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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shelach: In whom do we trust?
In their frightful report, the spies concluded that it would be impossible for the Jewish people to conquer the land. The obvious question arises how these leaders could have fallen so low to even suggest that it would be beyond the power of G'd to give them possession of the land of Israel? The spies suffered from a low self-esteem and they sensed their inadequacy compared to the Canaanites. We sometimes find two people with similar abilities and in similar situations. However, one is happy and successful and the other miserable with no motivation. "Poverty is in the mind of a person." "Cursed is the man who put his trust in human beings … and turns his heart from G'd ... Blessed is the man who trusts in G'd and G'd will be his trust." The person who understands that ultimately he is dependent on G'd and therefore has complete trust in G'd, this person is blessed. As long as one remembers that one is dependent on G'd, there is nothing wrong in relying on spiritual leaders of the generation. If someone chooses to trust anyone else but G'd, G'd will make that person dependent on the ones that he trusts and remove His Divine supervision and security. Only when we have proper trust in G'd's assistance and blessing dare we hope to resolve the problems of the Jewish people.
Too strong for G'd
At the beginning of this week's Torah portion (Bamidbar 13:1-33), we read how Moses sent twelve spies to the land of Israel mainly to investigate the military situation there. The spies returned with a frightful report. Based on their report they maintained (ibid 31) that it would be impossible for the Jewish people to conquer the land. They concluded their report and said, "For it is too strong for us". The Hebrew word they used, "me'imanu" has two interpretations: It can either be translated as meaning (1) "for us", or (2) "for him". Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Sotah 35a) that the spies were in fact hinting that it was too strong for Him, referring to G'd.
Fallen so low
We must remember that the spies were leaders of the generation that had experienced all the miracles at the time of the exodus from Egypt. They saw how G'd punished the Egyptians with the ten plagues. They had participated in the crossing of the Red Sea and were present at the revelation at Mount Sinai where G'd spoke directly to the Jewish people. How could these leaders fall so low to even suggest that it would be beyond the power of G'd to give the Jewish people possession of the land of Israel as He had promised them?
The answer may lay in the concluding words of their report (ibid 32-33): "All the people that we saw there were giants … We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes and so we were in their eyes." With this comparison they revealed how they suffered from a low self-esteem and sensed their inadequacy compared to the Canaanites. However, this also needs clarification. Why would they feel like that after seeing how G'd protected them and took care of all their needs? They ought to feel great about themselves and be full of confidence. [For an additional understanding of how the subjective feelings of the spies affected their perspective see Torah Attitude: Parashas Shelach: Beware, are the glasses coloured? June 8, 2004].
Success vs. misery
We sometimes find two people with similar abilities and basically in the same situation. Nevertheless they have very different feelings about themselves and their circumstances. One person feels good about himself, utilizes his potential and with his positive approach is successful in life. The other person does not enjoy what he is doing; he has no motivation and suffers a life of misery.
Happy vs. poor
We could also come across two people who have comparable assets and are more or less in the same financial position. One is happy with his lot and feels blessed with what he has. As the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4:1) points out this person is truly rich. His counterpart, on the other hand, is constantly complaining about what he lacks and is always busy focusing on the possessions of everybody else. Although he owns no less than the other person, in essence he is a poor man. This is a classic example of what our sages say (Ketuboth 68a) "Poverty is in the mind of a person."
So what determines how a person feels about himself? It appears that it often depends on who the person trusts and relies upon. The Prophet Jeremiah says (17:5-7) "So says G'd, cursed is the man who put his trust in human beings … and turns his heart from G'd ... Blessed is the man who trusts in G'd and G'd will be his trust." The Chovos Halevovos (Duties of the Hearts) in his introduction to the Gate of Trust explains that every person puts his trust in someone. As long as a person puts his trust in G'd he can rest assured that G'd will look after his needs and security. But if a person trusts anyone other than G'd, whether it is the person himself or other individuals, G'd will remove His Divine supervision from this person and make him dependent on whoever he chose to trust.
