Shelach 5777

All with the proper perspective[1]

וימתו האנשים מוצאי דבת-הארץ רעה במגפה לפני יקוק
The men who gave a bad report about the land [of Israel] died in a plague before Hashem[2]

As the Jews were just about to enter the land of Israel, they got an idea to send spies ahead to scout out the terrain. Twelve leaders, one from each tribe, were sent. They spent forty days touring the land, afterwards returning to the rest of the people. The Torah says that ten of them gave a bad report about the land, and the people wept and cried. They said that it was hopeless to try to conquer the land, for the inhabitants were mightier than they. Many wanted to return to Egypt, rather than die by the hands of the land’s inhabitants. As a result of what transpired, Hashem punishes the spies with a horrible death, and the rest of the people were sentenced to forty years of traveling aimlessly in the wilderness. Only those who survived would then get to enter the land.

A question that many ask is why were the spies punished for fulfilling their mission? They were instructed to give a detailed report of the land: what is the quality of the land, what are its landscapes like, are its inhabitants strong or weak[3]. They came back and said the truth. They said it’s a land flowing with milk in honey; they brought back fruit of the land with them. They informed the people of the mightiness of the land’s inhabitants[4]. What was their sin?

The Ramban[5] has a very simple approach. He understands that the spies got their mission wrong. They thought that they were charged to tour the land, to come back, and share their opinion. They told the people that they had no chance of defeating these nations. In reality this was a mistake. All they had to say were the facts: what they saw and what was there. It would then be up to Moshe and Aharon to determine the proper course of action. It was presumptuous to determine by themselves that the mission to conquer the land was hopeless.

Another approach is their sin was that they didn’t see things right. Everything can be looked at with two perspectives. The spies said that the land was ארץ אכלת יושביה, a land that consumes its inhabitants[6]. Rashi says[7] that when the spies were touring the land, they noticed that the people were all occupied with funerals. People were dying left, right, and center, and the inhabitants were busy burying the deceased. Anyone who sits and thinks about it for a moment would realize this isn’t normal[8]. It can’t be that it’s always been like this; otherwise this nation wouldn’t be around anymore. A logical conclusion would have been that Hashem was doing them a huge chesed. Hashem made it so that the inhabitants would all be distracted and wouldn’t notice the spies who were invading their land[9]. Instead the spies only saw destruction; they concluded this was a dangerous place and not worth conquering.

Why didn’t they see right? Two possibilities are suggested. One is the spies were biased. These leaders were appointed by the people, and had a position of authority. They saw with prophecy that once the Jews entered the land of Israel, they wouldn’t be leaders anymore[10]. They had a conflict of interest when it came to their mission to spy out the land.  Rather than view everything positively, which was one way to look at it, they looked at everything negatively. This was because they were afraid to lose their positions.

Another reason they saw things the wrong way was because they had a lack of emunah, faith in Hashem. They were told by Hashem that this land was a land flowing with milk and honey[11]. They were informed that Hashem had their best interests in mind. If they truly believed this, they would have seen everything with that perspective. They would have seen things in a positive light: that it was for their benefit. The fact that they didn’t shows they didn’t really believe any of this.

We see from here that our perspectives aren’t always objective. There often can be background influences that affect how we perceive things. Sometimes we feel nothing is working, when in the back of our minds it’s really that we don’t want things to work out. Sometimes we feel like things are hopeless, and it’s really because we lack faith in ourselves or others. It’s always good to investigate where our outlook is coming from, and we might end up being surprised by the result.

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on a shiur given by Rabbi Elimelech Reznick in 5773

[2] Numbers 14:37

[3] ibid 13:20

[4] ibid verses 27-29

[5] to verse 27

[6] ibid verse 32

[7] ad. loc, quoting Sotah 35a

[8] Birkas Peretz parshas Shelach

[9] This is what the gemarra loc. cit. says was actually the reason it was happening

[10] Mesillas Yesharim Chapter 11 s.v. יתרה עליה חמדת הכבוד, quoting Zohar parshas Shelach

[11] Exodus 3:8

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