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Posted on June 15, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Send men, if you please, to spy out the Land.[2]

The real meaning of “the Land,” claims the Zohar,[3] is the Upper Worlds. The story alludes to humans attempting to intellectually comprehend those worlds. The plain meaning and the Zohar’s version are not as distant as heaven and earth; they are really the same. Eretz Yisrael is a materialized form of olam habo. It is a tool for acquiring it, a portal to a road that leads there more directly than from any other earthly point of departure. The Land, therefore, is the way to those Upper Worlds

Within the understanding of this lies a solution to the paradox posed by many in earlier times, particularly Rambam.[4] On the one hand, Hashem is all-knowing. Past, present, and future are all known to Him. On the other, people have the freedom (and hence accountability) to choose either good or evil. Reward and punishment – the acquisition of olam habo itself – are predicated upon our free exercise of choice. But how can those two truths coexist? If He knows what we will do, then how can we be free to act in a way contrary to His knowledge?

The answer lies in those Upper Worlds.

We choose to do good (or evil) through daas, distinguishing between the two options. As Chazal write, “If there is no daas, how can there be havdalah/distinguishing? Our distinctions between good and evil only exist within the realm of daas. Without it, there is no room, and no possibility, of making meaningful choices.

But what do we mean by daas? The short answer is that daas is one of the midos of HKBH. What we call daas is something that resides within Him, where His knowledge and His essence are one and the same. Our knowledge and understanding are tributary to His, flowing from a source within the Divine.

This way of thinking is more or less familiar to many people who realize that all aspects of the human personality derive from some midah of Hashem’s. Alas, the substance of those midos does not always make its way to our world intact. Much of what we experience is a midah in a fallen, broken state. Our task is to recognize the holy shoresh of our leanings and tendencies, and elevate them and redirect them to their source. The Besht, for example, pointed to the Torah labeling an incestuous union as “chesed.” Does it make sense that the lofty concept of chesed should be linked to a serious transgression? The point of this, said the Baal Shem Tov, is that an illicit desire begins in the upper world of ahavah. That pure ahavah can become so broken that it speaks to its human possessor about horribly inappropriate expressions of longing. Whenever a person encounters such urges, he should understand that they come from an elevated source, but have become distanced and broken. His task is to discern, to make distinctions. He must spurn the object of his longing and fascination, and reconnect it with its proper source Above. He can utilize its energy, for example, to think more deeply of his love for Hashem. We are supposed to act similarly in regard to all fallen midos, although the fuller job of elevating all that is fallen and completely separating between good and evil awaits the time of moshiach.

Now, while some people’s daas is a more direct representation of its heavenly source, other people begin with a more attenuated (or twisted) form. They find themselves with a daas mixed in with the static of its perversion. To which will they pay more attention – to the good part, returning it to its source, or to the fallen, corrupted messages that accompany it, leading him to transgression? The “right” choice is there in his daas if he chooses to utilize the fullness of daas. He can will himself to access it. He can, however, opt to go with the fallen, bent, limited form of daas that is also before him.

The important point is that all this is taking place with the person’s daas, because bechirah is always a consequence of daas. And his daas is an outgrowth of Hashem’s midah of daas. From His perspective, the choosing all takes place with His daas. There is nothing about it that contradicts a person’s ability to make his choice of the good or bad options.

This, then, is the Zohar’s understanding of our pasuk. “Send men, if you please,” which Rashi says means l’daatcha,” at your own initiative. But more literally, l’daatcha means for the purpose of getting to the root of your daas in the upper Eretz Yisrael. The spies represent Jews who wish to attain the highest levels of daas, knowing what Moshe Rabbenu was able to understand. This quest is fraught. Many are destined to fail, because they lack the yir’ah that is a requirement of full daas. They will stumble along the way, concluding that it is impossible to fully separate good from evil. They will say what the meraglim said: “It is impossible! It cannot be done.”

This is not a subtle theological error, but a full denial of Hashem He deliberately designed a world of good and evil intermixed to allow for our avodah. Our job is to completely separate between the two. It can be done!

  1. Based on Meor Einayim by R. Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl
  2. Bamidbar 13:2
  3. Beginning of Shlach
  4. Hilchos Teshuva 5:5