Absolute Faith in Hashem’s Promise

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s parsha, Shelach, recounts the story of the spies. This episode proved to be a great disaster that almost brought an end to the Jewish people. The “anger” of G-d flared against them and, as in the case of the Golden Calf, it was only Moshe’s prayerful intervention that saved the day. 

Interestingly, while the initiative for the spying mission came from the people, Moshe affirmed it. According to Rashi, Hashem neither endorsed nor rejected it. He instructed Moshe to make the decision himself. Moshe believed it to be a good idea and organized the project. 

Again we see that humans, even the greatest of them, are limited and therefore prone to error. This should caution us to keep things in perspective and never overestimate people, even those on the highest level of wisdom and morality.

What was the purpose of this mission on which the spies embarked? It did not seem to be purely a spying operation. Rav Soloveitchik says that there was no need for a reconnoissance team to evaluate the route the invaders were to take. Throughout the trek in the wilderness, the cloud guided the Jews by day, and the pillar of fire by night. This divine “GPS” system led them wherever they were to go and was quite sufficient to chart the course of the invasion. 

What, then, was the spies’ purpose? As we study the text, it becomes clear that the meraglim were to be regarded more as scouts than as spies. Why was it necessary to have 12 men, one from each tribe? Moshe’s most prominent instruction was to bring back a report about the land, its climate, topography, and natural resources. He even directed them to return with samples of the fruit of the land.

The scouts were engaged in an agricultural survey to ascertain the viability of the land and its ability to provide sustenance for its inhabitants. Why was such a mission needed?

Hashem commanded the Jews to “go up and conquer” the land. This was the most difficult challenge the people had confronted since the Exodus from Egypt. They had witnessed the great miracles that Hashem had wrought at the Red Sea. They had summoned the courage to fight off Amalek’s attack. They had absolute faith in G-d’s promise.

However, the challenge of conquest was substantially greater. When people have no choices, they will fight to the death to defend themselves and their families. But it is not in their nature to launch an offensive against someone who has not attacked them. They did not have a “conqueror’s mentality,” nor did they view themselves as champions who could uproot a people from their land and take it over for themselves. The Jews did not view themselves as worthy of this distinction.

Moshe recognized the problem. I believe he hoped that the mission would accomplish two objectives: To alleviate fears about the mythical characteristics of the warriors who resided in Canaan, and to whet their appetites for this goodly land by a firsthand report of its great qualities, demonstrated by the samples.

Unfortunately, the adventure proved to be a disaster. Moshe had underestimated the great fear the people harbored about the conquest. They could not overcome their sense of inferiority and belief that they were unworthy to inherit this land. They were thus emotionally predisposed to finding fault and exaggerating the problems. Fear is contagious, and the spies succeeded in transmitting their sense of panic to the hearts of the people. 

The Jews’ seemingly reasonable need to “see for themselves” might have been a ruse to cover their fear and reluctance. Sometimes it is better to have total trust in Hashem and forget about the hazards. The Rabbis teach that we are not to calculate the advent of Moshiach (the Messiah). All such efforts are doomed to failure. We must have absolute conviction that he will come, because G-d has given us His promise. It matters not how remote his advent may seem. We must have total and unequivocal faith in the Word of Hashem.

Shabbat shalom.