Some people rely on their own insight and intellectual abilities. Others rely on their personal efforts and physical abilities. Some people put their trust in influential people who they know or try to befriend, and they hope to achieve success in life through these connections. But the Prophet says: the person who understands that ultimately he is dependent on G'd and therefore has complete trust in G'd, only he is blessed. This is not to suggest that such a person should sit and wait for the Divine blessings to fall down on him from Heaven. In general, at the same time that one puts one's trust in G'd, every individual is expected to make an effort to provide for himself and his family, to look after his health and to take care of his other needs. However, the person who forgets about G'd and feels that he is dependent on his own ability or his connections with influential people, this person is cursed. For G'd will remove His Divine protection from this individual, and will show who really is in control, G'd or those in whom he put his trust.
Trusting spiritual leaders
We all need each other, and every group requires a leader to guide and direct. A country needs a government, an army needs generals and officers and a school needs a principal. The Jewish people also have leaders. Our Torah sages are our true leaders and we seek their counsel and trust their advice. But even in regards to them it must always go hand in hand with the realization that we are dependent on G'd. As it says after the crossing of the Red Sea (Shemos 14:31) "And Israel saw the 'great hand' that G'd had used against the Egyptians … and they believed in G'd and in His servant Moses." They first of all believed in and trusted G'd and after that they believed in Moses as their leader. However, had they put their complete trust in Moses and forgotten about G'd it would have been similar to idol worship.
Dependent on those we trust
In Parashas Devarim (1:22) Moses rebukes the Jewish people and says, "All of you approached me and said, 'Let us send men ahead of us and they shall spy out the land'". G'd had intended to let the Jewish people take possession of the land in a miraculous way without any battle. But once they wanted to take matters into their own hands and send spies He did not stop them. However, as Rashi quotes from the Midrash at the beginning of this week's portion, G'd commented on their request and said, "'I already told them that the land is good.' And G'd made an oath that he would put them in a situation where they may stumble with the spies." This corresponds exactly to the words of the Chovos Halevovos. If we choose to trust anyone else but G'd, G'd will make us dependent on the ones that we trust and remove His Divine supervision and security. As the Jewish people made themselves dependent upon the report of the spies, the spies did not have the complete Divine assistance to secure their success. As the spies somewhat sensed that they were on their own they realized that without Divine assistance the Canaanites were far superior to them in military power. This is what brought about their low self-esteem as they said: "and we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes …" It was their personal impression that caused them to feel that it was an impossible task to conquer the land. Under these circumstances they were actually right. Without the Divine assistance, there was no way the Jewish people could take possession of the land of Israel. They expressed the truth when they said it would be "too much for G'd", meaning that this would be something G'd would not be ready to do for them.
Smitten by enemies
The day after the return of the spies, the Torah relates how a group of people wanted to show that they had repented. They got up in the morning and started moving ahead. However, Moses tried to stop them and said to them, (Bamidbar 14:42): "Do not ascend for G'd is not in your midst, and do not be smitten before your enemies." This clearly shows the new situation. Due to their reliance on their own strategy and military power G'd removed Himself from their midst. Once they were on their own they did not have the power to win the battle. As it says (ibid 45): "And the Amalekites and the Canaanites who live on that mountain descended, and they hit them and pounded them until Chormah".
Beyond political and military expertise
We live in a time when the Jewish people in general, and our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel in particular, are surrounded and infiltrated by our enemies who are only waiting for the opportunity to attack and harm us. From a political and military point of view, there does not appear to be any solution. Whichever way we turn, whatever suggestion comes up, nothing seems to help end this calamity. As always the answer and solution can be found in the Torah. Just as the Jewish people were unable to take possession of the Holy Land because they put their trust in the spies and their report, so will we not be able to overcome our enemies as long as we put our trust in politicians and military strategy. This last year has clearly shown us that we have no one to rely on and the truth is that it is beyond the ability of any political genius or military expert to solve these problems. Only when we have complete trust in G'd's assistance and blessing dare we hope to resolve our problems. It is up to us to show and express our total dependence on G'd's mercy. In this way we will merit the fulfillment of the words of the Prophet, "Blessed is he who puts his trust in G'd and G'd will be his trust."
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