I often think of this week that transitions between Parshas Beha’alosecha and Parshas Shelach Lecha to be one of the saddest weeks of the year. Thinking about the contrast between what once was and could have always been, and what actually transpired is just an extremely painful experience.
Let us go back in time, to just about the midpoint in Parshas Beha’alosecha. The pesukim there (Bamidbar 10:11) read as follows:
וַיְהִ֞י בַּשָּׁנָ֧ה הַשֵּׁנִ֛ית בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֖י בְּעֶשְׂרִ֣ים בַּחֹ֑דֶשׁ נַעֲלָה֙ הֶֽעָנָ֔ן מֵעַ֖ל מִשְׁכַּ֥ן הָעֵדֻֽת:
And it was in the second year, on the second month in the twentieth of the month that the cloud lifted from above the Mishkan of the Testament .
At this point we have been sitting at Har Sinai and learning for close to one year. We have now learned everything that we need to learn at Har Sinai. It is time for us to move on! We are going to Eretz Yisroel! And so, with fanfare and flourish the Shevatim get up to leave! Let us keep learning (Bamidbar 10:12-14)
וַיִּסְע֧וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל לְמַסְעֵיהֶ֖ם מִמִּדְבַּ֣ר סִינָ֑י וַיִּשְׁכֹּ֥ן הֶעָנָ֖ן בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר פָּארָֽן: וַיִּסְע֖וּ בָּרִאשֹׁנָ֑ה עַל־פִּ֥י יְקֹוָ֖ק בְּיַד־מֹשֶֽׁה: וַיִּסַּ֞ע דֶּ֣גֶל מַחֲנֵ֧ה בְנֵֽי־יְהוּדָ֛ה בָּרִאשֹׁנָ֖ה לְצִבְאֹתָ֑ם וְעַל־צְבָא֔וֹ נַחְשׁ֖וֹן בֶּן־עַמִּינָדָֽב:
And the Bnei Yisroel traveled to their journeys through Midbar Sinai and the cloud rested in the Midbar of Paran. And they traveled on their first journey, by the command of Hashem through Moshe’s agency. And the banner of the camp of Yehuda traveled first to their hosts, and upon its host was Nachshon ben Aminadav…
This portion of Parshas Beha’alosecha leaves us off with such a heartwarming feeling. Everything is picturesque and just as it should be! The chatzotzros have blown, the Degalim have received their marching orders and we are moving on to Eretz Yisroel. We are going to Eretz Yisroel! What could be more beautiful than this sight! It is really a balm for burning eyes to look at this oasis of words in what is about to turn into a very difficult Parsha.
The only problem is that only half of the story is being told here. The other half we can find in Parshas Devarim (1:6-8) where Moshe Rabbeinu tells us as follows:
יְקֹוָ֧ק אֱלֹהֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב לֵאמֹ֑ר רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה: פְּנ֣וּ׀ וּסְע֣וּ לָכֶ֗ם וּבֹ֨אוּ הַ֥ר הָֽאֱמֹרִי֘ וְאֶל־כָּל־שְׁכֵנָיו֒ בָּעֲרָבָ֥ה בָהָ֛ר וּבַשְּׁפֵלָ֥ה וּבַנֶּ֖גֶב וּבְח֣וֹף הַיָּ֑ם אֶ֤רֶץ הַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ וְהַלְּבָנ֔וֹן עַד־הַנָּהָ֥ר הַגָּדֹ֖ל נְהַר־פְּרָֽת: רְאֵ֛ה נָתַ֥תִּי לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ בֹּ֚אוּ וּרְשׁ֣וּ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נִשְׁבַּ֣ע יְ֠קֹוָק לַאֲבֹ֨תֵיכֶ֜ם לְאַבְרָהָ֨ם לְיִצְחָ֤ק וּֽלְיַעֲקֹב֙ לָתֵ֣ת לָהֶ֔ם וּלְזַרְעָ֖ם אַחֲרֵיהֶֽם:
Hashem our G-d spoke to us in Chorev saying, you have sat long enough at this mountain. Turn and travel and come to the mountain of the Emori and all of its environs, in the plain, the mountain and the lowlands, the south and the shores of the sea, the land of the Cana’ani and the Levanon forests until the great river that is the river of Peras. See that I have given over the land before you; come and inherit the land that Hashem has sworn to your forefathers to Avraham to Yitzchok and to Yaakov to give to them and to their descendants.
