A Meaningful Approach
Volume 3 Issue 45
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Forty years of desert wanderings are coming to a close. Moshe knew that
his end was near and wanted to leave the children of Israel with parting
words that were filled with love, direction, guidance, and admonition.
He discussed many of the events of the past 40 years; the triumphs and
tragedies. Though he did not mince words, there are many details that are
added in Moshe's review that shed more light on the previously related
One story in particular is the story of the meraglim, the spies, who
returned to the Jewish camp from Canaan with horrific tales and predictions
of sure defeat. But it is not the end of the failed mission that I would
like to focus on, rather its conception.
Moshe recounts: "You all approached me saying, 'let us send spies and they
shall seek the land.'" Rashi is quick to comment on the words "all of
you." "In confusion. The young pushed the old," explains Rashi, "and the
older pushed ahead of the leaders!" Rashi adds that at the giving of the
Torah, however, the elders and the youth came in orderly fashion to present
Two questions arise. Why does it make a difference, in the actual
reporting of the spies, how the request was presented? In addition, why
did Rashi deem it necessary to contrast this conduct with what occurred at
the giving of the Torah?
During the first weeks of the Civil War, newspaper editorials from across
the nation were filled a plethora of criticisms, advise, and second
guessing of President Lincoln's handling of the crisis. Eventually, the
editors asked for a meeting with the President, which he granted. During
the meeting, each one of the editors interrupted the other with their
ideas, suggestions, and egos.
Suddenly Mr. Lincoln stood up. "Gentleman," he exclaimed, "this discussion
reminds me of the story of the traveler whose carriage wheel broke right in
the middle of a thunderstorm during the black of night. The rain was
pouring, the thunder was booming and the carriage was sinking as he
furtively tried to fix his wagon. He groped and grappled in the wet
darkness to find a solution to his problem.
"Suddenly the sky lit up with a magnificent bolt of lightning that lit the
countryside like daylight. Seconds later the ground shook from a clap of
thunder that reverberated for miles with a deafening boom.
"The hapless traveler looked heavenward and tearfully pleaded with his
creator. 'Lord,' he begged, is it possible to provide a little more light
and a little less noise?' "
In defining the sin of the spies, Rashi notices very consequential words.
"All of you converged." He explains that particular phrase by contrasting
it with a scenario that occurred at Sinai. When the Jewish nation wanted to
modify the manner in which the revelation transpired, the request for
Moshe's intervention was done in an orderly manner.
A few years before his passing, my grandfather visited Israel and was asked
to deliver a shiur (lecture) in a prominent Yeshiva on a difficult Talmudic
Upon his arrival at the Yeshiva, he was shocked to see hordes of students
and outsiders clamoring to get front row seats in order to hear the
lecture. There was quite a bit of pushing and shoving. After all, at the
time, Reb Yaakov was the oldest living Talmudic sage and this lecture was
an unprecedented honor and privilege for the students and the throngs that
entered the Yeshiva to get a glimpse of the Torah he was to offer. It was
even difficult for him to approach the lecture, because of the chaotic
The goings on did not bear well with him. He discarded his planned lecture
and instead posed the following question to the students: "In Parshas
Shelach, the portion of the spies, the Torah tells us that each shevet
(tribe) sent one spy. The Torah lists each spy according to his tribe.
Yet, unlike ordinary enumeration of the tribes, this one is quite
different. It is totally out of order. The Torah begins by listing the
first four tribes in order of birth, but then jumps to Ephraim who was the
youngest then to Benyamin then back to Menashe. Dan and Asher follow, with
the tribes of Naftali and Gad ensuing. Many commentaries struggle to make
some semblance of order out of this seeming hodgepodge of tribes. It is
very strange indeed.
"But," explained Reb Yaakov as he gazed with disappointment upon the unruly
crowd. "Perhaps Rashi in Devorim explains the reason for the staggered
enumeration. The reason they are mentioned out of order is simply because
there was no order! The young pushed the old and moved ahead to say their
piece. And from that moment, the mission was doomed." Many of us have
ideas and opinions. The way they are presented may have as much impact on
their success as the ideas themselves.
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