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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Send forth for yourself men. (13:2)

Rashi explains that the term lach, for yourself, means l'daatcha, by your discretion. Hashem said to Moshe Rabbeinu, "I do not command you to do so. If you wish, send forth." Moshe decided to allow the spies to reconnoiter Eretz Yisrael. It was not necessary from a military perspective, since Hashem was the Commander in Chief. Yet, Klal Yisrael felt they needed this added assurance. Hashem told Moshe, "It is up to you, l'daatcha." We wonder what lesson can be derived from the idea that Moshe, of his own volition, sent the spies on their mission. What impact - or lack thereof -did this have on their mission?

Horav Dovid Povarsky, zl, opines that the mission ended tragically directly as a result of Hashem's lack of "participation." Had they gone at Hashem's behest, nothing untoward would have occurred, and the meraglim would have returned safely, conveying a favorable opinion of Eretz Yisrael. When an individual is a shaliach, agent, of Hashem, nothing negative results from his mission. This is similar to the Ramban's comment, Shomer mitzvah, lo yeida davar ra. "One who guards a mitzvah, will not know any evil." No evil results from following Hashem's instructions.

Although the spies left with the proper intentions, something shifted within them along the way. Embedded far beneath their external fa?ade of righteousness was a dormant feeling of negativity. As the Zohar Ha'Kodesh comments, they feared being deposed as Nesiim and replaced by others once they entered the land. This feeling gnawed at them until it finally penetrated their psyche, causing them to speak out with vitriol against Eretz Yisrael.

This negia, vested interest, interfered with their vision, so that they could no longer see clearly. Indeed, they viewed every positive event that Hashem catalyzed for them through a jaundiced perspective. They viewed every bit of good that was to protect them, through eyes tainted by the malignancy of personal prejudice. People were occupied with funerals; rather than viewing this as Hashem's method of keeping the populace involved in their own personal issues, thus oblivious to the intruders, they accused the land of eating its inhabitants. This is just one example of the tragic turn of events that would never have taken place had Hashem not sent the spies to scout the land.

The Rosh Yeshivah explains that this is what the Torah is teaching us. Not only does serving as an agent of Hashem provide a protective force, an omen for good fortune, but the mere fact that an individual is His agent becomes a deterrent to the inappropriate behavior. He no longer has the audacity to respond to his personal vested interests and renege on Hashem's command. The fear and trepidation associated with the overwhelming cognition that one is acting on Hashem's behalf is too much. This compelling awareness protects him from slipping into the trap of prejudice, into the abyss of sin.

A Jew must view himself as being in this world on a mission for Hashem, such that everything he achieves is for Him. The Telshe Rosh Hayeshivah, Horav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zl, came to America at the beginning of World War II with this idea in mind. Together with his brother-in-law, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, they built an oasis of Torah in the Midwestern wilderness of America. At a time when hopelessness was a matter of fact, and observant Jews despaired of seeing their children follow in their ways, these two giants of Torah and spirit trail-blazed the path, laying the foundation for Torah in America. Undaunted by the challenges, they overcame personal tragedy, general apathy and constant obstacles in their quest to establish a real yeshivah of the old-,world Lithuanian genre on American soil. This yeshivah would not compromise the timeless standards that had been the hallmarks of Telshe in Europe. They were motivated by the words of Yonasan to David Ha'Melech, Leich ki shilachacha Hashem, "Go, for Hashem has sent you." They felt that they had been spared from the European inferno to fulfill a mission: to build Torah in America. Their mission was their raison d'etre. It was their guiding light and their rallying point that empowered them to go on. We are the beneficiaries of their mesiras nefesh, devotion and self-sacrifice.