There Rashi explains as follows:
ראה נתתי – בעיניכם אתם רואים. איני אומר לכם מאומד ומשמועה. באו ורשו – אין מערער בדברח ואינכם צריכים למלחמה, אלו לא שלחו מרגלים לא היו צריכים לכלי זיין.
See I have given over – visibly to your eyes. I am not telling you this by estimation, or from hearsay. Come and inherit – there is no one protesting the matter and you have no need for war! Had they not sent the spies they would never have needed weapons!
Occasionally we find that the Torah will tell us a story and then recount it again, and only in the second retelling will it add in different details. Why the Torah chooses to do this in a general sense is beyond the scope of our conversation, but here it seems prudent to inquire: why did the Torah not inform us of this message here in Parshas Shelach Lecha?
What strikes me as a possible explanation is that to inform us of this message at this point would simply be too painful an experience to bear. A little bit of concealment is necessary for our emotional health, as it were.
To understand this fully we need to close our eyes and immerse ourselves back in a very familiar parsha. Let us revisit a parsha that we say each time that the Torah is removed from the Aron Kodesh (Bamidbar 10:35-36):
וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה׀ יְקֹוָ֗ק וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ:
And it was when the Aron would travel that Moshe would say “Arise Hashem and Your enemies shall scatter, and those who hate You shall flee before You”.
If we want to understand what Moshe Rabbeinu is saying we must turn back the pages of our Chumash back to Parshas Mishpatim. There, after all of the dinim have been laid out clearly and beautifully, we find the following promise from HaKadosh Baruch Hu (Shemos 23:20-22):
הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י שֹׁלֵ֤חַ מַלְאָךְ֙ לְפָנֶ֔יךָ לִשְׁמָרְךָ֖ בַּדָּ֑רֶךְ וְלַהֲבִ֣יאֲךָ֔ אֶל־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֲכִנֹֽתִי: הִשָּׁ֧מֶר מִפָּנָ֛יו וּשְׁמַ֥ע בְּקֹל֖וֹ אַל־תַּמֵּ֣ר בּ֑וֹ כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יִשָּׂא֙ לְפִשְׁעֲכֶ֔ם כִּ֥י שְׁמִ֖י בְּקִרְבּֽוֹ: כִּ֣י אִם־שָׁמוֹעַ֤ תִּשְׁמַע֙ בְּקֹל֔וֹ וְעָשִׂ֕יתָ כֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲדַבֵּ֑ר וְאָֽיַבְתִּי֙ אֶת־אֹ֣יְבֶ֔יךָ וְצַרְתִּ֖י אֶת־צֹרְרֶֽיךָ:
Behold I am sending my messenger before you to guard you on the road and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Beware from before him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him for he shall not forbear your iniquities for he speaks in My name. If you shall listen to his voice and do all that I state, and I shall despise your enemies and afflict your tormenters.
If we only just listen to Hashem then He will take our battles on Himself! His hatred is sworn against our enemies and those who afflict us shall ruefully regret the day that they ever started up against us! HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself will fight our battles leaving us no need to do anything other than to show up and collect the spoils! This message that Moshe Rabbeinu transmitted to us in Parshas Devarim is exactly the crux of the Mishpatim passage!
