by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And Calev quieted the people towards Moshe, and he said, "let us surely go
up and inherit it, for we can certainly overcome it." [13:30]
The spies returned from their tour of the Land of Israel, and ten of them
delivered a negative report -- saying that the nation would not be able to
go in and conquer the inhabitants. Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, refers to
the Talmud, Tractate Sotah 35a, which says that Calev yelled out, "is this
the only thing which [Moshe] the son of Amram did to us?" It sounded like
Calev wanted to criticize, and since the people had already turned against
Moshe, they quieted down to hear what Calev would add. And he said: "he
took us out of Egypt, and he parted the Sea of Reeds for us, and brought
the Manna down to us..." -- demonstrating that HaShem had already worked
many miracles for them through Moshe. When Calev said "let us surely go
up," using the double-language "alo na'aleh," he meant even to Heaven -- if
Moshe tells us to make ladders and ascend them, he said, then we must do
it, for we will certainly be successful in anything he tells us to do.
Studying the story of the spies and their rebellion, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
teaches two profound lessons in the nature of spiritual growth, and how we
must act if we hope to grow.
He asks: why did the Talmud need to refer to ladders? Why not simply say
"ascend to Heaven?"
His answer is that when we are looking to climb spiritual heights, we need
to do our part. We must do everything humanly possible to get there -- only
then can we rely upon G-d to help us and to take us the rest of the way. We
cannot simply sit back and expect HaShem to send down a golden escalator --
we have to first try to build a ladder, and start moving.
Reb Moshe asks a second question: how is it conceivable that the generation
of the desert, which witnessed countless miracles, could even contemplate a
rebellion like this? They were called the "Dor De'ah," the Generation of
Knowledge. "What a maidservant saw by the Sea, even the prophet Yechezkel
didn't see." How could they fall like this?
Here again, the concept of a ladder comes into play. He says that one
cannot spontaneously attain the pinnacle of spirituality, maximal closeness
to HaShem. The idea of a "leap of faith" is entirely foreign to Jewish
thinking. A hasty leap can be easily erased by an equally hasty reversal.
The Jews in Egypt were thoroughly enslaved in a hedonistic and immoral
society, and had gone through "49 Gates of Impurity." Suddenly they were
pulled out, and 50 days later they were through the "50 Gates of Holiness,"
speaking with G-d Himself.
Reb Moshe says that in such a short span of time, the Children of Israel
were obviously not able to internalize all that they had seen and
experienced. They did not understand that if G-d promised to lead them to
the Land of Israel, then obviously He would also provide them with all the
necessary means to get there and to occupy the Land. Their experiences came
as such a shock, such a jolt, that it took them quite a while to change
their way of thinking.
We must do our part -- we must work in order to grow. And we cannot expect
HaShem to then simply pull us up with a spontaneous and blinding light. On
the contrary, it is steady and measured steps which will carry us safely up
the ladder, to spiritual heights which we do not even realize we can attain.
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