be relied upon to be objective about what they had seen while spying the land.
However, in verse 13:26, Rashi changes tracks. Rashi asks, why does the verse connect up the “going” with the “coming”? To teach you that, just the spies came back with bad advice, that is, to not inherit the Land, so too did they leave with such a negative intention. That’s certainly not what the Torah calls being “kosher.” Where and when did the change occur?
It occurred the moment they turned their backs on Moshe to start their journey. All the while they had Moshe in front of them and were in his presence, they felt the holiness that G-d showered down to the world through Moshe. The goal is to have this ability on one’s own, but it takes spiritual development, which the spies had yet to complete. This is why G-d had not been the one to send them on their mission, knowing full well they hadn’t had what it took to successfully spy the land and see the blessing for what it was.
In fact, not only didn’t they see the blessings, they even saw them as curses:
They [the spies] brought back to B’nei Yisroel an evil report of the land which they had searched, saying, “The land which we investigated is a land that eats up its inhabitants.” (BaMidbar 13:22)
[The spies reported that] “In every place we passed we found them burying their dead!” However, the truth was that The Holy One, Blessed is He, did this for their good, to involve them [the inhabitants of Canaan] in mourning to distract them from paying attention to the spies. (Rashi)
Because the spies had left with a negative attitude, they lost the ability to objectively spy the land, and complete the mitzvah they had started. For, as the Nefesh HaChaim explains, when we even just think to do a mitzvah, we begin to draw down Divine assistance to carry through with our thoughts, even before we have lifted a finger! On the other hand, by having a negative attitude toward an important task denies a person the necessary heavenly help often necessary to carry out a mitzvah.
Therefore, we can never underestimate the importance of a positive attitude, and the role a positive intention can have on our ability to live meaningful lives. It is frighteningly awesome how the negative intentions of the spies resulted in so much sadness and destruction over the generations!
The Torah ends off this week’s parsha with the mitzvah to not “spy after our eyes and our hearts.” As Rashi explains:
The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body, that is, they lead a person to transgress: the eyes see, the heart covets, and the body transgresses. (Rashi)
This, of course, is the parsha’s summation of what went wrong with the spies. This is why Shlomo HaMelech warned:
The wise man’s eyes are in his head, and the fool walks in darkness. (Koheles 2:14)
The fool walks in darkness specifically because his eyes are “not in his head.” Rather, he thinks with his physical eyes, so-to-speak. Thinking with one’s eyes means to simply evaluate reality based upon how it appears to the physical eye, with very little thought for what is not obvious. Reality always has two parts, that which is visible, and that which is visible only to the trained eye, or rather, the trained mind, and that is often the most important part to be able to perceive.
If the spies had only looked at Eretz Yisroel through their minds‘ eyes, they would have seen past the negative aspects and seen Eretz Yisroel as the “land flowing with milk and honey” that it is. There is the following analogy that expresses this idea:
There was once a princess who decided to marry a commoner. She sent her guards to summon him to the palace, so that she could inform him of the news. However, upon reaching the commoner, the guards were told, “Let me first see the princess, and then I will decide whether to marry her or not.” Upon hearing the response, the princess said, “Very well, bring him to me.” However, before the commoner came in, the princess threw a black veil over her face, hiding her radiant beauty. When the commoner saw the princess veiled in black, he said, “This is your princess?! She is not for me!”
So too was it (and still is) with Eretz Yisroel. G-d offered to give the gift of the holiest land to the holy people. But they answered, “Let us see her first!” G-d said, “They want to see her first! Let them come!” However, he presented aspects of the land that could be read either way, as blessing or curse, depending upon the attitude and pre-disposition of the viewer. The spies looked and said, “This is Eretz Yisroel? We don’t want it!” And like many who have since traced their steps, and with a similar attitude, the spies walked away from one of the most magnificent spiritual and physical opportunities in history.
Before closing, let’s review some of the comments about Eretz Yisroel as found in the Talmud:
- Anyone who lives outside of Eretz Yisroel, it is as if they worship idols. (Kesuvos 110b)
- All the time that Avraham lived outside of Eretz Yisroel did not count in the number of ten years that Sarah had gone childless. (Yevamos 64a)
- Eretz Yisroel lacks nothing. (Brochos 36b)
- Eretz Yisroel was created before the rest of the world. (Ta’anis 10a)
- Hashem personally waters Eretz Yisroel, but the rest of the nations gain sustenance through a messenger. (Ta’anis 10a)
- Eretz Yisroel receives rain, but the rest of the world just receives the residual. (Ta’anis 10a)
- It is better to live in a city in Eretz Yisroel that is mostly inhabited by non-Jews than to live in a city outside of Eretz Yisroel that is mostly inhabited by Jews. (Kesuvos 110b)
- Anyone who lives outside of Eretz Yisroel is as if he worships idols. (Kesuvos 110b)
- Why is Eretz Yisroel compared to a deer? Just like the skin of a deer does not contain its flesh, neither does Eretz Yisroel contain its fruit … so too is Eretz Yisroel the fastest to ripen its fruits … (Kesuvos 112a)
Why is Eretz Yisroel compared to a deer? Just like the skin of a deer does not contain its flesh, neither does Eretz Yisroel contain its flesh when they live on her. (Gittin 57a)
Ten measures of wisdom fell to the world, nine of which fell on Eretz Yisroel, and one on the rest of the world. (Kiddushin 49b)
Eretz Yisroel is higher than all other lands. (Kiddushin 69b)
No, I don’t work for the Aliyah Office. However, if there is one lesson to draw from this week’s parsha, it is love of Eretz Yisroel as a place to fulfill mitzvos and the purpose of creation. Making aliyah is a personal thing (at least until Moshiach comes). There are a lot of issues involved in uprooting oneself and/or one’s family, and re-planting in a foreign country. It is always worthwhile to discuss one’s decision and plans with a competent halachic authority, especially when it comes to other responsibilities.
However, at least at this stage of history, we ought to work on realizing that, ultimately, Eretz Yisroel is the home of the Jews, and of the Torah as it has been handed down to us throughout the generations since Moshe at Mt. Sinai. It is a holy land destined for a holy people, who will abide by the laws set down by the holy Torah itself. Knowing this is the first stage to removing that “black veil” and revealing the intrinsic beauty of Eretz Yisroel to ourselves, and all those who might follow in our footsteps.
Have a great Shabbos,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org