Former Shaliach in Melbourne
Pondering ‘spytial’ moralities on parashat Shelach Lecha
It is a common human attribute to criticize. This is especially true if we are personally affected by the act we’re criticizing. Still, when taking on the role of being the critic, we automatically tend to depict the focus of our attention with hues from the darker side of the palette. Our natural reaction to the story of the spies — and their disparaging of Eretz-Israel — is an example of this.
‘Cowards!’ we yell at them. ‘You, who witnessed the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Revelation, and the daily manna, you lack the belief in the Almighty?’
But these accusing questions seem to bounce back. Who were the spies? Are they cowards? Are they mediocre? Were they not a carefully chosen fellowship traveling on a well defined mission to examine the practical methods by which to conquer the Promised Land?
A strong hint as to the excellence of this delegation is in their names. ‘Shamua ben Zakur” – He who hears, son of he who remembers; ‘Shafat ben Chori’ – the judge, son of the free man; ‘Palti ben Rafu’ – the redeemer, son of he who was cured; ‘Gadiel ben Sodi’ – the luck [or destiny] is G-d’s, son of he who keeps the secret. And so on. Meaningful names for spiritual and social leaders.
With that in mind, we are confused. How on earth could such people talk so wrongly about the land?
The confusion intensifies as we examine the inner rivalry among the spies. We learn there are two, Yehoshua bin Nun and Calev ben Yefuneh, who do not join in the conspiracy to sin. Knowing these two as heros and key personalities later in the ‘story,’ we are surprised to learn from Chazal how they both could have easily been won over to the majority’s perspective. We learn that Yehoshua needed a special prayer by Moshe. This is suggested by the words, “And Moshe named Hoshea Bin Nun – Yehoshua.” Adding the letter ‘Yod’ to his name is part of prayer, as if to say “may Hashem save you from the spies’ counsel.” Calev detours to seek out ancient people of prayers – the Avot at Hebron — begging them to help him hold his ground.
What do Moshe, Yehoshua, and Calev know that causes them to fear, in advance, the consequence of this journey? Why does Moshe send them in the first place, if he feels a downfall is imminent?
It is customary to explain that the spies themselves dreaded a spiritual deterioration due to the shift from a heavenly desert (manna, Torah studies) to an earthly land (plowing, working for a living and so on). They preferred to stay in ‘heaven.’
Wanting to keep Israel in lofty and spiritual surroundings raises another dilemma altogether: Are we worthy? Is the Israeli nation really that much more moral and just than the nations of the land? Is the Promised Land a permitted land? Will we not sin in social affairs? Maybe we have no moral advantage over others.
They go. They come.
They sin. We cry.
But they do nott see what Moshe sees as he agrees to send them off. He knows that only a nation so strict with itself that it is prepared to exile itself (before even entering) and stay in the desert will be adjudged worthy of entering and conquering Eretz Israel. Setting a date for exile (Tisha B’av) is a prerequisite for the entrance.
The Children of Israel aregiven forty years to figure it out for themselves.
And we’ve been at it ever since.