This week we read about the twelve spies who were sent to scout out the Land of Canaan. Their mission of surveillance was meant to prepare the Jewish nation so that the entry into their promised homeland be smooth and virtually without surprises. Total trust in Hashem’s Divine design should have warranted no mortal meddling, but mortal prudence or perhaps apprehension and skepticism prompted their desire to manage the situation in their own way. And, as has been the case with the relationship between Jews and their land from time immemorial, the results were disastrous. All the spies, save the righteous Calev and Yehoshua, brought back tales of woe, predictions of destruction, and assurances of defeat. The Jews were quickly and simply swayed, and the buoyant expectancy of a gallant entry into the land promised to our forefathers, quickly turned into a night of bemoaning anticipated enduring misfortunes. That night, the 9th day of the fifth month, became engraved in the annals of our history as a night of weeping. What began as unwarranted wailing turned into a forever fateful night the 9th of Av. From the saga of the spies to the destruction of two Temples, to the signing of inquisition, to the outbreak of World War I, the war to end all wars, the 9th of Av is a hallmark of Jewish misfortunes. But if we analyze the complaints of the meraglim (spies), we find an emerging pattern of skewed vision. They saw fruit so big and beautiful that it had to be carried on a double pole. Yet they viewed it as an indication of giant produce, indicative of the degree of food matter that nourished their powerful and physically giant adversaries.
But not only the living species gave them conniptions. They brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil report on the Land that they had spied out, saying, “The Land through which we have passed, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants! All the people that we saw in it were huge! (Numbers 13:32).
Rashi explains the meaning of “a land that devours its inhabitants.” The meraglim complained, “In every place which we passed we found the inhabitants burying their dead” They missed the point. In fact, Hashem caused many deaths amongst them at that time, and so the Canaanites were engaged in burying their dead. This proved beneficial for the spies, because the giants were occupied with their mourning and paid no attention to the spies.
How can an event that was providentially meant to be so beneficial, be misconstrued as an omen of misfortune?
Back in the early 1950’s a large shoe consortium with stores across the United States and Canada, decided to take their business venture into the emerging continent of Africa. They sent two of their salesman to explore the prospects of business in the remote villages across the Dark Continent. After just one week, they received a cable from the first salesman: “I am returning at once. No hope for business. Nobody here wears shoes!” They did not hear from the second salesman for four weeks. Then one day an urgent cable arrived. “Send 15,000 pairs of shoes at once! I have leased space in five locations. Will open chain of stores. This place is filled with opportunity. Nobody has shoes!”
The Steipler Gaon, Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Kanievsky, in his classic work on chumash, Birchas Peretz explains that poor attitudes help forge opinions that are diametric to the truth. The Talmud tells us that, “Man is led in the path that he chooses to travel!”
Imagine. The spies see these giants wailing and weeping at massive funerals day after day. They should have figured that this plague was an anomaly, for if this was the norm, then the funerals would have become part of their everyday existence, and hardly an event worthy of disrupting their normally tight security.
In fact, comments the Steipler, that in the times of Yehoshua, the two spies who entered Canaan were immediately detected on the very day they arrived, and they were hunted with a vengeance! Yet these twelve spies remained unnoticed. But the spies did not look at the events with that view. When people have sour opinions and want to see only doom and gloom, then even a ray of light will blind them. When one is constantly weighed down with worry, he will only drag his feet down the path of discontent. However, if we take life’s bumpy road, as a chance to exercise our endurance, and turn the lemons handed to us into lemonade, then unlike the meraglim we will glean light from even the seemingly darkest abyss. And one day we will follow the path of that light to the Promised Land.
Dedicated by Steve & Faye Kollander and family with great praise to Hashem upon the marriage of our children Arielle and Adam Parkoff
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.