I WONDER HOW Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, felt after Miriam was sent out of the camp and the Jewish people were held up in the desert for a week. She’s not mentioned anywhere in the incident, but as Rashi explains, she was the cause of it all.
When Moshe Rabbeinu requested from God for others to share Moshe’s authority, God complied by telling him to choose 70 men from the 12 tribes to form the new Sanhedrin. He did this by lottery, because 12 does not go evenly into 70, which meant that some tribe would end up with less than two members on the Sanhedrin. That left it to Hashgochah Pratis to decide who was in and who was out.
In any case, the prophecy the 70 received spilled over onto Eldad and Meidad, who had not considered themselves worthy of it. Furthermore, though the prophecy the 70 members received was temporary to give them the knowledge they needed to be on the Sanhedrin, Eldad and Meidad prophesied for the ages. One predicted that Moshe Rabbeinu would not enter Eretz Yisroel, and the other, the future War of Gog and Magog.
Needless to say, they instantly made the headlines. This is why we find that Yehoshua was so insistent that Moshe put an end to their prophecy. He didn’t want to hear that his rebi wasn’t going to lead them the full distance to the real golden medinah, Eretz Yisroel.
That’s when Tzipporah entered the picture. When she heard about Eldad and Meidad, she publicly pitied their wives. From that Miriam understood that Moshe had moved out, leaving Tzipporah virtually a widow, so that he could ever be on the ready to receive prophecy. Miriam took her complaint to her brother and fellow prophet Aharon, and the rest is the parsha.
Isn’t it amazing how sometimes we can do something seemingly insignificant, and it remains that way, and other times it causes catastrophic results?
All because a little bug went kerchoo!
That’s the title of a children’s book about the cause-and-effect results of a little bug that sneezed and, in the end, sunk a ship. The point of the book is that a person has to think about what they say and do because, the long-term impact can be disastrous. Who is a wise person? The one who sees what is being born (Tamid 32a), that is they ask themselves, “What good or bad could possibly later come from this seemingly insignificant act or statement?” Because sometimes, even against great odds, such things do happen, especially when God wants to teach a person to be more careful about what they do, like in the case of Tzipporah.
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SO WHEN RASHI says, at the beginning of this week’s parsha, that the spies were evil people for not having learned a lesson from last week’s parsha, it includes more than refraining from speaking loshon hara. Besides, until this parsha, who would have thought that speaking badly about a land could even constitute loshon hara?
But the other lesson they should have learned, but didn’t is this. If they had known how dramatic and long term their impact would have been, would they have spoken the loshon hara about Eretz Yisroel? Nope, because we see later that once they found out their impact, they immediately tried to backtrack. Perhaps they might not have even gone to spy the land, wisely preferring to wait until God showed it to them on His terms.
It is interesting that the parsha begins with the word shlach—send. Some learn from the word that God was telling Moshe to send the spies if he wanted to, but God Himself was not doing it. “You send them,” He told Moshe, “because I certainly see no reason to.”
This may mean nothing, but the letters of shlach—Shin-Lamed-Ches—can be rearranged to form two other relevant words, chalash—weak, and lachash—silent. The mission was doomed to fail because the spies were too spiritually weak to go on their own in the first place and return with a favorable report. And, after they returned, silence would have served them better, which is what Caleiv tried to impose upon them.
The question is, does Rashi say that they were reshayim—evil people—because they spoke loshon hara on Eretz Yisroel, which is quite the judgment. Or, because they didn’t take the mussar, the lesson from the story of Miriam, which is even more incredible?
After seeing the historic damage the spies did with their loshon hara, we can understand why they are called evil. But if everyone who doesn’t take mussar to heart is a rasha, where does that put most of us? There isn’t a day that most of us do not ignore one moral lesson or another, which is pretty bad. But evil?
If by ignoring the mussar we might end up causing some terrible damage, God forbid, then that certainly can be considered quite evil. But most of the time that is not the case, but it is evil anyhow?
Can be. If you realize that everything we get exposed to help us become better people is a function of Hashgochah Pratis, then we aren’t just ignoring the message. We’re ignoring God.
Over the years I have developed a rule by which my wife and I basically now live. We learned it the hard way. If something crosses our minds, we deal with it. It doesn’t matter how unnecessary it may seem at the time, or how trivial. If it is something that, if left undealt with, can lead to something negative, we nip the problem in the bud. It’s just that too many times something negative we thought would never happen did, or something important we thought would happen didn’t, leaving us regretting that we did not take the situation more seriously when we could have.
For example, I have said to myself, “I should probably move that glass farther from the edge of the table before someone knocks it off by accident.” I didn’t do it because another voice of laziness countered with, “Naaaa, the chances that someone will do it from there are are very slim.” Five minutes, CRASH!
Or I have walked by some obstacle on the ground and thought, “I should move that before someone bumps into it and hurts themself.” While I deliberated going back, deciding not to out of insufficient concern, I all of a sudden heard, “OUCH!” Someone did exactly that, and I went home feeling responsible.
There are lots of things in life that escape our attention. Perhaps they shouldn’t. But you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. But the rule of life is, if God cares about something, you should care about it too. That care should be enough to help you overcome any inertia or personal agenda you might have when it comes to fixing things in life.