Now, if we flip quickly back to Parshas Beha’alosecha what do we see? “Arise Hashem and Your enemies shall scatter and those who hate You shall flee before You!” Moshe Rabbeinu’s proclamation in Parshas Beha’alosecha is a tefillah for the exact fulfillment of this promise that Hashem made to us; explicitly back in Parshas Mishpatim and later on ahead in Parshas Devarim in a slightly more inferential way. The decibel level mounting from the combination of these three Parshiyos is practically deafening! אינכם צריכין לכלי זיין! Who needs weapons! Hashem is fighting for you, all that you need to do is to march right in!
What does it look like when the Ribono Shel Olam fights the war for us? Let us read a little bit further into Parshas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:23-27):
כִּֽי־יֵלֵ֣ךְ מַלְאָכִי֘ לְפָנֶיךָ֒ וֶהֱבִֽיאֲךָ֗ אֶל־הָֽאֱמֹרִי֙ וְהַ֣חִתִּ֔י וְהַפְּרִזִּי֙ וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֔י הַחִוִּ֖י וְהַיְבוּסִ֑י וְהִכְחַדְתִּֽיו: לֹֽא־תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֤ה לֵאלֹֽהֵיהֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א תָֽעָבְדֵ֔ם וְלֹ֥א תַעֲשֶׂ֖ה כְּמַֽעֲשֵׂיהֶ֑ם כִּ֤י הָרֵס֙ תְּהָ֣רְסֵ֔ם וְשַׁבֵּ֥ר תְּשַׁבֵּ֖ר מַצֵּבֹתֵיהֶֽם: וַעֲבַדְתֶּ֗ם אֵ֚ת יְקֹוָ֣ק אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם וּבֵרַ֥ךְ אֶֽת־לַחְמְךָ֖ וְאֶת־מֵימֶ֑יךָ וַהֲסִרֹתִ֥י מַחֲלָ֖ה מִקִּרְבֶּֽךָ: לֹ֥א תִהְיֶ֛ה מְשַׁכֵּלָ֥ה וַעֲקָרָ֖ה בְּאַרְצֶ֑ךָ אֶת־מִסְפַּ֥ר יָמֶ֖יךָ אֲמַלֵּֽא: אֶת־אֵֽימָתִי֙ אֲשַׁלַּ֣ח לְפָנֶ֔יךָ וְהַמֹּתִי֙ אֶת־כָּל־הָעָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּבֹ֖א בָּהֶ֑ם וְנָתַתִּ֧י אֶת־כָּל־אֹיְבֶ֛יךָ אֵלֶ֖יךָ עֹֽרֶף:
When my angel goes before you and he shall bring you to the Emori and the Chiti and the Perizi and the Cana’ani and the Chivi and the Yevusi and I shall destroy them. You shall not bow to their gods nor shall you serve them or even act according to their ways; rather you shall obliterate them thoroughly and shatter their pillars. And you shall serve Hashem your G-d and He shall bless your bread and your water and I shall remove sickness from amongst you. There shall not be a miscarriage or a barren woman amongst you, the count of your days I shall fill. I shall send my fright before you and I shall bewilder all of the nations that you come to battle against and I shall turn the nape of your enemies toward you as they flee!
Our arrival to Eretz Yisroel is to be an absolutely incredible experience! The world will be completely as it should be! The Beracha will surround us on all sides even without any open miracles. In the natural order of things there are women whose pregnancies terminate early; a certain percentage of women are naturally barren; people die early in car accidents – but none of that shall affect you whatsoever! Your food supplies will be blessed, every single one of you will live out their full number of days – no deaths from work accidents! – it will be a blessed and beautiful existence as together we strive and work towards living our lives entirely as Hashem wants us to!
