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18 Sivan 5763 - June 18, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Shelach Lecho: Can We Afford to Trust Ourselves?

By HaRav Pinchas Chaim Scheinberg, shlita

When the time came to enter Eretz Yisroel (Bamidbar 13:1,2) "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, `Send for yourself men, and let them spy out Eretz Canaan . . .'" Hashem said "for yourself," since the people came to Moshe asking that spies be sent to scout out the Land.

Rather than rely on Hashem's promise that the land was good, Klal Yisroel made a fatal, distrustful error. Rashi explains that when Klal Yisroel came before Moshe and requested that spies be sent ahead, Moshe in turn asked Hashem what do. Hashem replied "I have told them it is good . . . [therefore] I shall give them an opportunity to err through the words of the spies -- in order that they shall not inherit it."

The Medrash Tanchuma explains the situation by means of a moshol to a king who had chosen a bride for his son. "The king said to his son, `I have ready for you a beautiful woman of fine character and riches; there is no one like her in the world.' The son said to him, `I will go and see her.' Since he did not have faith in his father, the proposal became immediately burdensome and unpleasant for the father. The father said, `What can be done? If I tell him that I will not let him see her, he will say that she is ugly and therefore I do not wish to show her to him.' In the end he said to him, `See her and know that I have not lied to you. And since you did not believe in me, so be it -- that you will not see her in your house!' Likewise, HaKodosh Boruch Hu told Klal Yisroel, `The Land is good' and they did not believe Him. Rather they said, `Send men ahead of us.' HaKodosh Boruch Hu said, `If I prevent them, they will say the Land is not good and therefore it is not being shown to us. Rather let it be seen and, so be it - - that not one of them shall enter it.'"

Perhaps, in light of the moshol, the desire to see the land first was somewhat reasonable. The gemora Kiddushin (41a) teaches us a remarkable, but seemingly obvious principle. "Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav that it is forbidden for a man to marry a woman before seeing her. Perhaps, after marriage, he will see some blemish in her and she will be offensive to him and the Torah says (Vayikra 19:18), `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Chazal teach us to be cautious and to try to avoid marrying a woman who is not to our liking. A lifetime commitment is too serious to accept on faith.

Of course, things need to be checked out. In addition, we are generally not content to rely on what others tell us. There is a need for us to know things on our own. Our nature is to be inquisitive. By nature, our minds are opposed to accepting matters on faith alone. Secondhand evidence will usually not satisfy our curiosity. The purpose of the mind's logic is to inquire, investigate and make decisions based on facts.

However this method, as normal and sensible as it may seem, is flawed and hazardous. Therefore, in spite of this inclination with which Hashem created us -- it must, as with any other aspect of our personalities, be limited, controlled and at times even completely suspended. If not, there can be dire consequences.

Here HaKodosh Boruch Hu was the shadchon -- the matchmaker. We are His people and Eretz Yisroel is His Land. We should have had perfect faith and trust. Therefore, it was this mistrust, this lack of full and perfect faith in Hashem, that brought on the need to send the spies. Hashem said the Land was good in all ways. HaKodosh Boruch Hu should have been trusted completely; we should not have had a need to send the spies.

Initially, the spies were all great individuals with honorable positions. The sefer Mesillas Yeshorim (Chapter 11) writes that the underlying cause of the spies' mistake and sin was the desire for honor, "According to the opinion of Chazal, the spies who besmirched the Land brought death to themselves and their whole generation. They were fearful that perhaps their prestige would be lessened upon entering the Land, for they would no longer be princes for Klal Yisroel and others would be appointed in their stead."

By nature, our desire for recognition and prestige is unquenchable; as the Mesillas Yeshorim continues, "The desire for honor is even greater than the desire for wealth, for it is possible for a person to overcome his inclination for wealth and other pleasures. However, honor is persistent, for it is impossible for him to bear to see himself less than his friends."

The thought of being replaced by new princes was unbearable; hence, anticipation of that possibility brought disaster to that entire generation.

The spies, with their ever-so-slight, and perhaps even unknown, self-concerns, were moving -- as they approached Eretz Yisroel -- away from the path of siyata deShmaya. Upon their return, they said (Bamidbar 13:32) that the Land "consumes its inhabitants." It was true, for that was exactly what they saw. Hashem made a plague at the time. Everywhere they went, they witnessed death and funerals. Therefore, they assumed that it was not a good place for people to settle.

The Seforno zt"l explains their thoughts. "Even though the people dwelling there were strong, this was not due to the quality of the Land. It was because only the strong could survive, since they had robust constitutions. The rest died there because of the poor air."

This was the point that caused their blunder, as Rashi reveals the truth of the matter. "HaKodosh Boruch Hu did this for [the spies'] good; in order that they [the people of the Land] would be busy mourning and therefore not notice them [the spies]."

The funerals were simply a distraction for the benefit of the spies! Their interpretation was a mistake. To arrive at the true understanding of what they were seeing required siyata deShmaya, and the amount of siyata deShmaya they received was dependent on their intentions and purity of heart in fulfilling their mission.

Although being sent to spy the Land was an exceptional test, the miserable outcome could have been avoided. Colev saved himself at the risk of great physical danger in journeying alone to Chevron to pray at the graves of our Ovos hakedoshim: Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Hashem gave all of them a chance for success, but the more serious the dilemma, the depth of the plight -- the greater is the need for prayer, to ask for Hashem's help and His mercy.