They brought forth to Bnei Yisrael an evil report on the land that they had spied out. (13:32)

This was not the only time in Jewish history that spies were sent to reconnoiter Eretz Yisrael. It happened once again later, when Calev ben Yefuneh and Pinchas ben Elazar were sent as spies. They were taken in by Rachav, a woman of questionable repute, who protected them at the risk of her own life. Ultimately, she ended up marrying Yehoshua ben Nun, Moshe Rabbeinu's successor to the mantle of leadership of the Jewish People. What was the difference between the meraglim, spies, and Rachav? The spies were Torah leaders, individuals who had experienced the exodus from Egypt and had witnessed the splitting of the Red Sea and the Revelation at Har Sinai, while Rachav had not. Yet, her faith and trust in the Almighty overshadowed theirs.

Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, explains that there are divergent concepts regarding serving Hashem: tzomeiach, growth; and noveil, withering. Rachav was clearly on a much lower rung of the spiritual ladder than were the meraglim. There was one difference, however: she was growing, climbing, reaching up and ascending to staggering heights, as she scaled the ladder of spirituality. They, on the other hand, were withering, falling, descending at breakneck speed to the nadir of corruption and sinfulness. This may be likened to a tree that begins to bloom. While it may now look empty and barren, soon it will be budding with flowers that will give way to luscious fruit. In contrast, the tree that has been uprooted no longer receives its nourishment from the earth. Whereas now it may appear to be in full bloom, before long, it will shrivel and dry up.

Rav Yeruchem quotes Horav Itzele Blazur, zl, who compared this to a wealthy man whose fortune had been overturned. As he faced complete bankruptcy, he still had much more money in his portfolio than his poor neighbor who had just struck it rich. Shortly, the once poor man will be extremely wealthy with more money, and the once rich man will have nothing. They are both on the ladder: only one is ascending, while the other is descending.

Rav Yeruchem writes that when Rav Itzele would relate this analogy, he would break down in weeping, acutely aware of its profound implications. He always wondered which ladder he was on! What about us? Is it more than simply a good analogy? Are we so certain which ladder we are traversing?

We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes. (13:33)

Rashi comments, "We heard them (the Canaanites) say, 'There are ants crawling in our vineyards.'" Horav Ovadiah m'Bartenura wonders why Rashi adds the word "ants" when, in fact, the spies said, "We were like grasshoppers." He explains that when one views himself as a grasshopper, others will view him as something even smaller, such as an ant. A number of psychological insights may be derived from the spies' misconception of themselves and what the Canaanites thought of them, especially in light of the Bartenura's observation. First, as noted by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, in all likelihood, the spies did not understand the Canaanite language. Yet, they were certain what they were talking about. This teaches us that when one feels inadequate, he is likely to conclude that others have a similar feeling about him, that they are discussing his ineptitude and are probably expanding upon it.

Second, there is a descending progression concerning feelings of low self-esteem. The spies initially felt like grasshoppers, but this feeling soon had them shrinking to the size of ants. Last, what one feels about himself will invariably be reflected in a less positive form by others. In other words, people think less of you than what you think of yourself, because you project the perception of your own insufficiency.

Having said this, we examine the sin of the meraglim, spies, and the tragic effect it had on the entrance of the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, from the perspective that their low self-esteem catalyzed the problem. Indeed, the Kotzker Rebbe, zl, comments that the spies' remark was at the root of their sin. They had no right to take to heart what the Canaanites had said about them. As Jews, we are emissaries of the Almighty with a positive mission in this world. That is all that matters to us - not public opinion. As mentioned earlier, however, it is quite possible the Jews misconceived and misconstrued the Canaanites opinion of them. In their negativity, they conjured up an opinion of themselves that was quite removed from the truth. The spies, regrettably, saw demons at every juncture in their lives. They had become victims of their own low self esteem.

How did this occur? This was the nation that had experienced the exodus from Egypt with its accompanying miracles. They had stood at Har Sinai and received the Torah amidst the greatest wonders and miracles. How could they think negatively of themselves? We suggest that in order to affect a solution to a problem, one must first be aware that the problem exists. In other words, the solution to low self-esteem is to live a Torah life totally committed to observing all 613 mitzvos and various Rabbinic enactments and safeguards. This lifestyle rallies a person to a status of kedushah, holiness, in which every action in his life is performed to fulfill the Divine will. While that may be a possible solution, it can correct a self esteem problem only once it has been firmly acknowledged. Most of us are either clueless in diagnosing the problem, or blind-either purposely or unknowingly-to its existence. Correcting the self-image distortion can only occur once this malady has been acknowledged.

