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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shlach Lecha

Say no to normalcy!

The spies were insinuating that, to live & survive in Israel, one has to be different, extraordinary, exceptional, abnormal. We ARE an extraordinary people; & Israel is indeed not a "normal" country! This is a land of intense holiness; guarded perpetually by the Almighty. None of the "normal" rules of history apply to us!
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Of all the grievous sins committed in the Torah by Bnei Yisrael - & they are many, including the Golden Calf, the sale of Yosef, & Korach’s rebellion – none is as severe as
Chait Ha’m’raglim, the sin of the spies, as recorded in our Sedra. As a result of this game-changing event, the nation will wander in the desert for 40 years & 555,000 people will die. Worse yet, this is "the sin that just keeps on sinning."

What went wrong? Why did the nation – led by spiritual giants that have never been equaled since – lose their faith, slander the Land of Israel & go against Hashem?

I suggest one approach is hinted at in a seemingly innocuous statement. Near the Sedra’s start, we are told that the scouts "carried a cluster of grapes between two
poles," along with pomegranates & figs. Rashi, bothered by the strange double-language phrase, "Va’yisa’ehi va’mot bi’shnayim," remarks that there were really TWO double poles that crisscrossed, requiring 8 spies to carry it; while 2 other spies carried a giant fig & a giant pomegranate.

This accounts for 10 of the 12 meraglim; the other 2 scouts, Calev & Yehoshua, refused to carry the fruit; they knew the other spies would use this against the Land, claiming, "just as the land’s fruit is strange (or extraordinary), so are the people!" And they wanted no part whatsoever of this calumny.

But there is a deep message here. The spies were insinuating that, to live & survive in Israel, one has to be different, extraordinary, exceptional, abnormal. "This is not a place," they say, "where normalcy reigns! And that’s not what we want! It’s too much pressure on us; we want to be a normal country & lead normal lives, just like the other nations!"

The fact is, in this respect the spies were 100% right on target. We ARE an extraordinary people; & Israel is indeed not a "normal" country! This is a land of intense holiness; guarded perpetually by the Almighty. None of the "normal" rules of history apply to us! We skew all the graphs, beat all the odds, confound all the experts. At the same time, we DO have to be quite exceptional in speech & deed, to meet the very highest standards, in order to merit our special status. And that is a formidable challenge, one which intimidated the scouts and precipitated their negative report. They could not accept the "ground rules" that were being thrust upon them, the challenge of living "abnormally" in the rarified air of extreme Kedusha.

But this is precisely the way Hashem wants it to be! He tells the spies - & all their modern-day descendants: "Stop crying, & stop trying to be like everyone else – you’re not like everyone else! Yes, I set the bar exceptionally high, but you can do it! You have what it takes to excel & to elicit My special blessings, 24/7. Just stop trying to be normal, & instead, start trying to be…..Israel!"

The challenge, my friends, is as real today as it was then.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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