This week’s parsha of Shelach is one of the most perplexing and tragic parshiyos of the Torah. A group of twelve leaders were selected to check out the land Hakadosh Boruch Hu had promised the Jewish people centuries back. Now, as the Jewish nation was prepared to enter the coveted area, the people decided that they had to send a delegation on their behalf to see how difficult it would be to capture the land, what type of people lived there, and the quality of its crops.
Hashem allowed Moshe to send the group. He charged them with their mission, and after davening for his talmid, Yehoshua bin Nun, Moshe sent them to scout the land Hashem promised they would be able to enter, enjoying the benefits of the land that flows with milk and honey.
We all know what became of the twelve meraglim and we wonder what type of people they were and how it could happen. All of the twelve leaders, Rashi says (13:3), were kesheirim when they departed for their tour. Upon their return, however, Rashi (13:26) says that just as they left b’eitzah ra’ah, with bad advice, they returned with bad intents. We are left wondering whether they were good people or bad people. If they were bad people, why did Moshe send them? And if they were good people, where did they go so wrong?
The Zohar (cited in Mesilas Yeshorim, Middas Hanekius) states that at the root of the sin of the meraglim was their concern that when Klal Yisroel would settle in Eretz Yisroel, they would be replaced by others and would lose their leadership positions.
The Zohar doesn’t say whether this was a conscious fear or a subconscious fear, and it is possible that the meraglim did not realize that their inner fears were influencing their judgment of what they were seeing as they traversed the land.
Often, we see people acting in ways that damage themselves and others. They get into fights with people over silly things and ascribe to them bad motives for things they said or did. Their ego clouds their judgment and leads them to get entangled in arguments. Their underlying jealousy of certain people causes them to lash out when uncalled for, bringing misfortune onto themselves.
Subconscious fears, even of great people such as the nesi’ei Yisroel who were well respected when they set out, led them to fail. Without regular study of mussar and steady self-improvement, a person can never be sure of himself and whether he is acting properly. We must always examine our approaches and thoughts, ensuring that we are not being led astray by the yeitzer hora, which conjures up different scenarios to entrap us in behavior that damages us.
It happens all the time. A glance at the headlines portrays how politicians, such as those in Israel, promise that they will undertake a certain direction if elected, and then, when the election is over, they do exactly what they promised they would never do.
Naftoli Bennett promised that he would not join with Yair Lapid and the left. Bennett signed an agreement with his potential voters, affirming that his new party, which he named Yeminah – Right, would be loyal to the right and would never empower the left or Yair Lapid. Yeminah’s voters never would have supported the party had they known that it would empower the left. But ever since the election, Yeminah’s founder and leader has been focused strictly on negotiating a rotation agreement with that very same Yair Lapid.
Though he claims to be religious and his voters are largely religious Zionists, he agreed to the rabid anti-religious agenda his partners seek to implement. In a poll released this week, only 34% of his voters said they would vote for him again. He had no problem delivering a speech to the nation on Sunday night acknowledging that the deal was about to be signed, acting as if this is for the betterment of the country.
How can a person be so dishonest? How can he jeopardize his career by going against everything he purportedly stood for?
It is because of his overarching ego and need to be prime minister. Not that he was a big tzaddik to begin with, but after he signed an agreement that the new coalition would go to war with the religious community, he lied and said that this government will be one of unity, embracing all and not cancelling out any sector.
Joe Biden did the same thing, running in the primaries and election as the moderate candidate. Upon solidifying the election, he veered all the way over to the socialist left, empowering the ultra-leftists in every aspect of government, advancing their ridiculous agenda and guiding the country on a path towards moral and financial bankruptcy. He forsook his five decades of moderation in government to earn the accolades of the media and the leftists he ran against.
The need of the meraglim to maintain power caused them to veer sharply from the lives they had led until that point. Anoshim chashuvim, they set out to map the land that Hashem had promised to their forefathers generations before. Twelve leading men of the Bnei Yisroel were given a mission to appraise the Promised Land. As they crossed into the land that Hashem had promised their forefathers years before, they should have approached every town with the perspective that they were finally meriting to be in the land of destiny, where Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov had lived. They had the merit of being the first members of the Bnei Yisroel to return to the eternal home of the Jewish people.
Had they done so, they would have viewed everything there in the proper perspective. Because they feared that when the Jewish people would follow them into this land, they would lose their positions, they viewed everything with a jaundiced eye.
Most things that we encounter in life can be perceived positively and negatively. We must not permit our biases to taint our vision and perception. We can have firmly held beliefs by which we lead our lives for decades, and then, because of a negiah, we let it all go to waste and sharply veer away from what we know is good and true. Hakadosh Boruch Hu promised this land to us and vouched for its quality and that we would inherit it, because it was created for us.
Had they not permitted their egos to spoil their vision, wherever they would have turned they would have seen the realization of Hashem’s promises. They would have seen a beautiful land that gave birth to strong people and luscious fruits. Instead, they saw people dying and food that was impractical to carry.