There are two forms of low self-esteem: first, the one in which the individual has an appropriately low opinion of himself, and the second, in which the feeling of negativity is unwarranted and unsupported. Some people feel that their inadequacies are real - and they are. Others, however, have an incorrect self-perception, thus creating a low sense of self-esteem that is unjustified. Many people see themselves as less than they really are. Some of the most successful people see themselves as failures, refusing to accept their success and finding ways to mitigate the situation. Rabbi Twerski explains that, paradoxically some of the most gifted and competent individuals develop a negative self-image as if they are looking through a trick lens in such a manner that what they perceive is actually the opposite of reality.

Let us take the example of the physician who spends his every waking moment either in his office or in the hospital attending to patients. This goes on for 365 days a year. No rest, no vacation - utter devotion to his work. Admired by his patients, revered by his colleagues, those around him think that his wife must be a shrew. Why else would a man so consistently avoid being home?

Years later, when his wife consults a therapist for severe depression, she explains that while her husband has been a wonderful person and a great material provider, he has never been home. The children have never had a father, and she has never had a husband. The emotional relationship and support that a husband and parent should provide had been non-existent. This woman is otherwise a very gentle, intelligent and compassionate person, quite unlike the perception that her husband's behavior has implied. Wherein lay the problem? After subsequently meeting with the physician/husband, the therapist comes to understand that although the physician knows himself to be competent as a doctor, he perceives himself to be inefficacious as a person. As a human being, he has no identity, no self-worth - a total zero! He has not felt capable of providing his family with the emotional support that they have needed. He, therefore, has gravitated away from home to the hospital, the office, or wherever it has been more "comfortable" than "facing the music" at home. He has deluded himself and, thus, has been suffering the serious detrimental side effects of his self-imposed negativity.

People can convince themselves that they are unworthy. Klal Yisrael experienced an unparalleled Divine Revelation filled with wonders and miracles. This should have elevated anyone. Alas, there are those who feel that they are unworthy of Hashem's favor, of His Revelation, of His miracles. They feel their spiritual position is not exalted. Rather than allow Hashem to make the decision, they continue on with their feelings of rejection and unworthiness. Distorted self-perception results in unwarranted loss of self-esteem, which leads to a variety of emotional distresses and behavioral maladjustments. The spies were great people with tremendous strengths, skills and capabilities, which they should have used in the service of Hashem. Had they not been, they would not have been chosen to represent the nation in scouting out the land. Regrettably, they were not cognizant of their own exalted status; thus, they allowed their own misconceptions to prevail. It has been called the "grasshopper syndrome." In essence, it is much more than that because the Canaanites never called them grasshoppers. It was the spies who wrongly perceived this. It was, instead, a case of misperceived self-identity. They had no clue to who they actually were.

In conclusion, perhaps the following vignette sums up the spies sin and places it and its catalysts in their proper perspective. The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, once approached a chasid who had come to his court, asking, "Why have you come here?" "I have come to find G-d," the chasid replied.

"It is unfortunate that you came so far and spent so much to waste your time," the Rebbe countered. "G-d is everywhere. You could have found Him just as well had you stayed at home."

"If so, for what purpose should I have come?" the chasid asked.

"To find yourself," the Rebbe answered. "You should have come to find yourself!"

Many of us are seeking and looking for something that is right in front of us. Our problem is that we - not the object which we are seeking - are lost.

