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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Send forth men. (13:2)

In his explanation of the juxtaposition of the episode concerning the spies upon the incident with Miriam HaNeviah's "gossip" about Moshe Rabbeinu, Rashi takes a stern approach toward the meraglim, spies. The nation had been taught the severity of malicious gossip, having seen first-hand the punishment wrought against Miriam. Yet, the "wicked" spies did not learn their lesson from this experience, and they were not deterred from slandering the Land. Horav Boruch Sorotzkin, zl, notes that Rashi is underscoring the fact that the meraglim did not take heed of Miriam's punishment, rather than their actual slander. Implicit in his words is the notion that it was not the actual slander against Eretz Yisrael that did them in; rather, it was their lack of perception, ignoring that which glared at them in plain sight, sending a critical message: even the most erudite, sagacious and G-d-fearing Jew can err and be guilty of a sin. Aharon and Miriam somehow erred in their perception of Moshe, causing Miriam to say something needlessly that was perceived to be slanderous. The meraglim should have derived a lesson from this incident. Because they were indifferent, they fell into a nadir of sin that was inconsistent with their spiritual plateau.

The Rosh Yeshivah elevates it by comparing one who does not observe, listen, acknowledge and learn from the experience to a kafui tov, ingrate. After all, Hashem has given him sensory perception for a purpose. To not use this gift wisely is the height of ingratitude. Man is surrounded by a world which is his to discover. He is influenced by events which come to his attention - both positive and negative. What he derives from the episodes which he continues to confront throughout life will often determine how he acts and how he will turn out. Hashem has enabled him by supplying him with the tools for discernment. If he does not use them, then he has only himself to blame. This is the lesson that we should derive from the tragedy of the meraglim.

Precisely what was the sin of the meraglim, a sin which unwittingly tainted all of Klal Yisrael, one whose far-reaching effect disturbs us to this very day? Indeed, Ramban indicates that Klal Yisrael's request for spies was reasonable. An attacking army requires intelligence concerning the country it is attempting to conquer. They erred in not factoring in their special circumstances. A nation that had witnessed the saving Presence of Hashem among them should have conjured up enough faith to follow the Cloud - without question. Moshe allowed their request, because he saw that they were dead-set on this course. To deter them would increase the friction, thereby creating an even bigger issue. Thus, he accepted their evil plan, rather than blow the situation out of proportion.

In other words, the people erred by assuming that it would be best to minimize the miracles that accompanied them, rather than attack the land by conventional methods, i.e. spies. Their mistake was in downplaying their miraculous existence. A nation that is subject to such supernatural intervention should abandon all desire for human endeavor. They erred, and Moshe did not want to exacerbate the issue beyond control.

How could the dor de'ah, "generation of knowledge," make such a simple mistake? Clearly, they knew better than to think they needed the assistance of spies in order to successfully conquer the land.

In his Michtav M'Eliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, quotes the Yalkut, which teaches that the nation did not consciously and deliberately send spies as an exercise in military strategy. They were accustomed to miracles, and there was no reason that they could not continue in their supernatural state. In addition, the yetzer hora did not confront them overtly, because it did not have a chance to convince them to abandon their belief in Hashem's ability to lead them into the Land. So, what was it? It was the yetzer hora adopting a much more subtle tactic - a tactic that blindsided the Jewish nation and left them open to falling into his crafty hands. The Yalkut relates the Jews' request: "Hashem has promised us that we will enter the Land of Canaan and inherit all of their wealth… 'houses filled with good things.' The Canaanim know that we are coming. If they hide their property, and we find nothing, it will create a great chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem's Name. Hashem's word will be annulled. This cannot be. Therefore, let us send spies to reconnoiter the land and discover where they are hiding their wealth."

A very crafty ploy. Not only were they now not doing an aveirah, sin, they were acting appropriately. It was a mitzvah! They were preventing a chillul Hashem. How commendable! They did not want to lose the gold and silver, since this might besmirch Hashem's Name. It was not about the money - it was all about Hashem, or so they claimed, because so they thought. It was not the rational dor de'ah speaking; it was a nation duped by the yetzer hora. While being victimized by the yetzer hora somewhat explains their actions, it does not generate absolution for their sin.

