This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת שְׁלַח
For a Sidrah that revolves around the Cheit HaMiraglim, the Sin of the Spies who slandered Hashem’s Promised Land of Israel, it would seem that there could be no greater choice for a Haftarah than the story of the other Miraglim who spied out the Land in the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua [2:1-24]. Considering how Yehoshua was one of the only two successful Miraglim, this later story in which he sends his own spies to a positive end makes for the perfect sequel to the Cheit HaMiraglim.
One lesson we could immediately take from his Haftarah is about learning from our mistakes. Although Moshe Rabbeinu was undoubtedly greater than his successor Yehoshua, Yehoshua’s spy mission succeeded while Moshe’s didn’t. And that could be because mistakes and mishaps could happen anywhere, especially the first time you try something. Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty, so Yehoshua was able to arrange the spy mission differently to avoid another disaster.
Despite all of that, a question one could ask though is whether or not it was appropriate for Yehoshua to send in his own spies. In the end, it worked out for the better, yes. But, as Chazzal imply regarding our Sidrah, the original idea of sending in Miraglim was inappropriate and that Moshe should have advised against it. If Hashem told the B’nei Yisrael that they were going to enter the Promised Land, they should have trusted that it would indeed be promising. That would not have changed in Yehoshua’s time. Moshe tried it and it didn’t work out, so even if Yehoshua had taken excellent notes from the first Miraglim story, in light of Parshas Shelach, thevery idea of a spy mission would seem to be quite risky.
Of course, on the flipside, many argue that sending spies was reasonable Hishtadlus (personal effort) which would be necessary so that the B’nei Yisrael could devise a game plan for conquering the land. Surely, they could not rely on open miracles forever and they would have to figure out a natural way to conquer the land. Thus, logically speaking, it made sense for both Moshe and Yehoshua to send spies into the land. But, if that’s the case, why is it the consensus among Chazzal that Moshe should have advised against it? And how was Yehoshua’s spy mission different?
Now, if everything we’ve mentioned above is true, there is another glaring question when one looks at our Sidrah. We argued that Chazzal assume that the idea of sending in Miraglim, logical or not, was inappropriate. Moshe should have said no, and without Moshe’s acquiescence, the Cheit HaMiraglim would not have happened. But, if you look at the text of the Sidrah, that’s not the message you get.
The Sidrah begins with Hashem’s words [B’Midbar 13:2], “Shelach Lecha…”-“Send for you [for your benefit]…” which sounds like a simple command from G-d. Rashi rushes onto the scene citing the Midrash [Tanchuma 5] that, indeed, “Shelach Lecha” is not actually a command, but “permission,” so that when G-d stresses, “Shelach Lecha…”-“Send for you…” it’s as if to say, “Moshe, send in spies if you so please…”
This reading is “legible,” yes, but it’s not one’s most natural impression of the plain text.
Now, Chazzal knew what some of us may not, that there’s certainly more to the story. The Midrash fills in the blanks with an insight from Devarim [1:22], Moshe’s take on things, which provide important nuances to the story. It didn’t actually start from a simple word from G-d, but the people anxiously bombarded Moshe with requests for assurance that Hashem’s Promised Land would indeed be promising. It was after that point that G-d consented and “gave permission” to send the spies into the land; “I [G-d] told them that it [the land] is good… Now I shall give them the opportunity to make a mistake through the words of the spies, so that they will not inherit it.”
There are two major questions one has to ask here; firstly, if the idea of sending spies was not a regular command from G-d but mere permission, why does the simple reading in the Torah here seem to present it like it is a command? Right, Hashem said “Shelach Lecha…,” however he said the same word to Avraham Avinu [Bereishis 12:1], “…Lech Lecha…”-“…Go for you…”—and most read this verse as an imperative. Sure, “Lecha” implies certain gains and benefits for going through with the mission, but it’s still some sort of assignment. It wasn’t a mere suggestion or permission. Even here, the Pasuk says that Moshe sent the spies [B’Midbar 13:3], “Al Pi Hashem”-“according to the word of Hashem.” And even though Rashi interprets these words to mean that Moshe went according to G-d’s permission, he’s reading these words against the simple reading, as they seem to indicate, in almost every other context, the fulfillment of a normal command from G-d. Now, if G-d really did not command spies to go in, why would He seem to imply otherwise? Why does it look like a command in the simple reading?
