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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shelach: Our key to success

These words are dedicated to the loving memory of Bella "Bubbie" Hoffman (Baila bat Shmiel) on her yohrzeit (19th Sivan).

Summary

The mission of the spies failed and was a real disaster. Why did the Jewish people see the necessity to send spies? Although the Jewish people had reached a high level in their belief in G'd, there was however a flaw in this belief. Moses argued with G'd and said, " From lack of ability of G'd to bring this nation to the land that He had sworn to give them, and He slaughtered them in the wilderness." The Egyptians would claim that G'd only had sufficient power to deal with one king at a time. One approach to belief in G'd is based on "seeing is believing". Sometimes a person experiences a miraculous salvation from a danger or peril. Each of our Patriarchs did not reach their high level of belief in G'd because of miraculous experiences of any sort, but through a personal investigation and research into the omnipotent ways of G'd. The stronger our belief and trust in G'd, the closer G'd is to sustain and save us. Many people find it challenging to close their business and store on Shabbos, as that day is naturally seen as a day of great revenue and profit. "G'd is omnipotent in His powers." We must always strive to emulate Kalev and Joshua and put our complete trust in G'd.

Disastrous mission

In this week's Parasha, G'd gave the Jewish people permission to send spies to the land of Israel prior to their entry into the Promised Land. Their mission failed and was a real disaster. The spies came back totally demoralized by what they had seen. They reported that the inhabitants were huge and said (Bamidbar 13:31): "We cannot ascend to that nation for it is too strong for us."

Why send spies?

This incident raises a serious question. Why did the Jewish people see the necessity to send spies? G'd had taken them out of Egypt and miraculously saved them at the crossing of the sea. He further sustained them and provided them with all their needs in the wilderness. So why did they not rely on G'd's promise that He would take them into the land of Israel and settle them there (see Shemos 3:17)?

Flawed belief

The great leader and halachic authority of post-war American Jewry, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, explains that, although the Jewish people had reached a high level of belief in G'd, there was however a flaw in this belief. Their belief was based on miracles and wonders that they had experienced prior to the exodus from Egypt and throughout their sojourn in the wilderness. They had not reached their belief in G'd through investigating and analyzing the universe, with its wondrous constellations. Neither had they contemplated how every creature in the world was provided with its needs. Their belief was rather shallow, and was limited to what they had personally experienced.

Moses' strange argument

This is the level of belief of the vast masses of the world. After the Jewish people accepted the report of the spies and wanted to return to Egypt, G'd initially wanted to punish them and said to Moses (Bamidbar 14:12): "I will smite them with a plague and annihilate them." Moses argued with G'd and said, (ibid 13-16): "And the Egyptians will hear and they will say, 'From lack of ability of G'd to bring this nation to the land that He had sworn to give them, and He slaughtered them in the wilderness.'" This seems like a strange argument. For who, better than the Egyptians' knew of G'd omnipotence. They had personal first-hand experience of how G'd controlled every part of creation, and could do as He saw fit.

Only one king at a time

However, the Egyptians were no stronger in their belief than anybody else. Rashi quotes from the Midrash Tanchuma (12) that the Egyptians would claim that G'd only had sufficient power to deal with one king at a time. He, therefore, was not capable of conquering the land of Israel that at the time was ruled by thirty one different kings. This, says Rabbi Feinstein, was also the underlying cause of the complaint against the Manna mentioned in last week's Parasha. Everyone in the wilderness had personally experienced how G'd miraculously provided them with their sustenance. However, this in itself was not necessarily a proof that G'd's powers were unlimited.

Seeing is believing

Such an approach to one's belief in G'd is based on the concept that "seeing is believing", which means "I only believe what I see". In fact, this was the basic flaw that caused every sin of the Jewish people in the wilderness. As such, every sin was a test of G'd's prowess. This is explicitly mentioned in the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:6) where it says: "Our ancestors tested G'd with ten trials in the wilderness. As it says, (Bamidbar 14:22): 'And they tested me these ten times and did not listen to My voice.'" This is a quotation from this week's Parsha and refers to G'd's remark after the failed mission of the spies. When King David relates the history of the Jewish people in the wilderness, he also describes their sin as testing G'd. As it says (Tehillim 78:12-22): "He [G'd] did wonders in the land of Egypt He split the sea and brought them across and He led them with a cloud during the day and at night with a light of fire. He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them to drink And they continued to sin further against Him . And they tested G'd in their hearts and requested food They said, 'Can G'd set a table in the wilderness? True, He hit a rock and water flowed Can He also give bread and prepare meat for His nation?' Because of this G'd heard and got angry For they did not believe in G'd and did not trust His salvation." Despite all the miracles they had experienced, they still felt the need to test G'd. This clearly shows the major flaw in their belief in G'd.

