By HaRav Pinchas Chaim Scheinberg, shlita
Shelach Lecho: Can We Afford to Trust Ourselves?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We must want and pray for His help. If so, we can all look
forward to lives of purpose, accomplishment and true
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