How did a nation who had encountered Hashem at Sinai and who had a unique knowledge of the wiles of the yetzer hora fall prey to such a ruse? How were they unable to detect their own true motives? Rav Dessler posits that this explains how deeply embedded in their psyche the error must have been. Even Moshe fell into the trap! An inner tendency of the heart can be so well concealed that even a Moshe Rabbeinu can err about its true nature. Frightening, but true.

Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan. (13:2)

Rashi says that the implication is that Hashem gave Moshe Rabbeinu permission to send spies, but left the final decision up to him. This idea presents a number of difficulties. Hashem knew that the meraglim, spies, would return from their reconnaissance of Eretz Yisrael with slanderous reports. The Almighty is aware of all that is concealed from man. Why did He permit this debacle to occur? When Moshe approached Hashem with the people's request, the Almighty should have responded with a resounding, "No!" In addition, upon the meraglim's return, the people joined in with their fears and misgivings. They began to weep needlessly. This unwarranted weeping became a basis for warranted weeping, as this night, the ninth of Av, became our national day of mourning. Tisha B'Av became the night of bechiah l'doros, weeping throughout the generations. All this could have been averted with a resounding negative response to the request for spies.

Horav Ovadiah Yosef, Shlita, offers a novel interpretation which sheds light on a number of ambiguities. Klal Yisrael received the Torah in the beginning of the month of Sivan. Moshe Rabbeinu ascended the mountain and returned forty days later, on the seventeenth of Tamuz. After being confronted by the flagrant debauchery and total breakdown of Jewish values and self-respect, Moshe shattered the Luchos and subsequently carried out the Heavenly-ordained punishment of the sinners. The next day, Moshe returned to the mountain for another forty days to pray on behalf of his errant nation. On the twenty-ninth of Av he returned, after Hashem had pardoned the nation. He was now instructed to prepare a second set of Luchos. So, on Rosh Chodesh Elul, he ascended the mountain once again, descending on Yom Kippur. Afterwards, the nation commenced the construction of the Mishkan, which was to serve as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The Mishkan was completed on the twenty-fifth of Kislev and concealed until Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which was the month during which Yitzchak Avinu was born. Since Yitzchak was willing to be sacrificed as per Hashem's command, the Mishkan, which was to be the place where Klal Yisrael would offer its sacrifices, was suitably connected with the Patriarch.

After all is said and done, from the time Klal Yisrael was liberated from Egypt until the incident of the meraglim, they had the opportunity to study Torah from Moshe for only five months. Imagine, if the nation were to go into the Holy Land at that point, it would be without having had the Torah instruction of the quintessential Rebbe of the Jewish People. Moshe was not entering the Land. So, who would teach them Torah? In addition, the first fourteen years would see them occupied in conquering and dividing up the Land. How would they retain Torah in such a manner that they would be able to transmit it in its pristine character, unadulterated and untainted, to the next generation? How could they guarantee the nitzchiyus, eternity, of the Torah?

Thus, Hashem "allowed" the meraglim to go their own way, to make mistakes, to deceive themselves, to create a scenario in which the nation would get carried away and descend to a nadir that was unpardonable. Now, they would be relegated to living out their days in the wilderness, in a setting where they would study Torah regularly from the mouth of Moshe. They would exist on Heavenly bread, manna, which the Talmud declares was the perfect sustenance for one who was to retain Torah. There was no bother in retrieving it, allowing them to study Torah unimpaired and undistracted. It was the perfect setting. It was a punishment that was really a blessing in disguise; but then, every punishment conceals a deeper meaning.

Every time something "bad" happens the first question we ask is: Why? We lay blame; we get bent out of shape; we grieve; we issue ultimatums. Do we ever take time out to analyze the situation, to ask ourselves: does Hashem really want to "hurt" us; does He not care? With the venerable Chacham's exegesis, we are able to apply a totally new perspective to some of the issues that have been plaguing us from time immemorial. If we would expend the same amount of effort in attempting to "understand" Hashem's actions as we do "questioning" them, we might even arrive at fascinating conclusions. One does not have to be a student of history to begin to note and cogently arrive at logical conclusions to explain some of the more obvious "patterns" of history. Due to the sensitive nature of many of these issues, I will not elaborate, but ha'meivin yavin.