In such an existence what does battle look like? “And I shall bewilder all of the nations that you come to battle against!” There is a well-known story that is told of the Vilna Gaon; once he was imprisoned by the church who wanted to sentence him to be paraded around the city. The Gaon held that this was not an indignity that he was obligated to endure and so he simply lifted his talis. His Tefillin shel Rosh came into view of the non-Jews present who were simply panic-stricken and that was the end of that story. All who were present at the time tangibly experienced the pasuk which states: “and all of the nations of the land shall see that the name of Hashem is called upon you and they shall fear you.” This is a story which took place some three hundred years ago. Can we imagine what the sight of Moshe Rabbeinu would have done to the Emori? Close your eyes and try to picture the following scene:
The first faint rays of the dawning sun hit the mountaintop fields and glitteringly dance off of hundreds of thousands of helmets and spear points. As the level of light mounts it seems that the entire country behind them is lit up by the light bouncing off the armor and weaponry of the massive armed forces that have been sortied to defend the land of Canaan against the newly freed Hebrew invaders. Hushed murmurs run up and down the lines as the rumors spread about the fate of the recently formed Egyptian submarine corps. A mixture of panicky fear and fierce hatred are painted on the faces of the defenders, but they are determined to lay down their lives for their country, and truth be told. The high ground is theirs. The sun is to their backs. These men have trained all of their lives for this moment and if truth be told, despite the utter terror they are experiencing, each and every single man there relishes this great opportunity to show off his mettle. Officers gallop up and down the lines shouting orders as the final moments of peace dissipate into thin air. In just a few moments the outriding party of the Jewish nation will come into view and then full battle will ensue.
A bugle calls and then – two men step into the valley in full view of the army above them. The blinding light shining from their faces belies the position of the sun, and suddenly there is a dramatic ripple in the ranks. The expressions of the men on the mountainside changes drastically. Large breaks appear in the seemingly endless lines as many of the men simply faint straightaway. Those left standing are seemingly made of sterner stuff. Sneering with disgust at their conscious-less comrades they unsheathe their swords and begin to run down the hillsides with wild abandon, aware only of the sound of their adrenaline filled bloodstream pounding away in their ears.
The mix of hatred and battle-lust mounts to lethal proportions and they begin to wildly hack at the first men they can find – the line of soldiers before them! These soldiers are caught at surprise by the vicious assault from their rear and many fall before they can even turn around to defend themselves. The battle thickens as the third line of soldiers, crashes into the second, then the fourth into the third, and the fifth into the fourth and so on. Nearly instantly, the terrifying array of battle formations of just a few minutes before has collapsed into a wild and bloody mayhem.
In the meantime, the rest of the Dor Dei’ah has arrived in the valley. Joyously survey the scene taking place on the hillsides above them. HaKadosh Baruch Hu has fought the entire battle for them! There is really nothing left for them to do other than to wait until the final few Emorim still alive expires. Then, with the jubilant words of Hallel on their lips, they collect the spoils and march further on into the land.
This was perhaps along the lines of the sight that Moshe Rabbeinu envisioned when he first said those words of Vayehi B’neso’ah! Hashem is fighting our battles! You have no need for weapons! What a glorious and wonderful future!
But what happens next? Suddenly, with a feeling akin to that of a barrel of ice water coming down our backs, we watch in horror as this beautiful existence just goes up in smoke before our very eyes not two pesukim later do we read (Bamidbar 11:1):
וַיְהִ֤י הָעָם֙ כְּמִתְאֹ֣נְנִ֔ים רַ֖ע בְּאָזְנֵ֣י יְקֹוָ֑ק וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע יְקֹוָק֙ וַיִּ֣חַר אַפּ֔וֹ וַתִּבְעַר־בָּם֙ אֵ֣שׁ יְקֹוָ֔ק וַתֹּ֖אכַל בִּקְצֵ֥ה הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה:
And the nation looked for a pretense of complaint, one which rankled in the “ears of Hashem”. And Hashem heard and his wrath flared; and a fire of Hashem burned within them and it consumed those at the edge of the encampment.
