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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shelach: Spying the evil inclination
It seems mind-boggling how the Jewish people suddenly seem to lose faith in G'd. As the Talmud explains, the evil inclination, the Satan, and the angel of death are all one and the same. Each person's evil inclination is tailor made to a person's abilities and strengths. The evil inclination of a person renews itself daily with new tests and new tactics all according to a person's situation, circumstance and character traits The evil inclination made the ten spies feel inadequate and lacking merits to conquer the Promised Land. Even a person who has sinned may still merit G'd's mercy, especially as they had repented and had become true baalei teshuva. The real purpose of the evil inclination is not to bring us down, but rather to give us opportunities to overcome our challenges and tests.
In this week's portion, is related how Moses sent spies to check out the land of Canaan. Although these spies were from the leaders of their generation, they came back with a bad report and influenced the whole Jewish nation that they felt they could not conquer the land. It seems mind-boggling how this could happen to a generation that had witnessed the splitting of the sea and experienced the revelation at Mount Sinai. They were constantly provided with Manna falling from Heaven, and a flow of water through the well of Miriam, and had been protected from their enemies and other natural difficulties with the Clouds of Glory. How could they suddenly seem to lose faith in G'd Who had looked after them in so many miraculous ways from the day of the exodus onwards. In order to understand what happened, let us try to analyze the ways of the evil inclination that every human being has.
As the Talmud explains (Bava Basra 16a) the Satan, the evil inclination, and the angel of death are all one and the same. He first comes to test and challenge the person. If the person fails and does wrong he will be the accuser in the Heavenly Court and eventually will be the punishing angel of death to meet out the punishment. In the beginning of the Book of Job, it is related how the Satan received permission from G'd to test the righteous Job with extreme suffering. Our evil inclination is an angel of G'd created to test and challenge us in order to help us to grow. No one is tested beyond their capabilities. Rather each person's evil inclination is tailor made to a person's abilities and strengths (see Avoda Zara 3a and Midrash Rabba Shemos 34:1).
New tests and tactics
The Talmud (Kidushin 30b) explains that the evil inclination of a person renews itself daily with new tests and new tactics all according to a person's situation and circumstance. Rav Moshe Chaim Luzatto (The Path of the Just, Chapter 1) writes that every situation that a person encounters is a test. On the one hand, poverty is a test; on the other, affluence is a test. Similarly, tranquility is a test and so is suffering. Luzatto further explains (The Ways of G'd, Part II, Ch.3) that in the same way any character trait is a test for a person. There are situations where mercifulness is a test and other situations where cruelty is a test. As our sages say (Midrash Koheles 7:33), the one who shows mercy to a cruel person will eventually be cruel to a merciful person. In one situation the evil inclination may use a person's ego to fail through pride. In another, it will diminish a person's self-esteem and bring a person to depression. Although in general modesty and low profile is the way of the Torah, this does not apply in every situation. As we find in Chronicles 2:17:6 where King Yehoshafot is praised for being proud walking in the ways of G'd.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that when the spies went to the land of Canaan, G'd tested them. As Rashi says in the beginning of this Parasha (Bamidbar 13:2) when the Jews came and requested to send spies G'd exclaimed: "I told them that the land is good. (So why do they want to send spies?) I vow that I will give them a test that may cause them to lose inheriting the land." So the evil inclination made the ten spies feel inadequate and lacking merits to conquer the Promised Land. They reasoned that to take possession of such a holy land, they would need a lot of merit. Since they had sinned at the golden calf and other places they could not believe that G'd would fulfil His promise despite their sins. It did not make things better that they had heard the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad (see Bamidbar 11:26-29) that Moses would not lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel so they would not be able to draw on his great merits either.
Joshua and Kalev desperately tried to refute their worries showing that G'd had conducted miracles continually in the desert despite their shortcomings and sins since the exodus. However, the other spies insisted that G'd in His righteousness would not be able to evict one nation for another unless the second nation was thoroughly righteous. They did not deny G'd's promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish nation. However, they understood that this promise was conditional upon the Jewish people being free of sin. The Jewish people accepted the reasoning of the ten spies and this caused the outcry that they were not worthy of G'd's kindness and would not be taken to the Promised Land. Joshua and Kalev could not convince them that G'd would keep His promise as long as they did not rebel against Him. Even a person who has sinned may still merit G'd's mercy, especially as they had repented and had become true baalei teshuva.
Such is the power of the evil inclination. When a person is about to do something good, says the Chofetz Chaim, it may come and tell him: "Who do you think you are? Do you not remember all of your sins? How do you expect to raise yourself and come close to G'd." There was once a rabbi who noticed that a certain kohen did not plan to participate in the priestly blessing in front of the congregation on Yom Tov. The rabbi called over this kohen and asked him why he would not participate in the priestly blessing. "Rabbi", said the kohen, "Dare I bless the congregation with hands that have desecrated Yom Tov?" The rabbi replied, "Participate and then come back to me afterwards." When the service was over, and the kohen returned to the rabbi, the rabbi said to him, "How dare you desecrate the Yom Tov with hands that have blessed the congregation." We must always remember that our evil inclination is an angel sent by G'd to challenge us. Its real purpose is not to bring us down, but rather to give us opportunities to overcome our challenges and tests. Just as the evil inclination uses constantly renewed tactics and methods to challenge us, so we must be even more creative in counteracting. We must not let the evil inclination get the better of us. We must fight back. No past sins need be obstacles from preventing us to come closer to G'd. How true are the words someone once said, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life." With this attitude it is never too late to raise ourselves and become closer to G'd and our service to Him.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network