And Hashem said, "I have forgiven according to your words. (14:20)

Man does not understand his significance in the world scheme. Indeed, if we would realize what Hashem thinks of us, our self-portrait would change drastically and with that our actions - both positive and negative. While it is critical that one know his place, it is equally crucial that he not lose sight of his inherent potential. Having said this, the following statement made by Chazal in the Talmud Berachos (32) is quite uplifting. As a result of Klal Yisrael's reaction to the spies' slanderous report of Eretz Yisrael, Hashem wanted to wipe out the nation. He had no need for a people that could act in such a dreadful manner. Moshe Rabbeinu pled the nation's case before Hashem. "If You destroy Bnei Yisrael, the other nations of the world will denigrate Your strength. They will claim that You lacked the ability to follow through and conquer a land ruled by the 31 kings." Hashem acquiesced to Moshe's argument with the words, "Moshe, your words have given Me life." The Ran explains Hashem's ambiguous response. Hashem agreed with Moshe's logic and, as a result of Moshe's prayers, Hashem's power and greatness would continue to be known throughout the world.

This is an incredible statement which seems to credit Moshe with Hashem's Omnipotence finding acceptance in the eyes of all members of the human race. Did Moshe really deserve such an accolade? Clearly, Moshe did not have such superhuman ability. After all, all he really did was pray to Hashem to not take action against the people. To make such a compelling statement, and to attribute Moshe with giving Hashem "life", seems far-fetched.

Horav A. Henach Leibowitz, zl, cites Chazal who say that one who causes another fellow to sin is punished as if he himself were the perpetrator. Likewise, one who influences his friend to observe a mitzvah is rewarded as if he actually performed the mitzvah himself. With this in mind, the Rosh Yeshivah notes that Moshe's tefillos, prayers, were a defining factor in Hashem's decision to lead Klal Yisrael into the Holy Land, thereby revealing His supreme might to the world. Thus, Moshe is credited with giving Hashem "life," or - in an alternative formulation - eternal power and Omnipotence in the eyes of the world. While Moshe physically could not do this, spiritually it is reckoned in his favor.

Chazal teach us a powerful lesson. Man's power is incredible. He has within him the capacity for transforming the lives of others, for sustaining them both physically and spiritually. He can be mechayeh meisim, bring the "dead" back to life. In addition, any action that we undertake on behalf of our fellow - regardless of its "size", even a "simple" prayer that achieves only the maintenance of his status quo - is viewed as if it directly accomplished that benefit and all of the resulting spin-offs.

Someone is ill, and we are asked to participate in prayers on his behalf. What can "my" simple prayer add? What can it accomplish? That is exactly it: We do not know. Quite possibly, that "simple" prayer is what was needed to tip the scale. That simple act of kindness made the difference. It might be a minor effort on our part, but, for the recipient, it means his life. This is the power of our potential. There is, however, a flipside: a simple, improper action can effectively destroy a life, leaving us culpable for much misery and suffering. The decision remains in our hands. Such realization should motivate us to live up to our expected potential, bearing in mind that man is the crowning glory of Creation.

But my servant, Calev, because a different spirit was with him and he followed Me wholeheartedly. (14:24)

Three men were referred to as eved, servant, of Hashem: Avraham Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu and Calev ben Yefuneh. One way to understand the commonality between them is that none of them ever referred to another human being with the title, "master." Aharon HaKohen and Yehoshua referred to Moshe as adoni Moshe, "my master, Moshe." David HaMelech referred to Shaul HaMelech as adoni. An eved Hashem has one Master: Hashem.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, translates eved as, "work subject to another's will," "directing energies to another's goal." Avraham Avinu's response to Hashem - Hineni, "Here I am," ready and willing to carry out anything that You ask of me - admits him into this august group. In describing Moshe in death, the Torah (Devarim 34:5) writes, "So Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there." Rabbeinu Bachya explains that Moshe is called a servant for the first time, alluding to a newer and higher status. Once the ingredient of his physical essence was removed from him, Moshe's soul was able to perceive much more.

