In memory of Rav Mosheh Twersky zt”l
The placement of this week’s portion after Beha’alotecha provides a lesson for us. Last week’s portion concluded with Miriam contracting tzara’at for having spoken Lashon Harah about Moshe. In this week’s reading, ten spies came to B’nei Israel with a negative report about Eretz Can’aan. By speaking badly of the land, casting Moshe in a negative light and accusing God of not having their best interests in mind, these men showed they had not learned a lesson from Miriam (whose sin was far, far smaller than theirs) that Lashon Harah is prohibited- and obligates punishment.
For the Right Reasons
This week’s Torah reading is well-known for its story of the Meraglim, the ‘Spies’ whom B’nei Israel sent to scout out Eretz Yisrael (then called Eretz Cena’an). The nation had requested that scouts be sent to gather information about the Promised Land, and Hashem allowed Moshe to send them. Shnei Luchot Habris and Chasam Sofer give similar explanations of the episode, as they posit that the Meraglim misunderstood (or twisted) the purpose of the mission. Hashem (and Moshe) wanted them to either report how amazing the country truly was, or else to highlight its dangerous elements- so that B’nei Israel could fully appreciate the miracles that Hashem would perform in allowing them to conquer the land. On a lower level, B’nei Israel themselves wanted the spies to prepare them for their imminent conquest and settling of the land; for example, they could now know which terrain was rockier and more difficult to traverse, and which areas were smoother and would thus allow for easier entry.
Moshe selected twelve important representatives for the mission, and sent them on their way. However, instead of submitting a simple survey of the lay of the land, most of the men actually returned with a negative opinion of the country! They behaved as if their task had been to evaluate, God forbid, the land that God had already described to them in glowing terms! Many people heard the assessment, accepted it… and cried. They mourned what they perceived as a ‘punishment’ that God had meted out by ‘forcing’ them into the Promised Land.
This was a terrible. terrible. sin. The spies not only spoke badly of the Holy Land, they not only cast aspersions on Moshe, but they even, with their words, slandered God Himself!
We have many questions and observations on which we can focus here. What was the real motivation of the spies? How could they ever make such a mistake? One lesson we can take for now is that our thoughts and intent make a world of a difference. Although the mission of prominent representatives had been authorized by God, it came apart, from the start, because these leaders made their own calculations, inserted their own narrative, and injected their own thought process into their task.
Let us always take care to align our thoughts with God’s will, and thereby learn to avoid the first error of the Meraglim. By working to divest ourselves of counterproductive agendas, we will lead more successful and happier lives.
I hope, with God’s help, to explain and expand on this as we continue the conversation…
Have a great Shabbat!
Elli is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.