What was the sought after pretense? “Oy! What a tough trip! Three days without any respite, moving, moving, moving!” What was the real complaint? Rashi explains as follows:
כמתאננים – אין מתאוננים אלא לשון עלילה מבקשים עלילה האיך לפרוש מאחרי המקום וכן הוא אומר בשמשון (שופטים יד ד) כי תואנה הוא מבקש: רע באזני ה’ – תואנה שהיא רעה באזני ה’ שמתכוונים שתבא באזניו ויקניט. אמרו אוי לנו כמה לבטנו בדרך הזה שלשה ימים, שלא נחנו מענוי הדרך: ויחר אפו – אני הייתי מתכוין לטובתכם שתכנסו לארץ מיד:
Like misonenim – The word “misonenim” is no more than a language of excuse. They were looking for a excuse to separate themselves from following closely behind the Ribono Shel Olam. We find this word used by Shimshon as well (Shoftim 14:4) “For he was looking for an excuse”. Evil in the “ears of Hashem” – that is to say [they were looking for] an excuse which was evil in the ears of Hashem – they intended that their words should come to His “ears” and rankle! What they said was “Woe is to us! How we are stumbling on this trip, it is three days now that we have not rested from the rigors of travel!” And Hashem’s wrath flared – “I had intended this for your good, so that you should enter Eretz Yisroel immediately!”
Such a gift! Kefitzas Haderech – eleven days of journey in three day’s time! – and then to incite Hashem!? Hashem says “I can’t deal with you people! I am going to burn you up!” And that is precisely what happens! “And the fire of Hashem burned in them.” [It is extremely interesting to note that the response of Klal Yisroel is not to daven to Hashem. They scream to Moshe instead (Bamidbar 11:2):
וַיִּצְעַ֥ק הָעָ֖ם אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֤ל מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־יְקֹוָ֔ק וַתִּשְׁקַ֖ע הָאֵֽשׁ:
And the nation screamed to Moshe, and Moshe prayed to Hashem and the fire sank down.
The magnitude of their wrongdoing was not lost on them and they were simply too embarrassed to approach Hashem and beg for mercy. The punishment was simply too just! Better to turn to Moshe and ask him to plead before Hashem.
Could any contrast possibly hurt more than that which is laid out before our eyes? From the pinnacles of perfection we plummet down to the point where we are so eminently deserving of incineration that we are just too embarrassed to plea for mercy! What happened here?
If this was not bad enough, there is more bad news to come! Fast on the heels of the Misonenim comes the Asafsuf:
וְהָֽאסַפְסֻף֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבּ֔וֹ הִתְאַוּ֖וּ תַּאֲוָ֑ה וַיָּשֻׁ֣בוּ וַיִּבְכּ֗וּ גַּ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ מִ֥י יַאֲכִלֵ֖נוּ בָּשָֽׂר: זָכַ֙רְנוּ֙ אֶת־הַדָּגָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נֹאכַ֥ל בְּמִצְרַ֖יִם חִנָּ֑ם אֵ֣ת הַקִּשֻּׁאִ֗ים וְאֵת֙ הָֽאֲבַטִּחִ֔ים וְאֶת־הֶחָצִ֥יר וְאֶת־הַבְּצָלִ֖ים וְאֶת־הַשּׁוּמִֽים: וְעַתָּ֛ה נַפְשֵׁ֥נוּ יְבֵשָׁ֖ה אֵ֣ין כֹּ֑ל בִּלְתִּ֖י אֶל־הַמָּ֥ן עֵינֵֽינוּ:
And the Eirev Rav that were amongst them demanded their desires, and the Bnei Yisroel once again cried and said “Who shall feed us meat?” “We remember the fish that we ate without restriction in Mitzrayim! The cucumbers! The melons! The leeks, the onions and the garlic! And now, our soul desires with out fulfillment, all that can be seen is mon!”
Of course, the Asafsuf initially consisted of the Eirev Rav. Our precious Yidden would never stoop so low as to initiate a complaint about the divine cuisine, but hearing the disgusting litany of these people had a tremendous effect on us in a very detrimental way! The desire-laden and cantankerous words left an indelible impression on our souls, and the flames of desire swept us away as well! Though the flames of Tav’eirah had quelled the initial bout of complaining, just a small spark was all it took to light the desire within our own selves and bring us crashing down, head over heels. From the vaunted heights we had so painfully reclaimed, we tumbled dreadfully down, back onto the rock hard surface that was occupied by the Eirev Rav! The fact that we allowed such a thing to happen is beyond all words! How could we let ourselves lose control in this way?! Our crime here is heinous indeed, and Hashem does not just let it go!