Ibn Ezra suggests that only Calev - as opposed to Yehoshua - was called eved, because he quieted the nation. This begs elucidation. Clearly, Yehoshua was unparalleled in distinction. As successor to Moshe in leading the Jewish People, he exemplified greatness in Torah, as well as leadership capabilities. Yet, he is not referred to as eved. He did not quiet down the nation. How do we explain this?

An eved is unique in that he is the property of his master. A servant/slave has no independence, no identity other than being his master's possession, no legal status. He has no selfhood, living totally for his master. Moshe and Avraham exemplified this unique status, in that they lived solely and completely for Hashem.

When Calev arose before the entire nation and quieted them, he demonstrated a similar loyalty. We all care about public opinion. Everyone wants to be accepted, liked, respected. To swim against the tide of popular opinion takes courage and fortitude. To stand up to an entire nation, take control of the reins and quiet their grumbling, takes an individual who has abrogated his selfhood. It requires a person who lives for a higher ideal, whose goals and objectives supercede what people think of him. I think Rav Hirsch implies this in his commentary when he writes: "His faithful, fearless standing up for following G-d's behests made him worthy of the highest designation of a human working for G-d: eved Hashem." Calev reached the status for which many aspire, but never attain.

The ability to extirpate one's "self" and dedicate himself entirely to Hashem was a character trait that was transmitted by Calev to his descendants. We are taught that Betzalel, the architect of the Mishkan, was selected because he was the grandson of Chur, the one person who stood up to the erev rav, mixed multitude, the crazed rabble rousers, who initiated the Golden Calf. As a result of his stand, Chur was murdered in an act of defiance and mutiny. The Mishkan was to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. How did Betzalel do it? How could he take part in building an edifice to atone for the flagrant murder of his grandfather?

It demanded much devotion to Hashem, total dedication to the Almighty, under such intense pressure that would tax the emotions of a lesser person. Betzalel disregarded his own feelings. He was totally subservient to Hashem. From where did he acquire such superhuman strength, such extreme devotion, such abrogation of self? It came from Chur's father: Calev ben Yefuneh. Yes, Betzalel inherited the family DNA of avdus, total subservience to Hashem. It is through such devotion that one achieves to make a Mishkan for Hashem. V'asu Li Mikdash, "And they shall make for Me a Sanctuary." To make a Sanctuary for Hashem, one must divest himself of all selfhood. Betzalel had the right ingredients for this mission.

In this wilderness shall your carcasses drop. (14:29)

Klal Yisrael's egregious reaction to the slander of the meraglim, spies, against Eretz Yisrael was not their first sin. They had sinned with the Golden Calf, a transgression that had undertones of idolatry. Yet, Hashem forgave the nation. They still retained the merit of continuing on to Eretz Yisrael. Not so, when they sinned with the meraglim. They did not receive a pass, regardless of their teshuvah, repentance. They had lost their opportunity to enter the Holy Land. Why? What distinguishes the sin of the meraglim from that of its predecessors? Why was this sin unpardonable?

The commentators, each in their own inimitable manner, respond to this question. I will cite two which teach us a deeper understanding of transgression and repentance. Horav Simcha Bunim, zl, m'Peshischa cites the two pesukim which express the people's teshuvah experience following each individual sin. The Torah describes Klal Yisrael's response upon hearing that Hashem was severing His relationship with the nation and relegating it to an angel: "The people heard this bad tiding and they became grief-stricken" (Shemos 33:4). About the time following the sin of the spies, the Torah writes, "and the people mourned exceedingly. (Bamidbar 14:39)" What is the difference between the two?