As the Midrash says, all God will say on a person’s final day of judgment is, “I am God.” It means that God will reveal to each person every time He tried to give them mussar, but they failed to recognize it as coming from Him. It is one thing to deal with a very difficult situation and fail. It is a lot, lot worse for a person to ignore what seemed too trivial to deal with at the time, but later caused a significant problem.
Just ask the spies.
GOD DID NOT approve of the mission, though He did not block it either. But as Rashi says, He did say that He would give them room to err, which seems underhanded and vindictive, which of course is never the case with God. Everything God does, He does for our good, because that is the entire purpose of Creation. So what is Rashi saying? How was that for their good?
The posuk says:
Who is wise and will understand these, discerning and will know them. For the ways of God are straight, and the righteous will walk in them, and the rebellious will stumble in them. (Hoshea 14:10)
There’s no sense in trying to make a right or left turn on a straightaway. That’s just begging to have a crash. But that’s what people do everyday when they deviate from the way of God.
Unlike a physical road, it is not so easy to notice. And unlike a physical road, it is not so easy to see what crashing looks like. In this week’s parsha it was easy to see in the end that they had crashed. That’s because God was right there and responded to the problem in an immediate and dramatic way. The nation knew rather quickly it had crashed.
If the Jewish people had taken the straight approach to Eretz Yisroel, God would have been straight with them. He was already straight with them, as the posuk says. It was their deviation that tripped them up. God doesn’t have to go out of His way to get a person to err. He was just pointing out that by taking the spiritually circuitous route to Eretz Yisroel, they were bound to crash.
Before the giving of Torah, it was to be expected. How could the Jewish people become l’Shem Shamayim right out of slavery? So, as it says in Parashas Beshallach, God did not take them the direct route because they were not ready for it.
But this was after the giving of Torah, and an entire year later. Bad habits are hard to break, but they had been given the tools to break them. They knew. They knew Who God was. They knew what Torah was. And they knew what was expected of them. If they could not stick to the straight-and-narrow on their own, they should have avoided walking it, or at least asked for help to walk it. The fact that they didn’t do that, meant that when they left they already had the intention to deviate, and for that reason they are called reshayim—evil people.
The story of the spies was not an isolated event. It has continued on since their time, even into today, especially today. In this generation, you don’t have to physically go to Eretz Yisroel to spy it and return with a damaging report. You can do it from the comfort of your own living, in the Diaspora and even in Eretz Yisroel.
But as it is with respect to any loshon hara, you have to be sure that what you say is halachically necessary. How much more so is this the case with Eretz Yisroel, where belittling it can hold up the entire redemption, and has for some time now.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 5
WE GET EASILY fooled because of an assumption. The assumption is that God is good and only does good. He has professed His disdain for evil in numerous places. He has wiped out evil countless times in history. So the assumption is that evil, which seems to go to war against God, has nothing to do with Him.
Once we assume that, we then give evil its own will and power, which is the same as idol worship. God would never allow a Holocaust to happen, let alone make it happen, so the Holocaust has nothing to do with Him. Evil rose up, as it often does in a spiritual vacuum, took power, as it has so many times before, and wreaked havoc, as it is wont to do, until it ran out of fuel and God decided to do something about it.
Of course, Ain Od Milvado says just the opposite. It says that it is impossible for a Holocaust to occur until God has decreed it. It says that Nazis don’t take power unless God hands it to them, and that a housepainter/beer brawler does not become leader of a socially-advanced society unless God makes him their leader.
But what about the fact that God only does good? Nothing has changed. He still only does good, and will always only do good. Not only this, but as Derech Hashem points out, when God does good, it has to be the greatest good that His handiwork can experience. Somehow, the Holocaust, and all the countless exiles and pogroms over three millennia of Jewish history, has to fit into that as well. One day we will see how.
Even the Angel of Death, otherwise known as the Sitra Achra, gets his marching orders from God. And should one of his messengers take the soul of the wrong person prematurely, as happened in the Gemora (Chagigah 4b), that too has to be according to the will of God.
The Gemora, while discussing danger vis-à-vis hashgochah pratis, concludes that colds and fevers fall outside this category. The implication is that they are natural and not really a function of any divine judgment. But if everything is a function of divine providence, then how can this be true?
It means that since our health is so naturally impacted by our environment, it does not take any special providence to make a person sick. On the contrary, it may take several miracles to prevent them from becoming ill when there are so many natural causes around them.
So, if a person does the best they can to protect their health, within halachic reason, then they can merit such miracles to stay healthy. If they are negligent with their health (which includes saying the brochah after the bathroom without any real sincerity), then God might just increase their chances of becoming ill to teach them otherwise.
But a word of caution. It is one thing to be afraid of God, meaning that a person is real with the idea that God sees all and cares about everything they do. They are afraid to fall short of what God expects from them. It is something very different to just be afraid of things going bad, and taking every medication they can and saying every segulah (something that can be said or done to mystically ward of bad happenings) known to mankind to counteract it. That too can become a form of idol worship. The Midrash says that one of the reasons why the Temple was destroyed was because segulos became more important to the people than mitzvos themselves.
I’ve seen it. I’ve watched people rush Shemonah Esrai, which is a mitzvah, because they ran out of time after saying all their segulos. Or they have dovened after sunset, which is not the ideal halachah, to make sure they say or do their segulah before sunset. That’s not asking for divine help. That’s asking for divine trouble.
Ain Od Milvado. It’s the greatest mitzvah to master, and the greatest segulah to perform at the same time.