וְאֶל־הָעָ֨ם תֹּאמַ֜ר הִתְקַדְּשׁ֣וּ לְמָחָר֘ וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֣ם בָּשָׂר֒ כִּ֡י בְּכִיתֶם֩ בְּאָזְנֵ֨י יְקֹוָ֜ק לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֤י יַאֲכִלֵ֙נוּ֙ בָּשָׂ֔ר כִּי־ט֥וֹב לָ֖נוּ בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְנָתַ֨ן יְקֹוָ֥ק לָכֶ֛ם בָּשָׂ֖ר וַאֲכַלְתֶּֽם: לֹ֣א י֥וֹם אֶחָ֛ד תֹּאכְל֖וּן וְלֹ֣א יוֹמָ֑יִם וְלֹ֣א׀ חֲמִשָּׁ֣ה יָמִ֗ים וְלֹא֙ עֲשָׂרָ֣ה יָמִ֔ים וְלֹ֖א עֶשְׂרִ֥ים יֽוֹם: עַ֣ד׀ חֹ֣דֶשׁ יָמִ֗ים עַ֤ד אֲשֶׁר־יֵצֵא֙ מֵֽאַפְּכֶ֔ם וְהָיָ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם לְזָרָ֑א יַ֗עַן כִּֽי־מְאַסְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־יְקֹוָק֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֔ם וַתִּבְכּ֤וּ לְפָנָיו֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה יָצָ֥אנוּ מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:
And to the nation say this: Prepare yourselves for the morrow and you shall eat meat; for you have cried in front of Hashem, saying “Who will feed us meat? We were better off in Egypt!” Hashem will give you meat and you shall eat. Not for one day shall you eat, nor for two; not for five days, nor for ten days nor only for twenty. For a full month of days, until it comes out of your noses and pierces your innards like a sword; this shall be in turn for your disgust in Hashem’s presence amongst you, and your cries before Him saying “Why is this that we have left Egypt”.
Is there any way to possibly understand this? Could there be a more tragic downfall of a people than that which we are witness to here? And it doesn’t get better! After all of this what comes next? Our parsha of the Meraglim! Just who are we? How, at the very peak of our glory could we have so suddenly collapsed in such a dismal way? What is going on?
While going through the Parsha this week, I woke up to see this gigantic cluster of grapes walk by my face. The grapes along with the fig and the pomegranate – these fruits that so “wowed” the Meraglim – represent a very strange dichotomy. On the one hand it is clear for all to see that our destination is a place that is vibrant and vivacious – so abundantly blessed and thriving that it produces fruit larger than the people themselves! That was a fact that no one could miss, certainly not the people who spent so much time shlepping those grapes! On the other hand, it appears that the Meraglim saw something else:
וַיֹּצִ֜יאוּ דִּבַּ֤ת הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תָּר֣וּ אֹתָ֔הּ אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר הָאָ֡רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֩ עָבַ֨רְנוּ בָ֜הּ לָת֣וּר אֹתָ֗הּ אֶ֣רֶץ אֹכֶ֤לֶת יוֹשְׁבֶ֙יהָ֙ הִ֔וא וְכָל־הָעָ֛ם אֲשֶׁר־רָאִ֥ינוּ בְתוֹכָ֖הּ אַנְשֵׁ֥י מִדּֽוֹת:
And they slandered the land that they had explored to the Bnei Yisroel saying: the land that we have passed through it is a land which eats its inhabitants and all the nations that we have seen in it are men of measure.
The Meraglim saw one common denominator in every single place that they went through: funerals, funerals and more funerals. Their very crooked yet oh so logical conclusion was that it is a land which literally eats up its citizenry! Nobody can survive here!