The second issue is, if sending in the spies is ultimately a bad idea, doomed for failure—a grand opportunity to make a mistake, why then would G-d actually give Moshe the “okay” in the first place? Is it a trap as the Midrash seems to depict it? But “Lecha”-“for you,” as it did in “Lech Lecha,” should here also imply “for your benefit,” not “for your nation’s demise.” At the very least, “Lecha” should imply some “gain.” In other words, suppose Chazzal are correct that G-d is not commanding Moshe, but He’s simply advising him or giving him a suggestion as one would assume is implied by “Lecha,” then if this mission is really not at all beneficial, why would G-d insist, “Lecha,” that this is good—advisable or desirable—for you, if it’s not!
In order to answers these questions, one has to understand the nature of the spy mission and the meaning of G-d’s words, “Shelach Lecha.” Is it at all a command or a mere suggestion or “good idea,” etc.?
In attempt to understand these words, we briefly looked back to Sefer Bereishis where Hashem addresses Avraham Avinu, “Lech Lecha”-“Go for you.” The argument we made there at the outset is that it’s some sort of “command.” However, we mentioned also that “Lecha” implied some degree of personal gain. Indeed, Hashem subsequently promises Avraham children, a great name and other great things [Bereishis 12:2-5]. It would therefore seem that while there is a command here, it’s modified or spiced up by a “Lecha,” which means there’s an added benefit here, something else “for you.” “Lech Lecha” has elements of command and elements of suggestion.
With this understanding of G-d’s words to Avraham, perhaps we can understand Hashem’s words to Moshe. Chazzal said it’s not a command. What do they mean? It could mean a couple of things. Perhaps they mean it’s not a simple command, or that it’s a modified command; “Send for you,” meaning, “Send if it will help you (for your purposes).” In this case, perhaps “Shelach Lecha” is a warning, not do anything stupid or undesirable with this permit to send in spies—“Send if it will help you, but not if it will ultimately hurt you.” However, one can also understand “Shelach Lecha,” like Hashem’s words to Avraham, that it is perhaps, in part a command, but in part, a suggestion due to the alternative gain. Why Hashem would want to send spies or be okay with sending in spies makes sense. As we’ve argued, if the people want to enter the land, they’re going to have to consider what the land is like so that they can plan their conquest and subsequent settling accordingly. For this reason, Moshe tells his spies to take note about the fortification of the cities as well as the fertility of the land [13:18-20].
And if there is something about this mission that even G-d can “agree with,” it speaks volumes. Because, even if the whole spy mission was really “not the best idea” in G-d’s eyes, G-d does ultimately give the okay, but not just because He allows “free choice.” That would hardly be a reason for Him to actively instruct Moshe, “Shelach Lecha.” That would be like G-d telling Adam, “Eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil if you think it will benefit your personal cause.” Obviously, G-d says nothing of the sort. For G-d to say “Shelach Lecha,” it has to be because, on some level, Hashem agrees with the mission, that perhaps, there was a potentially successful way the Miraglim to have carried out the mission, according to Ratzon Hashem. It could be that for this very reason, the Torah formulates Hashem’s acquiescence as a command—to show that even this task can be executed properly, L’Sheim Shamayim, fulfilling it as if a command of G-d.
The next question then is how to understand the eerie word, “Lecha.” Where does the personal gain implied by “Lecha” play a role here?
In order to understand the role of “Lecha,” one has to look back to the first time Hashem directed someone towards Cana’an with that Lashon (expression), the place we keep on revisiting, “Lech Lecha” with Avraham Avinu. Hashem gave Avraham the option of going “Lecha”—for his gain, but the question is if Avraham took it. Did Avraham leave his home and set out towards Cana’an because of what he would personally gain from doing so? The Pasuk there says that Avraham went [12:4], “Ka’asheir Dibeir Eilav Hashem”-“just as Hashem had spoken to him” which would seem to imply that he left simply because G-d said so (that He didn’t just go because of the gain, but he went “as G-d had spoken”). The term for this noble motivation is what’s known as “L’Shmah,” literally, for its own sake, or “L’Sheim Shamayim”-“for the sake of Heaven”—for G-d’s “sake.”
Now, while Avraham left “Lecha” alone and acted for G-d, someone else in the scene seems to have capitalized on “Lecha.” After stating that Avraham went as G-d directed him, the Pasuk adds, “Vayeilech Ito Lot”-“And Lot [his nephew] went with him.” What role did Lot play in the bigger picture? From the story and Chazzal, it seems clear that he came for the ride and amassed a lot of riches [Bereishis 13:5]. Avraham also amassed riches, but his riches didn’t pose any problems. The Torah tells us that Lot’s shepherds and Avraham’s shepherds quarreled because Lot’s shepherds were allowing their sheep to graze in other peoples’ property. Eventually Avraham and Lot part ways because of the wealth getting in the way [Ibid. 13:5-9]. Now, what’s interesting is how Lot decides which way he wants to go; the Pasuk says [Ibid. 13:10] that he looks out at the beautiful sight of the materialistically bountiful Sodom and decided to reside there. Lot disregarded the immorality that existed in Sodom. The point is though that Lot evidently went merely “Lecha,” because of the personal gain. Yes, G-d gave Avraham permission to go because of what he would gain, but the one who merely goes for that reason is doomed to abort the mission if there’s “gain” somewhere else and the going gets tough. Lot turned his back on G-d for personal gain.
