The Parsha of Shelach Lecha is a tragic turning point in the history of Klal Yisrael. They were on the verge of entering Eretz Yisrael when the action of the Meraglim (spies) changed everything.
The Pasuk relates that” One man was chosen as a representative from each Shevet (tribe) to report back about Eretz Yisrael.
Who were these men? The Ramban is puzzled that the tribes do not seem to be listed in any specific order. He explains that these leaders were listed according to their individual greatness. The very fact that Hoshea ben Nun, the Talmid (student) par-excellence of Moshe was listed fifth offers us a glimpse of the colossal stature of these men.
In the Haftorah accompanying the same Parsha we read about how Yehoshua, nearly forty years later, also sent spies. His spies however didn’t make the same mistake as Moshe’s spies. What was the difference between these two sets of spies, and why did Moshe’s spies fall?
Yehoshua’s spies came back and gave an unusual report. They told Yehoshua what had happened to them, and they concluded that “Hashem had given the land into our hands”.
The Ramban at the end of Parshat Bo states that a person does not have a share Moshe Rabenu’s Torah until he believes that everything that happens to the Jewish people as a whole and to each individual Jew is all by divine providence.
Moshe’s spies misunderstood what was going on. They reported that Eretz Yisrael was a land that killed its inhabitants. Rashi states that when they came to Eretz Yisrael, since they were recognizable as Jews, Hashem in His great kindness created an epidemic at that precise time, and the local people were so involved with their funerals that they didn’t notice the strangers. The spies looked at what was happening and reported that wherever they went they saw funerals. The way they saw it the land was killing its inhabitants – and they were right! When they viewed what was happening without taking Hashgacha into account, they saw people dying, but if they would have viewed the situation with Hashgacha, they would have seen Hashem was creating a miracle for them.
Yehoshua’s spies noticed what Hashem had done for them. They came back and told Yehoshua, “Hashem has created so many miracles for us and the land is ours for the taking”.
The other spies told Klal Yisrael what happened, and even what they presumed would happen without taking Hashem and His Hashgacha into account, and thus Am Yisrael were misled.
The Zohar elaborates on the root of their stumble. They held positions of honor during the wilderness travels. “Rashei Bnei Yisrael Haimah (Leaders of Bnei Yisrael they were) [13:3].” The Baal Haturim writes that the Gematria (numerical value) of the word ‘Haimah’, spelled ‘heh’ (5), ‘mem’ (40) and ‘heh’ (5), equals 50. They were officers in charge of fifty men. They knew that they would lose this position upon entering Eretz Yisrael.
A person always wants a certain degree of honor and respect. Whatever level of honor a person holds, he’ll defend that to the end. From an objective point of view, being an officer of fifty is not much to write home about! However, since that was their standing, they’d protect that at all costs.
Rav Eliezer Silver was one of the many Rabbis who visited the DP camps where Holocaust survivors were taken after the war. He was approached by a young man who defiantly announced, “Rabbi, I will never be a religious Jew!”
“What makes you say that?”, asked Rabbi Silver.
“I saw something in the camp that I will never forget”, he explained. “There was a man who called himself religious who had smuggled a Siddur (prayer book) into the camp. It was the only Siddur in our group and a few people wanted to borrow it in order to pray. He agreed to lend it but only on one condition — in return, he demanded half a day’s bread!
“And what happened?” asked Rabbi Silver curiously.
“Many gave their bread so that they could use the Siddur!” he answered angrily. “I want nothing to do with a religion which people use to rob starving people of their bread!”
Rabbi Silver smiled at the young man and said: “Why do you concentrate on that one individual who had the Siddur and made such a demand? Why don’t you instead look at the devotion of all of those people who gave up their bread just to pray from that Siddur!”
It’s not what happens, but how we view It…
Hashem’s Hashgacha leads us throughout our lives – He was, He Is, and He always Will be there for us. It is up to us to look at things always with a positive outlook, and always with the understanding that Hashem wishes the best for us.
All the more so in our generation where we have again witnessed the returning and settling the land of Israel, the rebuilding of Yeshivot and regeneration of Torah. May Hashem continue to bless us with His Hashgacha and may we merit fully understanding His Kind Hand in all. Amen.