HASHEM said to Moshe, saying, “Send (Shelach) for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father’s tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst.” (Bamidbar 13:1-2)
What started out looking like a noble venture lead by men of honor quickly became a national tragedy. What in the world went wrong? Now we are like forensic scientists approaching this entire episode as a crime scene with orange tape and police lights flashing. What went down here? We begin with twelve great men and in the end there only two that walked away unscathed and not corrupted. What was the major fault? What was their crime?
Some of the most profound conversations I have ever had were with young children that were sent to my office. One young fellow is sitting there in a defiant mood. I wait for him to calm down and I ask him sternly, “Who’s the boss here?!” He looks up sheepishly and mumbles, “You!” I immediately shake my head no, and let him know, “Not me!” I ask again, “Who’s the boss here?” He thinks for a bit and looks up at me again and says, “HASHEM!?” I tell him, “That’s right! We both work for the same boss!”
The Midrash tells us that we each sent into this world to perform a mission, to do a uniquely customized job that no one else can do. It’s not always easy to remember that fact. We live a large and distracting universe. Sometime we lose track of why we are here and Who it is that sent us. How do we remain loyal and connected to that mission?
There’s a Talmudic concept, “The messenger is like the one who sends him.” A person is an extension of the one who sent him. We assume the power of attorney granted by whomever it is that we represent. We take on the power and proportion of the one who sends us. . Even a simple task like lighting a Shabbos candle is enhanced not so much by the originality or genius of the performer but by the connection to The One Who Commands him or her to do so. That’s what a Mitzvah is. It’s not just a good deed. It means connection, and to be in the company of. A Mitzvah creates and connects us with the sender and puts us in HASHEM’s company. The deed is not less than an extension of the will of HASHEM, our G-d, King of the Universe. That is what shines forth in the context of a Mitzvah!
There’s another factor at play as well. Let’s say I was to approach the Governor’s mansion at 3:00 o’clock AM and begin to knock on the door and demand a meeting with the Governor. Somebody would likely shout out, “Who goes there?” I might sheepishly answer, “Label Lam!” “Go away you fool!” they would appropriately respond and I would be made to leave. However if I was carrying a message from the President I would bang on the door more emphatically and when asked what the racket was all about I would forget at that moment about myself and I would answer with a sense overpowering urgency, “It’s a message from the President!” The door would open wide! If I know who it is that I truly represent in the world then I gain the courage needed to perform my mission.
Maybe now we can understand the serious disconnect of the Meraglim, the spies. What was their failure? They went on this mission as representatives of the interests of the People of Israel. They assumed the most basic fears and limitations of the ones whom they represented. Then with those eyes they perceived the gravity and seemingly impossibility of the entering and conquering a land of giants. At the very end of the Parsha we are commanded, “And it will be to you for Tzitzis (fringes) and you will look upon it and you will remember all the Mitzvos (Commandments) of HASHEM and you will perform them and you will not stray after your hearts and after your eyes which you go straying after them. (Bamidbar 15:39) Tzitis are a constant reminder, everywhere we turn. Who do you work for? Whom do we represent? Who is the boss here?