The reality of course was much different – Hashem was distracting the Cana’anim so that these twelve men who stuck out like a sore thumb should not be pursued! Everything, each and every single step of the way was laden by the Birchas Hashem – but their eyes were not opened to see it! Unable to let go of their preconceived notions, there was only one thought rattling around in their heads: “Do you see those fruits! Such bounty, such goodness could only be had by people who deserve it! To live here is to live in the immediate vicinity of the Shechina, and serious demands are placed on the inhabitants of such a place. The reason for all of the funerals that we are seeing is obvious! Do you know whose bodies are those laying inside of those biers? Those of the people who were unable to live up to their environments demands! And if they could not live up to the demands of Eretz Yisroel, then who is to say that we will fare any better! We want nothing to do with a land in which we must live eternally upon such a plateau. Far better to return to Mitzrayim. It is not a pleasant place, but it is one in which we can survive!”
This is the poison which the Meraglim laced throughout their diatribe against Eretz Yisroel. “Sure, it is flowing with milk and honey! Just take a look and you will see that! The potential in Eretz Yisroel is simply limitless! But with limitless potential comes limitless demands! Life will be a nonstop grind of hard work and growth. Take a second look at that honey and think of the hoops you will have to jump through to deserve it! Nothing is free in life and certainly not something like this! Far better not to go in, there is just no way that you will be able to hold up!”
What was their mistake? They did not trust the Ribono Shel Olam, nor did they trust themselves, but perhaps most importantly, they did not trust the trust that the Ribono Shel Olam Himself placed in them! The Meraglim saw themselves as small, and perhaps they were. But the Ribono Shel Olam espied the greatness inside them! They should have realized that their perception of their abilities was far smaller than the abilities they perceived! So much lay hidden within, waiting only for the right circumstances and challenges to tap it and wake it up! If the Ribono Shel Olam tells you that He wants you to face a fight then that means that deep within you lies the entire tool-kit that you need to succeed! As Kaleiv and Yehoshua told the nation (Bamidbar 13:30, 14:7-9):
וַיַּ֧הַס כָּלֵ֛ב אֶת־הָעָ֖ם אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר עָלֹ֤ה נַעֲלֶה֙ וְיָרַ֣שְׁנוּ אֹתָ֔הּ כִּֽי־יָכ֥וֹל נוּכַ֖ל לָֽהּ:
Kaleiv silenced the nation and rallied them to Moshe. He proclaimed: “We shall surely ascend and conquer it because we are fully capable of defeating it!”
וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָבַ֤רְנוּ בָהּ֙ לָת֣וּר אֹתָ֔הּ טוֹבָ֥ה הָאָ֖רֶץ מְאֹ֥ד מְאֹֽד: אִם־חָפֵ֥ץ בָּ֙נוּ֙ יְקֹוָ֔ק וְהֵבִ֤יא אֹתָ֙נוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את וּנְתָנָ֖הּ לָ֑נוּ אֶ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־הִ֛וא זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ: אַ֣ךְ בַּֽיקֹוָק֘ אַל־תִּמְרֹדוּ֒ וְאַתֶּ֗ם אַל־תִּֽירְאוּ֙ אֶת־עַ֣ם הָאָ֔רֶץ כִּ֥י לַחְמֵ֖נוּ הֵ֑ם סָ֣ר צִלָּ֧ם מֵעֲלֵיהֶ֛ם וַֽיקֹוָ֥ק אִתָּ֖נוּ אַל־תִּירָאֻֽם:
And they said to the entire assembly of Bnei Yisroel saying, the land that we have passed through it in exploration is very, very good! If Hashem desires us, then He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey. Just do not rebel against Hashem and you need not fear the nations of the land for they are our lunch. Their protection has departed from above them and Hashem is with us! Do not fear them!
