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Parshas Shelach

Return to Sender
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

In Sefer Devarim (the Book of Devarim), we learn that the Jewish nation was commanded to go forth and conquer the land. Instead of complying, they gathered around Moshe en masse and asked to send an advance party to spy out the land and report back concerning "...the road on which we shall ascend and the cities to which we should come." Hashem granted their request. He told Moshe: "Shlach lecha" - "send for yourself" - that is to say.... "If you desire you may send spies but I am not commanding you to do so." Indeed, Hashem was angered by the request. The Ribbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe) had already told them that the land was good. His command to enter Eretz Yisrael did not need to be tested first. On the contrary, Hashem said they would be putting themselves at risk of being misled by the spies' report, and consequently lose their chance to inherit the land.

The request of the Bnei Yisrael revealed that there was an underlying lack of trust in Hashem's ability to bring them safely into Eretz Yisrael. Their subsequent acceptance of the meraglim's (spies) report was a clear indication of this. It is difficult to fathom how a generation that witnessed the ten makkos (plagues) and the splitting of the sea and who experienced miracles on a daily basis, could not trust the Ribbono Shel Olam to keep His promise and defeat the inhabitants of the land in battle.

The Chafetz Chaim explains that the Bnei Yisrael knew Hashem COULD drive out their enemies, but they questioned whether He WOULD. The meraglim claimed that Hashem would only battle giants if the nation proved itself worthy of Divine protection. After the sin of the golden calf and their complaints against the manna, they felt they were not deserving of Hashem's miracles. Under those circumstances they did not believe Hashem would help them. But Kalev argued that they had witnessed constant miracles during their sojourn in the wilderness despite their failings. All Jews are required to place their trust in the Ribbono Shel Olam regardless of whether they are righteous or not. As long as one does not intentionally rebel against His word one can be confident that Hashem will save and sustain him. How much more so when Hashem has specifically given His word that He will defend and protect!

The Chafetz Chaim concludes that we are guilty of a similar aveira (sin). We argue that one can only succeed in learning if he is totally dedicated to Torah and gives up worldly pursuits. Since we are not capable of doing this, we do not stand to benefit at all from learning Torah and can excuse ourselves from this mitzva entirely. The Chafetz Chaim writes, this is one of the tricks of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Hashem does not expect everyone to give up this world entirely to exclusively devote themselves to Torah. All He asks is that we dedicate a portion of every day to Torah study.

In Tehillim we are told that the generation of the wilderness was guilty of another sin "They despised the desirable land, they had no faith in His Word." (106:24). Rav Avraham Pam, shlita comments that from the fact that it is mentioned first, it seems their lack of love was the main sin. Yet the spies reported that the land was good. Their complaint was that the residents of the land would overpower them. Later, Moshe rebuked the nation because they had allowed fear of the giants to quash their desire to enter a land that they knew was good. Rav Pam explains, even though the Nation's trust in Hashem was weak, they could only have become frightened due to a lack of desire for Eretz Yisrael. One who truly desires something does not give up hope of fulfilling his goal when faced with potential problems. However if one only has a half-hearted interest, then when difficulties present themselves, he will perceive the goal as insurmountable. The nation's doubts concerning the land revealed a lack of appreciation of the gift of Eretz Yisrael. Thus, when they heard that giants inhabited the land, they became afraid, refusing to enter it.

Perhaps it was their dislike for the land that led to their demise. After the sin of the golden calf, the nation was forgiven. However, for the sin of believing the spies' report, the generation was doomed to die in the wilderness. One difference between these two tragedies was Moshe's prayers on behalf of the nation. In particular, while Moshe beseeched Hashem to forgive Bnei Yisrael in the merit of the Avos, (forefathers) for the first sin, no reference is made to the Avos in his prayers pertaining to the sin of the spies. The Ramban writes that this was "because the land was given to the Avos, and it is from them that they were to inherit it, but they rebelled against their ancestors, and did not want the gift which the Avos desired very much. How could Moshe ask Hashem to keep his promise to Yitzchak and Yaakov when the people were saying 'we do not want this gift'? " A sin as severe as the golden calf could be forgiven in the merit of the Avos, but when they showed contempt for the Avos desires, they severed their connection to the Avos and needed their own merits which they lacked and hence they were punished.

Often we feel we would like to devote more time to learning and doing mitzvos, but for one reason or another we cannot. We must honestly examine whether it is these circumstances that are preventing us from growing closer to Hashem, or whether we should be working towards developing a stronger desire for spiritual growth.

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