Teshuvah is a process through which one recognizes that he has grievously erred, an awareness that brings about a severe feeling of broken-hearted emptiness. Acknowledging that what has been done cannot be changed, the rift has been created, the mutiny against Hashem has been executed, he searches for a way to change the future. What is past is unalterable, but what about from here on in? Can he return? Will he be accepted? These questions gnaw at the baal teshuvah, penitent, as he alters his course of observance, seeking closer ties with the Almighty.

This was the spiritual plateau realized by Klal Yisrael following the sin of the Golden Calf. It was their first real infraction, and they were yet unaware of the Heavenly gift of teshuvah. They grieved and mourned over their terrible sin. No mention is made of their teshuvah, repentance, only of their grief. This is because they were unaware of the power of teshuvah. Their regret was sincere, their pain palpable. Hashem saw their broken hearts and forgave them. They had achieved the ultimate teshuvah without being aware of their groundbreaking inroads.

Following the sin of the meraglim, Klal Yisrael was acutely aware of the efficacy of teshuvah, its ability to mend, ameliorate and alter events past. They figured that they would repent - as they did before. If it had worked the previous time, why should it not work again? Regrettably, this indicated a taint in their teshuvah. They were doing it "again." It was missing a complete hisorerus, arousal. Thus, the Torah writes that they "mourned exceedingly." It was not something new; they were just following "procedure." Teshuvah works when it is sincere.

Horav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, zl, focuses on the nature of the sin. Klal Yisrael sinned with the Golden Calf. This incursion was against Hashem. Suddenly, they needed a medium to replace Moshe Rabbeinu who really was not a go-between. Hashem is a personal G-d, Who is accessible to everyone. Yet, they were forgiven. They sinned with the misonenim, when they complained about their lack of "food." This was the height of ingratitude, once again a sin directed at the Almighty. Here, again, Hashem forgave them. Later, Korach and his henchmen of distinguished leaders broke ranks with the people, attempting a mutiny against Moshe and Aharon. Here, too, they were forgiven. It was only the sin of the meraglim that carried with it an eternal taint of sin. Why?

Every aveirah, sin, warrants teshuvah, unless the sin is against Am Yisrael, the Jewish People. If one sins against his fellowman or if he sins against Hashem, he may repent and eventually be absolved of his sin. This is not true if he sins against the institution of Am Yisrael. This is an infraction for which there is no forgiveness - even if the sinner is sincerely remorseful and repentant. The iniquity is too severe. When the people declared, "Let us select a (new) leader who will return us to Egypt," they sinned against the People. Such a sin cannot be glossed over.

Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's explanation is compelling. We must ask ourselves for a definition of sin "against the people." There are situations in which individuals and groups have instigated movements which, at first, seem innocuous at best, and at their worst might be considered a sin against Hashem. Actually, these individuals were guilty of sinning against the nation. They undermined the collective Am Yisrael's ability to grow, to observe, to serve Hashem. These secularists talked a good talk, preaching change and innovation. In reality, they had made pawns out of unsuspecting, gullible Jews, manipulating their belief systems and turning them against Hashem. Such loathsome behavior is not susceptible to pardon.

Va'ani Tefillah

Shir U'shevachah, Hallel v'zimrah, oz u'memshalah
Song and praise, lauding and hymns, power and dominion.

The fifteen terms of praise contained within the Yishtabach conclusion to Pesukei D'Zimrah should be recited as one unit, corresponding to the numerical equivalent of Hashem's Name: YudKay. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes that while these different forms of praise resemble synonyms in that their definitions are similar, they are, in fact, different, with individual meanings of their own. The exact definition of each one of these terms in reference to Hashem, however, eludes us. Thus, we recite them in Hebrew, bearing in mind whatever definitions we have.

The terms also bounce between masculine and feminine gender. For example: Shevachah is feminine, while shevach is masculine. Hallel is masculine, and zemirah is feminine. Clearly, there are different nuances concerning these expressions, which are expressed through the masculine or feminine gender, with the exact meaning of each one regarding its application to Hashem ambiguous to our limited capacity. Together, as one unit, they declare an expression of immortal praise, which includes these fifteen terms in their various nuances from now until eternity. There is no end to praising Hashem; one neither tires of it, nor does it lose its appeal. It is from now until eternity.

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