“Don’t you people get it? Hashem wants us! He wants us to succeed! True, He makes large demands, but He assists in proportion with the demands that He makes! There is nothing to worry about whatsoever! We can and we will be able to survive in this land because Hashem will prop us up and enable us to do so! All you have to do is to not rebel! You may be right that we don’t have the ability to maintain such an existence right now; perhaps you are even right that we will never have that ability. That’s okay, because we never have the ability to do anything anyway! We are always and completely dependent upon Hashem’s assistance and so just as we trust Hashem with everything else in life, we can trust Him to help us maintain the madreiga of living in Eretz Yisroel and we will be just fine!”
This then was the terrible and tragic mistake that the Dor Dei’ah made. They were real people, sincere people, people who knew very well both themselves and their capabilities and they knew that what Hashem was asking of them was absolutely impossible for the people that they were. What they did not know well enough was who Hashem is and who they themselves had the potential to become. Thus, rather than being inspired by the touch of perfection that they experienced at the beginning of the Parsha, they were terrified by it. It was a magical moment – and they felt that it could not last. Thus, they took the tragic steps that brought us to where we are today.
It is vital that we incorporate the lessons of this parsha into our lives. Every moment of every single day, we are confronted with this challenge that the Dor Dei’ah faced. In every single area of our avodah we are challenged by the murmurings of the Yetzer Hara: “You know who you are, you know your limits! You cannot do this! It is too much for you! Even if you can hold out for a little bit, it certainly will not last! You cannot put yourself into a situation which you will no be able to maintain!” Little by little, these thoughts erode our ability to achieve in our avodas Hashem. They trip us up, and hold us back from taking more ground in our battle against the Yetzer Hara. We must counter those thoughts with the arguments of Kaleiv and Yehoshua:
“Don’t you get it? Hashem wants me! He wants me to succeed! True, He makes large demands, but He assists in proportion with the demands that He makes! There is nothing to worry about whatsoever! I can and I will be able to accomplish because Hashem will prop me up and enable me to do so! All I have to do is to not rebel! I may not have the ability to maintain such an existence right now; perhaps I may never have that ability. That’s okay, because I never have the ability to do anything anyway! I am always and completely dependent upon Hashem’s assistance and just as I trust Hashem with everything else in life, I can trust Him to help us maintain the madreiga of living in Eretz Yisroel and I will be just fine!”
- A good example of this is in the story of the slav where Moshe Rabbeinu tells the Ribono Shel Olam (Bamidbar 11:11-12):לָמָ֤ה הֲרֵעֹ֙תָ֙ לְעַבְדֶּ֔ךָ וְלָ֛מָּה לֹא־מָצָ֥תִי חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֶי֑ךָ לָשׂ֗וּם אֶת־מַשָּׂ֛א כָּל־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה עָלָֽי: הֶאָנֹכִ֣י הָרִ֗יתִי אֵ֚ת כָּל־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה אִם־אָנֹכִ֖י יְלִדְתִּ֑יהוּ כִּֽי־תֹאמַ֨ר אֵלַ֜י שָׂאֵ֣הוּ בְחֵיקֶ֗ךָ כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשָּׂ֤א הָאֹמֵן֙ אֶת־הַיֹּנֵ֔ק עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖עְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָֽיו:Why have you done evil to your servant and why have I not found favor in your eyes, that you have placed the burden of this whole nation upon me. Have I begotten this whole nation, was it I who gave birth to them that you have told me “Carry them in your bosom as the nursing mother carries her child on to the ground which you have sworn to their forefathers!?”
Nowhere in the Torah do we find a commandment to Moshe to carry the Jewish people in this way, but from his statement here we can understand how to understand the pasuk of ויצום אל בני ישראל where this command was conveyed. ↑
- See Sifrei Zutah and Midrash Aggadatah who learn the words כי בכיתם באזני ה’ as reflecting back to the initial episode of the Misonenim. Thus, the episode of the Asafsuf is not merely another sorry chapter in the sordid account of the rearing of desire’s ugly head, but a reversal of the Teshuva that they had done only one pasuk earlier! ↑
- See Rashi ↑