Don't Even Ask - Taking Hashem's Word For It
Parshas Shelach begins with Hashem's instructions to Moshe to, "Send
forth for yourself men, and let them spy out the Land of Canaan that I
am giving to the Bnei Yisrael... (13:2)" Rashi, in a well-known comment,
makes note of the unusual reflexive case of the verb shelach - send forth
for yourself. He explains that the Torah is emphasizing that there was no
directive from Hashem to send forth spies, but rather that permission was
given to do so. Rashi goes on to explain that what in fact happened is
this: People came and said to Moshe, "Let us send men ahead of us, and
let them spy out the land of Israel, and bring word back to us.
(Devarim/Deuteronomy 1:22)" Moshe consulted Hashem regarding the
matter. Hashem replied: "I have already told them the Land is good [and
that I will give it to them]... (Shemos/Exodus 3:17)" All the same, while
Hashem did not order the spies sent, he did ultimately give Moshe
permission to do so. Thus, "Send forth spies for yourselves..."
The difficulty is this: Immediately following, the Torah writes (verse 3),
"And Moshe sent them forth from the Desert of Paran by the word of
Hashem..." Rashi appears to have been disturbed by the phrase "al pi
Hashem - by Hashem's word," and writes, "[this means] with His
permission; He did not prevent them." Normally, though, the
phraseology "al pi Hashem" is used by the Torah to describe an act
performed under Hashem's directive, and not just with His permission.
In parshas Behar the Torah describes the mitzvah of Shemitah. Every
seventh year Jewish farmers must allow their land to lie dormant,
without plowing, planting or cultivating. What is one to eat during the
seventh (and eighth) year until the new supply of produce begins to
grow? Good question! In fact the Torah itself poses it! "And if you will
ask: What shall we eat in the seventh year - behold we will not sew, nor
gather our produce! I shall command My blessing for you in the sixth
year; [the earth] will give forth [enough] produce for three years!
At first glance, the question-and-answer style of wording, "And if you
ask... I shall command... " is something commonly found in the study of
the Talmud (shakla ve-tarya - give and take), but almost never found in
Scripture! If Hashem wants to give the produce of the sixth year a special
blessing, let Him go ahead and do so, but why bother posing the
The holy Rebbe R' Elimelech of Liezensk zt"l in his sefer Noam Elimelech
(parshas Behar) cites his brother, R' Zisha, who explains the semantics
here with a basic yet beautiful premise: When Hashem placed man on
this world, His intention was to take care of all of his basic
physical/material needs and necessities. To facilitate this, He established
spiritual channels through which material blessing could flow from the
upper spheres. Our task in not to create the channels - they are already
there - but rather just to make sure we don't damage them and destroy
the paths that have already been forged for our benefit.
There's an expression in Yiddish; "Az m'fregt iz pusel," which roughly
translates into, "If you're asking the question, the answer is probably
In our context, when we ask, thereby questioning Hashem's ability to
provide for us, we damage the spiritual channels through which our
sustenance and blessings should flow. As long as we rely on Hashem,
without qualms or queries, things will take care of themselves in a most
wondrous way. It's only when we start snooping around and stirring up
the dust that our questions become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy;
because we ask, the question in fact becomes a very good question.
From where, indeed, are our blessings now going to come, seeing as
how we've plugged up the channels with our doubts and misgivings? Az
m'fregt - iz pusel!
The Ramban in parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:11) writes that
although the Torah gives permission for doctors to practice medicine,
were we to conduct ourselves consistently according to Torah, there
would be no need for them. For a Jew who places his complete trust in
Hashem for all his needs, he writes, the miraculous becomes the norm.
Things fall into place with very little effort, and blessings permeate and
pervade his day-to-day life.
(This is not to be misunderstood as an instructive not to go to doctors
and not to take care of our material needs; to endanger one's health or
livelihood is strictly forbidden according to the Torah! What it means is
that within our material lives, the more we question and the more we
stray, the more we will be subjected to the natural order and end up
having to "take care of ourselves." Conversely, to the extent we place
our trust in Hashem and conduct our lives accordingly, the more we will
find things taking care of themselves with little effort on our behalf. If
things aren't going smoothly, it seems, it may be a sign that there has
been damage to our "channels.")
Based on this, I believe, we can propose a very simple answer to the
above discrepancy between the spies being optional (send forth spies for
yourselves), yet obligational (by the word of Hashem): Before they asked,
there was no need to send spies - Hashem's word was more than good
enough reason to believe that the Land was good, and that it would be
given to them without any need for the usual tactics of espionage and
military preparations. "I told them I would bring them to a land flowing
with milk and honey!" Yet for whatever reason the Jews were not
satisfied with Hashem's word. They wanted to check things out for
themselves and draw their own conclusions. Az m'fregt iz pusel - once the
question had been raised and the request made, preparation became a
necessity. By doubting Hashem's promise, they damaged the channels and
forfeited their capacity to receive the Land without any effort on their
part. "Now that you ask," said Hashem to Moshe, "I think it's a very good
idea - indeed a necessity - that you take the necessary precautions before
entering the Land!" [Based in part on Emes Le-Yaakov, R' Yaakov
Sometimes not asking is one of the hardest things to do. Humans are
very used to taking care of themselves, and it's not easy to place all our
trust in something we can't control. Perhaps the following mashal of the
Dubner Maggid can help us to do so:
A weary Jew was once travelling along a dirt road schlepping a heavy
load. A wealthy Jew in a wagon passed by, and kindly stopped to offer
him a ride. He graciously accepted, and climbed aboard the wagon,
where he sat down, resting his weary feet. Yet he refused to put down
his heavy sack, which remained perched upon his shoulders. "Reb Yid,"
said the wagon owner, "why don't you put down your load?"
"I wouldn't want to be even more trouble," he said. "After all, it's kind
enough of you to have taken me aboard! Why should your horses have
to pull the additional weight of my sack?"
"But don't you understand - even if you carry your load on your
shoulders, my horses are still schlepping you and your peklach! You're
accomplishing nothing by carrying them on your shoulders - so throw
them down and let my horses do the work!"
"Throw your load onto Hashem," says David HaMelech, "and He will take
care of you (Tehillim/Psalms 55:23)!" He's running the show anyways, so
you might as well throw your load on His shoulders! Not only will it
ease your worries, it actually makes the blessings flow smoother.
Have a good Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org