Shallow observance

This can be a challenge nowadays also. Sometimes a person experiences a miraculous salvation from a danger or peril. This experience brings the person to believe in G'd and start observing His commandments. However, if the initial experience is not followed up by serious study to gain an understanding of the ways of G'd, this person's observance will most likely be very shallow. And if there is any problem or issue it is most doubtful whether he will be able to withstand the trials of life.

Patriarch's high level of belief

Each of our Patriarchs did not reach their high level of belief in G'd because of miraculous experiences of any sort, but through a personal investigation and research into the omnipotent ways of G'd and how He runs the world. Isaac did not just believe in G'd because his father Abraham did so. Neither did his son Jacob put his trust in G'd just because that was what he had learned from his father's conduct. In this way, they each developed a personal relationship with G'd. This is why we refer to G'd at the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei as the G'd of Abraham, the G'd of Isaac, and the G'd of Jacob. We also are obligated to strive to achieve our own personal recognition of G'd, through Torah study and contemplating how G'd runs the world and takes care of everyone's needs. This is why we preface, both at the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei and in many other prayers, that G'd is "our G'd" before we say that He is the G'd of our forefathers. Our belief should never be just a tradition that we have inherited from previous generations.

Closer to G'd

In Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 98:1, it says that, prior to praying, everyone should contemplate about the greatness of G'd, and how small and dependent man is. In this way, our prayer will not be an expression of lip service, but a personal experience of connecting with G'd. In the second blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, we express our belief that G'd sustains everyone, supports the fallen, heals the sick, and releases the ones in prison, etc. This is not based on our personal experience. Rather, it is based on our strong belief and conviction that G'd has the ability to do so when He so decides. This is most apparent when we mention that G'd resuscitates the dead, something that none of us have ever experienced. This is a central theme throughout our prayers. We refer to G'd as the one Who provides us with understanding, redeems us, heals and blesses us, as well as the One Who builds Jerusalem and brings salvation. G'd is ready and able to help and assist us, and to save us from any peril. It all depends on our merit to experience this. The stronger our belief and trust in G'd, the closer G'd is to sustain and save us.

Shabbos challenge

The highest level of trust is when a person is ready to do things that defy the laws of nature in order to do G'd's will and follow the instructions of the sages. Many people find it challenging to close their business and store on Shabbos, as that day is naturally seen as a day of great revenue and profit. However, those who truly believe and trust in G'd understand that just as we are dependent on G'd to provide us with our needs during the first six days of the week, so we are dependent on G'd's assistance on the seventh day. It is obvious that we are more likely to merit His assistance when we obey His commandments than when we transgress them. A person's success is not dependent on G'd's ability to assist him but on G'd's readiness to do so.

G'd is omnipotent

After the negative report of ten of the spies, Kalev, who together with Joshua had been part of the mission, tried to calm down the Jewish people. He said to them (Bamidbar 13:30): "We can surely ascend and conquer it [land of Israel] for we surely have the ability to do so." Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Sotah 35a) that Kalev actually said, "We can ascend right into the Heaven. Whatever Moses instructs us in the name of G'd we can do and accomplish. If Moses would tell us to build ladders and climb into the Heavens, we would succeed to do that." With these words, Kalev attempted to rectify the evil ways of the other spies. They had discouraged the Jewish people, and diminished their belief in G'd to the shallow level of only trusting what they saw and experienced for themselves. To this Kalev responded and said, "G'd is omnipotent in His powers. Whenever we follow His instructions we will succeed, even if it defies the laws of nature."

Emulate Kalev and Joshua

The only two males of the Jewish nation who experienced this success and entered the land of Israel were Joshua and Kalev, as they remained strong in their belief and trust in G'd. This is our key to success. We must always strive to emulate these two great leaders and put our complete trust in G'd.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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