Shelach Lecha 5779

June 25, 2019

Two sides of the coin

This week’s parasha recounts the famous story of the Jewish spies that were sent into Israel to investigate the land before entering. The spies found that the land was well inhabited and they were distraught that they would not be able to enter the Promised Land. The Pasuk says that the Bnei Yisrael cried out “is it not better for us to return to Egypt”. It is true that since the day the Jewish people left Egypt all their focus was to enter their land, but how it can be that after every drop of suffering, death and torture that they Jews endured, they just want to go back to the cruellest land in the world. Furthermore, Hashem practically carried the Jews on his shoulders from Egypt until Israel with miracles that are indescribable. The ten plagues, splitting of the sea, food falling from heaven, receiving the Torah from Hashem himself – how can it be that the Jews just want to go back, why did their commitment to Hashem collapse to nothing.

 

The Mishnah in Avot brings five opinions of the best way a man should conduct himself. “Rabbi Eliezer says ‘a good eye’, Rabbi Yehoshua says ‘a good friend’…Rabbi Elazar says ‘a good heart’”. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai says “I see that in Rabbi Elazar’s words (a good heart) are included everyone’s words”. Rashi says this is because everything is dependent on the heart.

 

There are always two ways of approaching an idea: With the mind, intellectually and with the heart, emotionally. All avodat hashem requires a mix of these two approaches. Sometimes one is needed more than the other but the perfect avodat hashem is the harmony of the two. However, it is much easier to know something with your mind than to feel something with emotion. It is insufficient to know that you have to love and fear Hashem. One also has to feel that love and fear. The challenge of a Jew is to internalise the feeling until it becomes emotionally real. Emotion is from the heart, Rashi is telling us that everything is dependent on the heart.

 

The Gemara in Shabbat (88a) says that when Bnei Yisrael stood at the foot of Mount Sinai Hashem forced them to accept the Torah. Hashem raised the Mountain like an overturned barrel and said ‘if you accept the Torah that will be good, if not, here will be your grave” and the Jews accepted the Torah. The Gemara continues that only when it came to days of Achashverosh when the Jews were saved from the hands of a wicked king, did they fully accept the Torah. Rashi says that the Bnei Yisrael showed love because of the miracles that happened on Purim.

 

From the moment the Bnei Yisrael left Mount Sinai, not to mention prior to this, the Jews were only intellectually aware of Hashem and his Torah. Because of this, they would only respond out of fear of death and therefore, no matter what miracles would happen for them, they would not put all their faith in Hashem. But when it came to the story of Purim, The Bnei Yisrael fully loved Hashem and his Torah which installed complete faith between the Jews and their creator.

 

When serving hashem, not only do we have to have knowledge of his interaction with us, we must also strive to feel hashem’s involvement. With this we can fulfil both sides of the coin to bring us closer to our Father in heaven.