Seeing For Yourself    

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Shelach, recounts the tragic episode of the spies.  The Jews were poised to embark on the triumphant journey to the Promised Land.  They would have arrived there in a few days to begin the work of conquest and settlement.  However, they were demoralized by the pessimistic report of the spies.  Their message was that the inhabitants of the land were mighty and gigantic creatures, with whom the Jews could not hope to contend.  The people were crushed by the gloomy report and launched a revolt against Moshe.  They went so far as to say “Let us appoint a new leader who will return us to Egypt “  The punishment for this disobedience was the decree that they would spend forty years in the desert until the generation of the Exodus perished.  Their children would then go forth and inherit the land.

Whose idea was it to send spies?  Our parsha states that Hashem commanded Moshe to send forth twelve scouts.  However, in recounting the incident in Devarim Moshe says that the people came to him and requested that he send forth spies in preparation for the invasion.  Moshe then consulted with Hashem who gave him permission and set forth the terms of the mission.  The question arises, was the request for spies appropriate?  According to Rashi, it was not.  He understands that while Hashem gave them permission He did not endorse the action.  Rather, He left it entirely in the hands of Moshe.  Rashi, citing the Talmudic Sages, quotes Hashem as saying, “I told them that the land is good.  I will give them room to err through the words of the spies so that they shall not take possession of it.”  It is clear from this that there was no objective need for spies.  The Jews were accompanied by the pillars of cloud by day and fire by night.  All they had to do was follow the direction indicated to them by Hashem and they would successfully take control of Eretz Yisrael.  However, they were not content to leave it at that.  They wanted to have a look and see the nature of the land for themselves.  According to Rashi the deeper purpose of the spying mission was not to obtain military information.  Rather it was to get a view of the land and decide for themselves whether it was “goodly.”  This motive was inappropriate as Hashem had already guaranteed them that He would bring them to a “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  They should have had complete faith in the Divine promise and have no need to “see for themselves.” Hashem, however, “leads the person in the direction he seeks to go.”  He did not interfere with their free will but allowed them to go about it their way.

There is much that we can learn from this episode.  The Jews erred because they trusted their superficial view of things rather than be confident in the judgment of Hashem.  Man’s view of things is very superficial.  In instructing Samuel about which son of Jesse to appoint as King, Hashem said “Do not look at his appearance or tall stature for I have rejected him.  For it is not as man sees – man sees what his eyes behold but Hashem sees into the heart.”  Many mistakes are made because we rely on our superficial view of things.  In choosing a shidduch, friends, community, etc. we put a lot of stock in our intuitive emotional response to people without ever getting to know them on an in depth level.  Our ability to feel an instantaneous attraction often is the decisive factor in making important decisions.  We should recognize that our initial emotional response to a place or person is not a true barometer of their actual worth.  We should strive to emulate Hashem and develop the skill to “look into the heart.”

Shabbat Shalom