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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And these are their names: for the tribe of Reuven, Shamua ben Zakur. (13:4)

A name is more than simply a way to address a person. Indeed, the names of those mentioned in the Torah reveal much of the essence and personality of the individual. At the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah records the names of the Nesiim. These names reveal the personal qualities that rendered these men most suitable for these positions. Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, infers that this idea applies equally to the names given to the meraglim, the men selected to be the spies. Their names should allude to their special capabilities. Thus, the name Shamua implied that he was a good listener, since shamua is from the same root as shema, to hear. An individual of such stature could be expected to listen to Hashem's mitzvos. Zakur is a derivative of zechor, to remember, indicating that he would remember Hashem under all circumstances.

If this is so, why did he sin? He had the qualities that should have protected him. Listening and remembering are two attributes that should contribute to circumventing sin. Rav David explains that every quality has its limitations. One may be a good listener, but it is critical that he listens to the appropriate message and to the right person. Remembering is a wonderful trait, if the memories that are evoked are healthy and constructive.

Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei 14:15, "A fool believes everything." Yes, Shamua listened, but it was to his yetzer hora, evil inclination, that he lent his ear, not to Hashem. Zakur means remembering, but the meraglim evoked the wrong memories in the people. They complained, "We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for free, and the squash and the melon and the leeks and the onions and the garlic" (Bamidbar 11:5).

Moshe Rabbeinu surely screened the spies, studying their names, their qualities, their virtues. These men had it all, but they chose to divert their good qualities for purposes that were not as good. Regrettably, this has occurred a number of times in history. Men who were destined for greatness, who had the qualities to lead our nation in a positive manner, fell prey to the blandishments of their yetzer hora, becoming leaders who led their followers to iniquity and infamy. Hashem grants us the tools. It is up to us to use them properly.

Yet, we see some who are - for all intents and purposes - fine, decent and morally correct individuals, who for "some reason" just "go wrong" somewhere, somehow. What is it that causes this transformation? The Torah informs us that Calev ben Yefuneh was different than the other meraglim. He, together with Yehoshua bin Nun, stood up against the slander that was spewed by the other spies by defending Moshe. They stemmed the tide of rebellion. Regrettably, it was too late. The damage had already been done. In describing Calev, the Torah writes, "But my servant, Calev - because a different spirit was with him, and he followed Me, I shall bring him to the land to which he came, and his offspring shall posses it" (Bamidbar 14:24). Rashi explains the words va'yimalei acharai, "and he followed me wholeheartedly," literally, that "he filled his heart to follow Me." He filled his heart completely with the desire to listen - to follow Hashem.

Rav David explains that the word "full" means to capacity. If there is room in a cup for even one more drop, then the cup is not filled to capacity. Likewise, if there is room in one's heart - regardless of how minute this space may be - his heart is not completely filled. When there is room in one's heart, there is room for a positive influence, as well as for a negative one. The other spies were righteous people. They were good, but there was "something" missing. The difference between the other spies and Calev was a single drop. That solitary, minute drop made a world of difference. Calev's heart was completely full in his desire to serve and follow Hashem. Thus, there was no room for any adverse influences. The other spies lacked this drop. Their hearts were not filled to the top. Therefore, there was room "at the top" to contaminate everything throughout.

One who is partially committed - is fully not committed.

See the Land - how is it? (13:18)

Moshe Rabbeinu instructed the spies to pay close attention to the nature of the land. The climate and terrain of some lands provide an optimum physical environment for its inhabitants to develop into healthy, vigorous people. Conversely, other lands are detrimental to a healthy physical development. The Alshich HaKadosh, zl, explains that Moshe was conveying to the spies the criteria for ascertaining and confirming why the people who inhabited Eretz Yisrael were plagued with a fear of the Jewish army to the point that they were self-defeated even before their first battle. This was to be inferred from the way they surrounded themselves with walls for protection. Despite the Canaanites power and might, they were frightened. How was this indicated?

When the Jews left Egypt, the Canaanites defiantly uprooted every fruit tree in their land, so that the Jews would not benefit from them. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Klal Yisrael tarried for forty years in the wilderness: to give the Canaanites the opportunity to replant their trees. When they saw that the Jews were in no hurry to enter Eretz Yisrael, the Canaanites planted trees, so that they could benefit from the fruit before the Jews took away the land. They had literally given up hope and were waiting for the end to come. In other words, a nation that is defiant is a formidable opponent. One that is complacent has already given up hope of emerging victorious. It has surrendered before the first shot has been fired.