Fast-forward to our spy mission in Shelach, we have what looks like a command related to entering the Land of Cana’an. G-d is not addressing Avraham, but Moshe, when he tells him to send in his best men to seek out the land, “Shelach Lecha.” Quite like Avraham Avinu though, Moshe Rabbeinu listens to G-d’s word—call it a command, call it advice—and he sends the people, “Al Pi Hashem.” Like Avraham, Moshe seems to be acting purely L’Sheim Shamayim. How about the “Lecha” factor? Is there a party here who grabs this “Lecha” and milks the deed for its personal gain?
Now, we come back to the Cheit HaMiraglim—the real Sin of the Spies. Moshe sent the spies L’Sheim Shamayim, but did they go L’Sheim Shamayim? According to the Gemara in Sotah [35A] which Rashi quotes here [to 13:26], as righteous as they were, ten out of the twelve of them actually didn’t go L’Sheim Shamayim. They had other intentions.
Even if the Miraglim merely stated what they witnesses, their presentation was based on how they felt about the idea of entering Hashem’s Promised Land after seeing it through the lenses of mere personal gain. The danger of only seeing personal gain in fulfilling G-d’s word, Lot showed us, is the vulnerability to backing out when the going gets tough. The Miraglim took “Lecha” and flew with it, until of course, the going got tough. “It’s too difficult to conquer the land,” they argued [13:31]. Just as Lot wasn’t on the same page as Avraham, the Miraglim were not on the same page as Moshe. Like Lot, the Miraglim ultimately aborted the mission.
The real tragedy here was not merely the idea of sending in spies. Advisable or not, the spy mission was not doomed to failure. It was mission possible! It could have been done properly in a way that would have aligned with Ratzon Hashem! “Shelach Lecha” means that, yes, there would be some gain to sending them into the land and if indeed, sending them into the land will help the nation feel better about the mission to enter the land. But wherever there’s a “Lecha,” a personal gain, one has to be careful, because we know now what the risk of “Lecha” entails. Avraham Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu both recognized straight away that there was a “real” reason to act—a way to do it “L’Shmah.” Yehoshua Bin Nun and Caleiv Ben Yefuneh followed suit and put Hashem first. But, the Miraglim in Shelach unfortunately did not.
When one knows he’s acting purely for G-d, he is more likely to stick to the game plan. It’s therefore no wonder how Yehoshua, who genuinely followed Moshe, would ultimately be on the same page with his own Miraglim later. Because it was all L’Sheim Shamayim, there was no question if they were going to ultimately enter the land or not, but merely how they would go about doing it. The personal gain or lack thereof would not influence a thing. Hashem said they would eventually settle in the land and that was all they needed.
In the end, the Haftarah about Yehoshua’s Miraglim teaches us something really crucial about the mission-gone-wrong in our Sidrah and about life and Avodas Hashem at large. There are apparently different levels of Ratzon Hashem. These levels manifest themselves, for example, in Halachah; “L’Chatchilah” refers to the optimal way, and “B’dieved” refers to what to do in the worst case scenario. But, sometimes, even within the “L’Chatchilah” and “B’dieved” levels, there is spectrum, a more complex hierarchy of what’s better and worse. What that tells us, in simple terms, is that there is a “Ratzon Hashem” way to deal with every situation, even some of the most objectionable situations. There is a better and worse way to deal with it. As such, there may be options that are, for various reasons, less advisable—like sending Miraglim—yet Hashem can still not only tolerate that decision, but endorse it like a command so long as we are truly maintaining Ratzon Hashem in that situation. The litmus test though is whether or not we are truly going along with that option “Al Pi Hashem.” If we’re L’Sheim Shamayim and going “Al Pi Hashem,” then, as our Haftarah demonstrates, any mission can be successful.
May we all be Zocheh to carry out every mission in life with Hashem on our mind, execute each step L’Sheim Shamayim and Al Pi Hashem, and we should thereby succeed in those missions so we may merit the Geulah and rights back into our Promised Land with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Mevarchim Tamuz!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