Monday, June 25, 2007

Parshas Shelach Lecha

Good Shabbos and welcome to the weekly edition of the Goren HaChaim shiur on Parsha. Mazel tov to Yosi Rosen on the birth and subsequent bris of his son this Thursday, Avraham ben Yosef Chanoch. A very appropriate name given this week’s Parsha, as we will see:

This Parsha, Shelach Lecha, deals with spies sent to reconnoiter the land- ostensibly, to determine of the nation of Israel. Commentators have famously pointed out that the syntax of the pasuk, as well as the directive, are similar to Lech Lecha. In both cases, the protagonist (either the spies or Abraham) were fine men. Abraham as we know is our patriarch, and the spies sent were explicitly told to us to be heads of the tribes- nesi’im- men of upstanding character. Among them were Caleb and Joshua, leads of the nation of Israel. Further, in both cases, the leaders of the nation were told to go to a place which they did not know- for Abraham it was to leave his homeland and to go to a land which Hashem would tell him. In this case, it’s slightly different- they know exactly where they are going, they are just unsure what they will find there. Finally, in both cases, Rashi notes that the ‘lecha’ is ‘l’tovoscha’- for their own good. In Abraham’s case, it was to set out to start the beginning of his great nation. In our case, although Hashem in a manner of speaking did not require the spies to go out, nevertheless, if the people feel that they need a human assessment of the land, then it will be for the good of the nation to have spies- in other words, to have the free will to make their own decisions.

However, the result of the actions was profoundly different: Abraham established a great nation (in fact Caleb went to pray at Hebron in the merit of the forefathers, notably Abraham, that the mission would be received with success), while the spies returned with an unsavory report of the land that ultimately caused this generation of Jews to die in the desert, never seeing the land of Israel, which resulted in the 40 years of wandering in the desert (this is because the census was just taken of everyone above 20 and Hashem did not want anyone to die below the age of 60, which is considered the age of a normal life. Therefore, 20+40=60, ie, all the 20 year olds at the time of the counting had to reach 60 before the generation could be considered complete). So how are we to understand this difference- why did Abraham vs. the spies start out quite similarly, and end so differently?

I think a possible answer is found in the debate among our sages regarding rewards for mitzvos in this world, as explained (among other places) at the end of Ha Isha Nikneis in Kiddushin (29b). In that sugya, the Mishna says that whoever does a mitzvah has his days lengthened and bettered, and receives a share in the world to come- and whoever does not, does not. The Gemara debates what types of mitzvos count for this world vs. the next world, and the implications for the fact that we see some people do in fact do Mitzvos, and do not get rewards, and some do not , and are rewarded (ie why do good things happen to bad people, etc.) I think a notable lesson in this Gemara is that which is learned out from the incident which Acheir saw that led him partially off the derech. We know that when someone takes eggs from a nest, he must send away the mother bird- this mitzvah specifically is mentioned as something which if you do, you will get a long life. Well Acheir saw someone do this very thing, and then fall off the ladder and die. The question is- how could this happen, we have a pasuk that goes the other way? Zocht the Gemara, the ladder had rotten rungs and we don’t rely on miracles to save us- I can’t just run into the road and expect not to get hit… we have to watch ourselves very much. So how does this relate to the spies?

The Chiddushei HaRim explains. The spies were supposed to be shlichei Mitzvah- and we know that Shlichei Mitzvah eino nizakin (messengers for mitzvos cannot be harmed). In order to become true emissaries, though, they needed to suppress their own desires and motives and proceed with the mission simply because God commanded it. If they had done this they would have been protected. Ten of the spies failed to do this and the results were tragic. God wanted the spies to show the nation that it was possible to bring the light of the Torah into the physical world. It was possible to live in the physical world, to work within the boundaries of nature and still live a spiritual life. This was the spies’ ultimate mission.

The Sfas Emes notes, however, that the nation in the desert lived with explicit miracles. They ate food that dropped from the sky every day. They saw the clouds of glory and the pillar of fire. Coming in to Israel they would be living within nature. The challenge would be to maintain their high level of faith. The challenge would be to realize that just as God provided for them in the desert in an explicit way, He is within nature as well, albeit, implicitly. Success in this challenge would be to reach a level of understanding that nature is a bigger wonder than the miracles of the desert. As part of the transition to living within nature, the spies were sent to scout the land. Their ultimate mission was to maintain the level of faith they had in the desert when exposed to explicit miracles. Their ultimate mission involved seeing the land and its inhabitants and realizing that even though the inhabitants were strong and live in fortified cities, God is within everything. In this ten of the twelve spies failed. They did not maintain their high level of faith. They were fooled by what they saw. In contrast, Avraham Avinu had such a pure faith from the age of 3, he did not experience the type of miracle every day, he was not able to just shrug off what he saw due to his experiences- he did it all with siyata di’shmaya and pure intentions.

I think the implications are clear for us and hopefully we can carry this mindset with us through Shabbos and into the summer months as well!


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