As long as one maintains a sense of hope, he has a chance of conquering the enemy - regardless of whether the enemy is a nation, an illness, or a difficult situation. The Baal Yesod Ho'Avodah cites the following story that supports this idea. It took place during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. The Russian commander was listening to the somber reports coming from the battlefield. Messages of defeat were arriving one after another: this battalion had surrendered; a regiment had been driven back; an entire brigade had fallen to Napoleon's armies. It appeared, indeed, that all was lost.

The commander's adjutant entered the room to find his superior ashen-faced and thoroughly depressed. "What has occurred?" he asked. The commander gave him a blow-by-blow description of defeat.

"That is it?" the adjutant exclaimed. "Is that not bad enough?" the commander countered.

"No. There is even worse news." The adjutant replied.

"What could be worse than what I have mentioned?" the commander asked.

"The latest report was that the commander of the Russian Army has given up and lost his will to fight!" the adjutant declared.

When the commander heard this, he understood what he was doing wrong. A commander who falters, falls. He immediately issued orders and jumped into the fray of commanding the battlefields. He rallied the troops, encouraging them not to give up. They could and would prevail - and they did.

Historians consider this the decisive turning point in the war. Indeed, the Russian victory over the French army in 1812 marked a huge blow to Napoleon's ambitions of European dominance, which ultimately led to Napoleon's defeat and exile.

Never give up hope. As long as there is hope, one can turn anything around, even the most challenging situation. The following anecdote sums it up. A sole survivor of a shipwreck was cast upon an uninhabited island. After much trouble, he was able to build a crude hut in which he placed the few belongings that he had been able to salvage. Each day he prayed to the Almighty for deliverance, anxiously scanning the horizon for some sign of a ship that he could hail. One day, upon returning from a hunt for food, he discovered to his chagrin a horrific sight: his hut with all his belongings had burnt to the ground. All that he had was gone. A man of limited vision, he could no longer contain himself, and he began to curse his lot in life. Had he not suffered enough? What could G-d want from him? When would He stop? He went to sleep that night on the ground without any protection, a broken, depressed person. The next morning, he was awakened by the sound of a ship dropping anchor on the island. The captain disembarked and came over to him and said, "We came as soon as we saw your smoke signals."

And how are the cities in which it dwells - are they open or are they fortified? (13:19)

Moshe Rabbeinu asked the meraglim, spies, to look closely into the nature of the land and its inhabitants. One can learn much by studying the habits and lifestyle of the people of the land. The Ohr Pnei Yehoshua from the Admor, zl, of Galant, offers a penetrating insight into Moshe's request that they check to see if the people dwelled in cities that were open or fortified. The spies went and discovered, to their chagrin, that the cities were fortified with lock and key. They figured that had they been living in open cities without fortification for protection, they would be easily conquerable. Now, what could they do to gain entry for battle?

Calev arose and implored the people to listen. He encouraged them, saying that they could "indeed" win the war. The greatest proof is that the cities in which the enemy lived were fortified. Had the cities been open, it would indicate that its inhabitants were on friendly terms with one another. Trust and camaraderie reigned in their communities. People had nothing to fear. Protection was not needed, since everyone got along. There was openness. They were all members of one large community. Had this been the case, they would have proven to be a formidable adversary. There is nothing more difficult to battle than a unified army.

Now, however, that the reports were that that the people lived in fortified cities, there was a strong indication that they were their own greatest enemy. Apparently, discord and mistrust prevailed in the communities. When people lived in locked communities, it was a strong indication of trouble brewing from within. Such a nation would be easy to vanquish. Indeed, they were destroying themselves.

While this is a penetrating exegesis on the Chumash, it is an even greater lesson for us. When there is mistrust in a community; when openness is feared and everybody looks over his shoulder for fear of what his "friend" is plotting against him; when insecurity is the catchword to describe a community, then it is racing at high speed towards self-destruction. We must ask ourselves: Do these depictions characterize us? If so, are we prepared to do something to address the problem?

But My servant, Calev, because a different spirit was with him. (14:24)

The sin committed by the spies has plagued us ever since that fateful night. When we take into consideration that these were the leaders, the princes of the Dor Deah, the generation that lived through the Exodus, that received the Torah at Har Sinai, it gives us something to think about. How could they have gone wrong? What provoked them to slander Eretz Yisrael, thereby catalyzing the tragic consequences that befell not only them, but the rest of Klal Yisrael? Horav Yitzchak zl, m'Varka, contends that they intended l'shem Shomayim, their whole focus was on acting for the sake of Heaven, to teach the people that one who speaks ill of Eretz Yisrael will die at the hands of bais din. Just as the mekoshesh eitzim, one who gathered twigs on Shabbos, intended to teach the people the importance of Shabbos observance and the punishment for someone who desecrates it, they also were willing and prepared to give up both This World and the World to Come, so that the people would realize the unparalleled kedushah, holiness, of Eretz Yisrael.