A person who shall act high-handedly…he blasphemed Hashem- that person shall be cut off from among his people, for he scorned the word of Hashem and broke His commandment. (15:30, 31)

Very strong words. Unforgiving punishment. After all, the sin is unpardonable. It demonstrates the individual's utter contempt for everything Jewish. Idolatry is much like subtle blasphemy which incurs the punishment of spiritual excision. In truth, the person has long ago cut himself off from the Jewish People. This is the reason that one is shocked with Chazal's declaration in Sanhedrin 99A, "For he scorned the word of Hashem." "This is a reference to him who could study Torah, but does not." Not studying Torah seems to be a far cry from idolatry and blasphemy. There must be a deeper explanation of Chazal's statement.

Horav Matisyahu Salomon, Shlita, cites the Mishnah Berurah who explains that Chazal are addressing the significance of kvias ittim, setting aside specific times for Torah study. Let us expand on the subject and how it is relevant to us. The Shulchan Aruch writes that after one completes his tefillah and leaves the shul, he should go to the bais hamedrash and set aside a specific block of time for Torah study. This set time should be exactly that: a set time that is immutable, regardless of the amount of profit he might have gained during this time. The Mishnah Berurah adds that this set time should preferably take place immediately following davening, so that the individual goes from tefillah to Torah. This is consistent with the pasuk, "They, who go from strength to strength, will see Hashem in Tzion." The mitzvah of limud haTorah is not assigned a specific time. It is ongoing, all day whenever one has time. One who is free and willingly wastes this opportunity by not availing himself of Torah study is guilty of ki dvar Hashem bazah, "For he scorned the word of Hashem." One must have a set period for Torah study, a time designated so that nothing other than an accident prevents him from adhering to it. If such an accident occurs, preventing him from applying himself to his schedule, he must view the time "lost" as a chov kadosh, holy obligation, to reimburse this "time." This is a synopsis of the words of the Mishnah Berurah.

Rav Matisyahu posits that exclusive of the mitzvah of limud haTorah, which applies "day and night," there is a special obligation of kvias ittim, setting aside a specific time to study Torah on a regular basis. The Mishnah Berurah goes so far as to say that one who prioritizes his time in such a manner that regardless of what occurs-- or what "deal" has come along-- continuing to learn during his seder, designated time for learning, manifests a true sense of emunah, faith, in Hashem. His devotion is inextricable. He indicates his belief that Hashem will provide for him, if it has been declared.

The Mashgiach adds that the injunction to set aside a specific time for learning which transcends everything, even the most profitable opportunity, applies equally to those who have made Torasan Umnasan, have dedicated their lives to studying Torah as their lifelong vocation. This kvius is a time that cannot be infringed upon. It is one's fidelity to his kvius that manifests his true commitment to Torah and his unequivocal sense of emunah. One who is prepared to renege on his kvius, demonstrates where his true priorities really are. We must remember that the value of anything is determined by what one is willing to spend-- or give up-- for it. As the Mashgiach notes, Eisav ha'rasha, the wicked, was comfortable selling the birthright for a bowl of red lentils. That is what it was worth to him, so in his eyes it was a fair trade. We must ask ourselves: What is Torah learning really worth to us? What and how much are we willing to cede for Torah?

Va'ani Tefillah

Ashrei yoshvei veisecha- Happy are those who sit in Your house.

Interestingly, the wording of the pasuk is yoshvei, who sit (in Your house), rather than yoshvim, who are sitting. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, first focuses on the concept of "sitting" in Hashem's house. He views this as a way of putting ourselves in the proper frame of mind for prayer by quietly meditating. As mentioned above, one must prepare himself before he begins to daven. Indeed, the quiet, contemplating sojourn in Hashem's house has a positive effect on one's mind and spirit, by centering his thoughts upon Hashem. The wording is no longer strange, because true progress on the road to salvation can be achieved only if, in addition to coming to Hashem's house at the required intervals, one takes the impressions gained there into everyday life. Thus, the individual spends his entire day - in fact, all of his days- in His house, because he takes Hashem's house with him. Such an individual places his entire fate under the guidance of Hashem. He is on a constant road to salvation. People like this are yoshvei veisecha: wherever they sit, it is in Hashem's House.

In memory of
Our dear Aunt

Annette Cohen

Dr. Jacob and Helen Massuda

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