Much has been written and taught regarding the motives of the leaders of Israel, those who Moshe sent to spy out the land of Israel in advance of the Jewish people entering their homeland. After all the explanations, it remains a baffling mystery as to how such great people could have been so wrong on such an important issue. Just as they were able to convince an entire generation to believe as they did, we have found that over the centuries of human history, there have been many instances of such types of situations.
Sometimes these matters are treated as being a symptom of mass hysteria. In the Middle Ages there were many such instances when people were led to believe in the false narratives of leaders, some of whom were even sincere in spreading these narratives. There was a derisive expression in Yiddish that stated that “the masses of the general public are always fools and ignoramuses.” This is a rather harsh assessment and in a democratic society such as ours, which is allegedly run by and subject to the will of the masses, it does not register favorably in our ears.
Though that assessment of public opinion and belief may be too broad, there is certainly more than a kernel of truth in that saying. And the reaction of the Jewish people to the false narrative stated by the spies who visited Israel, serves as a bitter and eternal reminder of human folly. Such instances are not subject to rational explanation, but they are omnipresent throughout the story of human existence on this planet.
The question always arises as to how to prevent such suicidal mistakes from occurring in Jewish society. Over the past century masses of Jews allowed themselves to be persuaded by false narratives, as was the case with the spies in the desert, resulting in death and disaster. Millions of Jews followed the red flag of Marxism, in all its various forms, only to be devoured by the very beast that they had nurtured.
Others searched for new forms of Judaism they felt would be relevant to their children and to future generations. After all we were in a different world and a different society than that of our ancestors. The old Judaism would somehow prove to be irrelevant and doomed. But just the opposite has seemingly occurred. While all the forms of new, modern and progressive Judaism are teetering on the verge of extinction, the old irrelevant Judaism has revitalized itself and inspired generations with its eternal truths and values granted at Mount Sinai.
The Jewish people traditionally are hasty people. New ideas capture them and to a certain extent, cause a type of mass hysteria that blindsides them. Yet, it is also within our nature, by tradition and history, to be a skeptical people. We should never lose that healthy skepticism when dealing with issues, problems and the possibility of solutions in our current society.
Rabbi Berel Wein