They were, however, wrong. The mekoshesh was wrong. Had he not desecrated the second Shabbos since their liberation from Egypt, Moshiach would have come. Chazal teach us that if Klal Yisrael keeps two Shabbosim properly, it would bring Moshiach. The mekoshesh desecrated the second Shabbos. It is because of him and his cheshbonos, calculations, that we have been in exile all these thousands of years. The meraglim had no business playing G-d. Calev did not side with the other spies. Yehoshua, as Moshe Rabbeinu's talmid muvhak, primary disciple, would never dispute his rebbe. Calev, however, could have joined the ranks of the other spies. He could have chosen to die b'mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, to teach the nation the ramifications of slandering Eretz Yisrael, but he did not. That is why Hashem singles him out as avdi Calev, My servant, Calev (ibid 14:24). Calev understood that one does not try to second-guess the Almighty. He must act and follow Hashem's orders. He has to do what he is told, not what he thinks. It is not our role to correct the world on our own and to sacrifice our lives for it. We only have to do what we are told. Then, we will satisfy the Almighty and earn for ourselves the ultimate reward.

But My servant, Calev, because a different spirit was with him. (14:24)

Moshe Rabbeinu only mentions Calev - not Yehoshua. Why? It is not until later that it mentions that Yehoshua will also merit entering Eretz Yisrael. Interestingly, even there, Calev's name precedes that of Yehoshua. Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, derives an important lesson from here. A person is held accountable not only for failing to perform a mitzvah, but even if he does perform the mitzvah, but delays in carrying it out at the most propitious time; "getting around" to doing the mitzvah is a reason for censure. It demonstrates a lack of interest, a feeling of complacency, an absence of enthusiasm. It is an attitude that demeans the mitzvah, undermining its value and significance.

Rav Zalmen cites the story of a man who had a dream. In the dream, his rebbe, a distinguished rav who had recently passed away, appeared before him. The rav related that he saw a certain tzaddik, righteous person, standing on Erev Shabbos at the gates of Gan Eden. He asked the tzaddik why he was not entering. The tzaddik replied that since he had often postponed changing into his Shabbos clothes until after Shabbos had already started, he was being punished, middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, by not being allowed into Gan Eden on Shabbos night.

Being late is cause for punishment. We may now understand why Calev is mentioned first. The Torah informs us that after the spies returned with their unfavorable report, "Calev quieted the nation," and he encouraged the nation to ignore the report and go into the land. It is later, after the rebellion continued, that the Torah mentions that Yehoshua and Calev tore their clothing and repudiated the spies' report. Hence, measure for measure, when the reward for their actions is announced, only Calev's name appears. When the Torah reiterates the reward of entry into Eretz Yisrael, then Yehoshua's name is mentioned, so that no one should think that Yehoshua was also punished. Even then, Calev's name precedes Yehoshua.

Why did Yehoshua originally remain silent? Rav Zalmen explains that he did not want the people to suspect him of protecting his rebbe, Moshe. Yet, we derive from here that when one should act - nothing should stand in the way. He should not concern himself with what others might think or say. After all, Calev was Moshe's brother-in-law, and that did not hinder him from taking necessary action. The people may think what they want. He was going to do what had to be done.

Va'ani Tefillah

Blessed be He Who spoke.

The brachah commences with an all-inclusive gesture of gratitude to the Almighty. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that the term baruch, blessed, is derived from berech, knee. Thus, we say: "He to Whom we bend the knee." While we do not bend our knee at this point in the Tefillah, we are implying that we mentally bow in humility to Hashem for two reasons. First, we bow out of a sense of gratitude for the endless kindness that He manifests upon us - a kindness that is evident throughout all of Creation. Since we are unable to repay this kindness, our expression of gratitude is a humble offering. Also, we are humbled by the overwhelming debt of gratitude that we owe Him. Second, we bow in recognition of His endless wisdom and awesome power, which is obvious throughout creation.

We recognize that it is only to Hashem that we owe our gratitude, for He is the cause of all creation. All pleasing and useful phenomena that occur in the world, and all men who perform acts of kindness are the result of His power. He causes parents to do kindness to their offspring, because He imbued their natural instinct with a love for their children. He inculcates the pity in the minds and hearts of mankind, which they later use to help others. While it is clear that we have a responsibility to thank those who perform kindness, we must also recognize that they are but agents of the Almighty, Who has granted them the human nature and ability to act kindly towards others.

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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