They didn’t hear Hashem’s promises reverberating as they traveled throughout the land. Instead, they found fault in everything they saw. They denied the greatness of the land and they denied the Divine promise. They were thus resho’im.
With this, we can understand how Rashi says that at the time they left, they were honorable people, and then he writes that just as they returned with evil advice, they left with that same evil advice. They were honorable people when they left, but their advice was evil because it was tainted by their yeitzer hora and their bad middos, such as gaavah, arrogance.
One day, a chossid of the Chiddushei Horim is said to have come to the rebbe complaining that he was depressed. “Rebbe,” he cried, “the parshiyos the past few weeks have been too much for me to bear. One week we read about the misonenim, the complainers. Then we learn about the meraglim. Then we read about Korach and his followers. Rebbe, I can’t take it. It’s so disheartening.”
Week after week, we read of the challenges facing a new nation struggling to come to terms with the reality of its own existence. We read the stories, we study them, and we wonder how people who were so smart, so gifted and blessed, who had witnessed and experienced unprecedented miracles and salvation, had strayed so far off course.
Since there is an obvious connection between the stories, Chazal wonder about the placement of the account of the meraglim in Parshas Shelach. They ask what the tale of spies dispatched to tour and report on the most splendid country on earth has to do with the story at the end of last week’s parsha pertaining to Miriam.
Parshas Beha’aloscha ended with the story of Miriam, who was punished for speaking ill of her brother, Moshe Rabbeinu.
Chazal explain the connection: “Resho’im halalu ra’u velo lokchu mussar – The wicked ones saw what happened to Miriam but didn’t learn a lesson from it” (Rashi, Bamidbar 13:2, quoting the Tanchumah).
On a simple level, the lesson they should have learned from Miriam’s experience relates to the aveirah of lashon hora. Miriam was punished for speaking negatively about her brother. The meraglim, unaffected by her punishment, spoke lashon hora about the land.
Upon further examination of the two parshiyos, another pattern emerges, adding a deeper dimension to the connection between Miriam’s sin and that of the meraglim.
The meraglim were leaders, prominent and sincere people who apparently set out to do good. They returned with graphs, maps and demographic details that were factual and accurate. Their reports regarding the land were correct and were not disputed by Yehoshua and Koleiv.
Miriam had spoken to Aharon and questioned their brother Moshe’s decision to separate from his wife. “Al odos ha’isha hakushis asher lokach…ki isha kushis lokach.” The conversation continued and they said that Hashem had spoken to Miriam and Aharon as well and they remained married, so why did Moshe think he was different? What Miriam said was true. There were no lies in what she said and no fictitious defamation. So where did she go wrong?
The Torah comments on their conversation, stating, “Veha’ish Moshe onov me’od mikol ha’adam asher al pnei ha’adamah – And the man Moshe was extremely humble, more than any person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3).
In the middle of the parsha of Miriam, the Torah informs us that Moshe Rabbeinu was the embodiment of humility and modesty. The mention of Moshe’s anavah seems to be unrelated to what transpired. Why is it here?
The Torah is saying that a person such as Moshe, who is most humble, cannot be accused of acting improperly. Moshe achieved the highest levels attainable by man. How could anyone think that he had acted improperly? The only way he could have done something not in keeping with Hashem’s wishes and commandments would be if his yeitzer hora utilized his unperfected middos to cloud his judgment. A person who has perfected his middos and is fully humble cannot be misled by his ego, for he has none.
Thus, the Torah is informing us that Miriam was wrong for insinuating that Moshe had acted improperly in an interpersonal situation. This is the lesson that the meraglim should have learned from the incident. They should have perceived that in defending Moshe, the Torah discusses his humility, because a person who is humble is not misled by subconscious needs for gratification and supremacy. They should have learned that lesson, but the wickedness in their heart did not allow them to discern that.
The quintessential shliach for his people was Moshe Rabbeinu, whom the Torah testifies was onov me’od, free of personal ambition and calculations. Perhaps it was this that made him the most effective shliach and leader the Jewish people have ever been blessed with.
In our lives, there are inevitably ups and downs. There are good times and times when the good is not perceptible. There are rainy days and sunny days, days when the kids are kvetchy and days when they are adorable. Problems tend to crop up. We can either deal with them or be overwhelmed. Whatever happens, we need to bear in mind that nothing happens by itself just because. It happens for a reason and was willed so by Hakadosh Boruch Hu for a higher purpose.
If we view and understand everything that happens to us as being caused by Hashem, then we can appreciate that even when something seems to be the greatest tragedy imaginable, there is blessing there, there is goodness there, and something positive will come of it. That perception would help us in so many ways in the many different scenarios we encounter in life almost on a daily basis. It will allow us to remain positive no matter what comes our way, difficult as it may appear. Nothing should be able to get us down. With emunah and bitachon, we can conquer all.