Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shlach Lecha
To dedicate this lesson

Scouts Dishonor


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Sivan 20 5780
The number 40 is quite special, from a Jewish point of view.

- 40 days before conception, says Rav Yehuda, a voice announces who this child will eventually marry; - During the great flood in Noach's time, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights; - Moshe was on Har Sinai for 40 days to receive the Torah; - A Mikva must be filled with 40 "seah's" of water to be kosher; - The period from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur, when we ask Hashem for forgiveness, is 40 days long.

What do all these "forties" have in common? Forty represents change, transition, a new beginning. Our sedra also contains a "forty," as the Meraglim, the spies, are sent by Moshe to scout out the Land of Israel for 40 days, in order to prepare for its conquest. This episode - resulting in the greatest sin in all of Jewish history - will bring tremendous upheaval to the Jewish nation, and change our history forever. Almost 600,000 people will be sentenced to die, and the effects of this episode will reverberate forever, into our own days.

There was a Divine plan: We were liberated from Egypt and granted our physical freedom. Then we received our constitution, the Ten Commandments - the Torah. After that, we built the Mishkan, our spiritual center, and appointed Kohanim to lead us in bringing offerings. We had judges, a Sanhedrin, and an army. All that remained was for us to march triumphantly into Israel, led by Moshe and the Ark of the Covenant, singing "Vay'hi Binsoa Ha-Aron."

But alas, it was not to be. The Sin of the Meraglim would throw everything off kilter and establish with apologies to FDR - a day that would live in infamy, Tisha B'Av. What happened?

The answer can be found at the very beginning of the Sedra. "Send out men, Hashem tells Moshe, "to scout Eretz Canaan, the land I shall give to Bnei Yisrael." Now, each of these 12 members of the advance team were princes, the "creme de la creme" of spiritual society, each one, according to Chazal, greater than any Rabbi or Rosh Yeshiva alive today. And they were told right from the get-go that G-d would crown their mission with success, that He would ensure that we inherited the Land. So why did ten of the twelve falter and lose faith? Why did they try their best to convince the nation that we could not successfully take control of our eternal homeland?

The answer, as we said, is in that very first sentence where the Meraglim were told "to scout out the land." "But why should we?! they asked themselves. "If Hashem is all-powerful, then why do we need to see how fortified the 7 nations of Canaan are? Why should we look to see if they live in forts, or in the open? Why do we even care if the land is fertile, or not? Just let Hashem march us straight in, with no preparation, and the nations will scatter like the wind in the face of G-d's awesome power and well live happily ever after!"

But then, you see, they figured it out: This won't be a cakewalk, we won't just glide in on heavenly wings with no opposition. We are going to have to actually fight to win the land. We'll have to use our own strength and smarts and courage, and not depend solely on G-d. And then - if and when we do conquer the land - we'll have to sow it, and till it, and work hard to put bread on our tables. Our ready-made prepared food - the Mahn that now falls conveniently from the sky - will stop, and we'll have to fend for ourselves.

This is what scared them gutless, and made them lose both heart and soul - the realization that we must be active and not passive players in determining our fate. And as great as the Meraglim were, they could not accept that a new era was beginning, one in which both Man and G-d would have to partner together in order to move history forward.

Baruch Hashem, where the Meraglim failed, others picked up the slack, and that is why we have a glorious State of Israel today, a State that is the acknowledged focal point of Jewish destiny.

But every Jew must still ask him or herself: Am I one of the Meraglim, or one of the motivated movers of history?
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