Parshat Shlach Lecha
Of all the episodes in the Torah dealing with the ups and downs of the Jewish people, the incident of the spies sent to scout out Israel is unique. It's uniqueness is that there is no other account in which the entire Jewish people fell short of what Hashem expected of them. The story is well known concerning the people's request to gather information before entering Israel. Moses agreed to their plan with the hopes of using the knowledge gathered to help their entry into the land. Tragedy struck when every single man (not the women!) between the ages of twenty to sixty believed the reports of the spies that the land was unconquerable. They were gripped with panic and fear that they would have to encounter an invincible enemy. Additionally, they practically killed Joshua and Caleb, the only two spies who felt they could, in fact, successfully conquer the land. Due to that lack of bitachon (faith) they were slated to wander and die during their forty years' sojourn in the desert.
I would like to share some thoughts on their shortcoming with the clear realization that we walk on holy ground when analyzing this great generation and therefore we shouldn't make unfounded assumptions about their faults. With that said, let's try to gain some insights into the mistakes the Jewish people made and, of course, the lessons to be learned.
Moses sends a dozen spies to scout out the land of Israel. Moses clearly wasn't in doubt about whether we would be victorious in conquering the land. However, he had been convinced by the people that the proper procedure to prepare for the upcoming battles would be to spend spies. Upon their return everything turned upside-down. These great men reported what they saw: a land filled with giants, people dying left and right, in short, a terrifying picture for this nascent nation. So they cried. Why not? Imagine that Moses is alive today and commands us to fight against all of the Arab nations surrounding us. Not with the sophisticated weapons we have now but with primitive arrows and spears. Wouldn't we wonder about the advisability of such a plan? Going back to the story of the spies, their reaction was considered a major breach of faith and they were punished with severe consequences. But weren't their concerns justified? In general, are feelings legislated to such a degree that the entire generation was held accountable for what we would imagine was a justified fear?
The Sfas Emes says the basis of their shortcoming was not just a lack of faith. Their mistake stemmed from their offering an opinion about their chances of success. On paper, very possibly, the spies were correct. The idea of battle with such powerful nations was foolish. But Hashem didn't ask us. He told us we will be successful. He assured us that He will save us and help us defeat our enemy. Once we appointed ourselves to write an editorial column about the advisability of the plan, we couldn't be the ones to go into the land. Not only was faith compromised but the entire necessity of humbling ourselves to Hashem as well.
However, I often wondered why did Hashem set up the situation of entering a land that seemed so impossible? Without second guessing the Creator (like they did back then) what would have been so terrible if Hashem had set up a political situation that gave us some sense of hope of victory?
I think the answer encapsulates the essence of the Jewish people. What is the our purpose? In short, we are to be messengers to bring an awareness of Hashem to the entire world. We are called upon to lead lives that will clearly demonstrate that Hashem controls and is the source of all the success and greatness of the Jewish nation. From this lesson the world can extrapolate that everything else is also under His dominion. In order for us to live and teach this lesson Hashem places us in situations where there is absolutely no way for us to be successful without His guiding hand. In our evening prayers, we recite the words from Jeremiah: "For Hashem redeemed Jacob (a reference here to the Jewish people), and delivered him from a power mightier than he". The verse is clear that our enemies are more powerful than we are and that's exactly the way it must be. The reason: when we are successful it will be clear to us and the world that only Hashem could have extricated us from our difficulties.
The spies and the people didn't just believe a bad report about the land. They misunderstood that the land had to be seemingly unconquerable. Only in that way could the Jewish people teach the lessons of what we are all about. Due to this shortcoming, that generation was unable to enter into the land.
The Sfas Emes adds one more comment. When each soul is brought down to this world, we are each sent with a specific, essential mission. It's sometimes hard not to second guess the wisdom of the situations Hashem has given us. Often the world seems bleak and our challenges too daunting. But that's just where we need to be. Because only in those situations can we truly fulfill our individual and collective purpose. Remember, Hashem didn't ask us. He told us we can overcome, we can build, we can succeed. When we do overcome, with Hashem's help, the message of His loving and guiding hand will then be clear to us and all around us.
May we learn the lessons of the spies and may we have the strength to rise to our challenges and internalize that Hashem is with us, even in the darkest of places. That awareness itself will help bring a deep awareness of Hashem. Through this we will realize that what seemed impossible was an opportunity to connect and spread G-dliness into the world.