In our morning prayers, before reciting the Shema we pray that Hashem should, "Instill in our hearts to understand and expound upon, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teaching with love." After all this, there is a request for an even greater spiritual attainment, as we continue, "Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah." We beseech that the Torah shall illuminate our eyes, and then that "our hearts shall cleave to Your commandments," and then finally, that "our hearts be unified to love and fear Your Name."

Greater and deeper levels of purity are required. The more profound the spiritual task, the greater the requirement for spiritual purity to accomplish it. Therefore, we need to ask for Hashem's mercy not just once, but many times.

If pride and other improper middos are present in our personalities, they stand between Hashem's mercy and us. Consequently, the siyata deShmaya that we so desperately need will not be forthcoming from Hashem. The spies saw what they saw, but they did not have the siyata deShmaya to interpret it correctly. Their desire to retain their prestige as leaders, contaminated their motivations and brought them failure.

There is a basic need to explore and to know things on our own, for Hashem blessed us with curiosity. However, any inherent bias we have will taint our perceptions and, even more so, our conclusions. Hashem said that Eretz Yisroel is good. This should have been accepted as an absolute, undeniable fact. The report of the spies was an outright contradiction. Despite this discrepancy, the people believed the report!

It is written in the sefer Even Sheleimoh (4:17) in the name of the Vilna Gaon zt"l, "The behavior of a person is always influenced by the rotzon horishon [the initial foremost desire]. For, in the form that it emerged to his consciousness, the rotzon horishon is clear and correct in his eyes. However, the content of the ruach is Hashem's -- He knows if there is no bias at all in the rotzon horishon. Who can say that his heart is pure and there is not in his inner-self any deceit? [Only] such a person truly cleaves to the attributes of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. However if, Heaven forbid, there is in his heart a slight root, whose wellspring is bitter and malignant, then he will behave according to his ruach - - and his conduct will appear correct in his eyes. He will fall from heaven to earth until he cannot stand. He will turn from the ways of Hashem and he will not realize it on his own. Therefore, do not rely at all on human reason. [That is to say, do not come to a simplistic decision based upon what seems logical. Rather, search and thoroughly scrutinize the recesses of the soul -- completely; from where was the source of the rotzon horishon and if there is some bias or inclination to this.] Rather see that the deeds and thoughts are according to the Will of Hashem."

Our unconscious motivations and ambitions direct our lives much more than we like to believe. Therefore, it is crucial for us to have thoughts and motivations that stem and conform to daas Torah.

Deep in the recesses of the minds of the spies, were thoughts of what would happen after Klal Yisroel came into Eretz Yisroel. Unconsciously, they knew that their status was in jeopardy. Their prejudice was so subtle that it was not realized until their return and then, at that point, their actions revealed how complete their treachery was. For they said (Bamidbar 13:31), "We cannot advance up to those people, for they are too strong for us!" Rashi explains that the spies were really making reference to Hashem, that the spies went as far as to suggest that Hashem's powers, Heaven forbid, are in some way limited. They were not really speaking about themselves and Klal Yisroel, but about Hashem.

People who were originally chosen because of their greatness, spoke blasphemy and heresy. They doomed themselves and their generation to death. Such a catastrophe did not just happen. There were deep and hidden causes based on their ever-so- slight -- and therefore undetected -- wish for prestige.

We all must be wary of the hidden motivations behind our deeds. These unconscious motives can drive us farther and farther away from Hashem and the siyata deShmaya that He is so willing to bestow, and that we so desperately need in all aspects of our lives. We must be on constant guard to purify ourselves -- our aspirations, our thoughts and our actions.

If we are always on the alert, if we are fearful of sin and transgression -- and avoid thoughts that can deceive and fool us into wrongdoing -- then we can be successful. We must always fear sin. Even when, as the Mesillas Yeshorim (Chapter 24) writes, "Even at the time when one does not see a stumbling block before his eyes, his heart must tremble within him, that perhaps there is one hidden by his feet and he will not be cautious." The hidden, the unconscious pitfalls are the most deadly. We must understand the source of sin and its destructive results. Then we can be more carefully alert.

We must begin with our innermost desires and wishes, for they compel and motivate us. The world is full of all kinds of influences that are destructive to our spiritual aspirations. Will we be attracted to them or not? When things other than Torah fascinate us, we must question ourselves as to what lies behind this attraction. What deep-down ambitions do we have that take hold of our minds, our deeds and our lives?

Such thoughts indicate yiras Shomayim as Shlomo Hamelech teaches us in Mishlei (28:14), "Fortunate is the man who always fears, but he who hardens his heart shall fall into misfortune."

How else can we hope to be protected? The spies were mature, accomplished individuals -- and they fell and failed. On our own, without prayer and without proper advice, how can there be siyata deShmaya? It is impossible to be successful without it.

We need to ask Hashem to guide us in the ways of Torah. On our own we cannot probe and unearth what rests in the depths of our unconscious. When we ask our questions of daas Torah, our hidden desires can be revealed. HaKodosh Boruch Hu will be with us and help us. If Hashem is helping us, we can be successful. If not, we are in danger.

We must want and pray for His help. If so, we can all look forward to lives of purpose, accomplishment and true everlasting success.

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