By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week we read the parsha of Shlach. The parsha begins with Hashem
telling Moshe: "Shlach l'cha anashim v'yasuru es Eretz Canaan asher Ani
nosain livnei Yisroel (send forth men and they will spy the land of Canaan
that I am giving to Bnei Yisroel) [13:2]." One man was chosen as a
representative from each shevet (tribe) to report back about Eretz Yisroel.
Who were these men? The Ramban is puzzled that the tribes do not seem to be
listed in any specific order. He explains that these leaders were listed
according to their individual greatness. The very fact that Hoshea ben Nun,
the talmid (student) par-excellence of Moshe was listed fifth offers us a
glimpse of the colossal stature of these men.
There are a number of issues which need to be understood. Foremost, we know
that these spies brought back a bad report, causing the entire nation to
despair of entering the Land. How did these spiritual giants plunge to such
a depth? Furthermore, we find that Moshe added the letter 'yud' to Hoshea's
name changing it to Yehoshua. His name thereby began with 'yud' and 'heh',
Hashem's name. This was a prayer that Hashem should help save him from the
counsel of the meraglim (spies). Calev, the only other spy who didn't
slander Eretz Yisroel, went and prayed at the graves of the Avos
(Forefathers) that he shouldn't be influenced by their evil. Why didn't
Moshe also pray for Calev, and why didn't Yehoshua also pray at the grave
of the Avos?
Many of us can relate to the plight of Yehoshua and Calev in their
situation. They found themselves among people with a very different agenda
than they. We, too, often find ourselves among those with different
beliefs, different values and different priorities.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that there are two ways to combat the effects of
a negative environment. One, the more confrontational approach, is to
clearly show that you stand against what they are trying to promote. The
other, more passive approach, is to 'go underground'. To let them think
that you are on their side.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The first approach doesn't allow
for a watering down of one's principles -- it's me against them. However,
with this openly declared warfare, one accepts a certain degree of risk --
in the case of the meraglim, the spies, even a physical risk. The second
approach doesn't encounter any antagonism -- you are one of them.
Additionally, they'll willingly give you the podium, allowing you to, at
some point (much to their dismay) show your true colors in a clear and
powerful way. The danger, however, is a 'cooling off' of your own fire as
you outwardly work along with them.
Moshe understood clearly the different strengths of Yehoshua and Calev.
Yehoshua would declare open warfare against the slander they were trying to
promulgate against Eretz Yisroel. He could be in physical danger. Moshe
prayed that Hashem would save him from any scheme by the meraglim to cause
When the meraglim reached Hebron and were petrified of the giants they saw
there, they decided to slander the land to make sure that we wouldn't try to
enter. Calev at that point decided to act as if he agreed with them. This
would allow him to foil their plot upon their return. Afraid of the
spiritual danger he'd be in by appearing to be together with them, he needed
to pray for himself. He to went to the grave of the Avos and prayed for help
in passing this difficult test.
When the meraglim returned, they immediately disqualified Yehoshua's opinion
in that everyone else disagreed with him. When Calev arose to speak they
readily directed the crowd to give him their full attention. Calev was then
able to contradict all that they had said.
The Tosefta states that at times the Torah writes Yehoshua's name first and
at times Calev is first. This teaches us that both approaches are equally
valid. Every person must weigh their personal strengths and the particular
situation that they might find themselves in, and act accordingly.
Let's return to the first question we mentioned. What went wrong with the
The Zohar reveals to us the root of their stumble. They held positions ofhonor during the wilderness travels. "Rashei Bnei Yisroel haimah (Leaders of
Bnei Yisroel they were) [13:3]." The Baal Haturim writes that the gematria
(numerical value) of the word 'haimah', spelled 'heh' (5), 'mem' (40) and
'heh' (5), equals 50. They were officers in charge of fifty men. They knew
that they would lose this position upon entering Eretz Yisroel.
We've discussed earlier how a person always wants a certain degree of honor
and respect. Whatever level of honor a person holds, he'll defend that to
the end. From an objective point of view, being an officer of fifty is not
much to write home about! However, since that was their standing, they'd
protect that at all costs.
Wherever the meraglim went in the Land of Israel, they saw the inhabitantsvery busy with funerals. This was a show of kindness from Hashem. The
Canaanites were too busy to pay them any attention. This should have been
very encouraging -- they could have seen that Hashem was guarding them
while, at the same time, smiting their enemies.
The Steipler Rav writes that since they came with an agenda to preserve their
standing, they perceived that very act of kindness as a proof that they
couldn't enter the land! "It is a land that consumes its inhabitants!
[13:32]", they exclaimed, even though this conclusion was totally illogical.
If the land was consuming the inhabitants and there were constant deaths,
the people would not have been so busied with funerals. The deaths would
have become commonplace. The very fact that such a big deal was being made
about the deaths indicated clearly that they were relatively rare
occurrences. Why were they happening so often right now? Clearly to help
them, the meraglim. However, the meraglim refused to see that. Their agenda
clouded their perception to the point that they thought they observed the
exact opposite of what they actually observed.
Very often, the conclusions that we draw are not based on the 'facts' that
we observe but rather on the preexisting views with which we observed those
'facts'. The very same situation can be a cause of distancing from Hashem
for some people while being a source of chizuk (spiritual strengthening) for
Just a few days ago, I accompanied a friend to the cemetery for the third
yahrtzeit (a yearly observance of the Hebrew date of a person's death) of
his son, a"h. The very same situation, the death of a child, that wrecks
some people's marriages, families and lives, for this family was a cause of
>his'o'r'rus (intense spiritual arousal). The realization that we have no
clue how long each of us will have the gift of life, was for them a cause
for reckoning and attempting to make the most of the time that we do have.
It's not what happens but how we view it...
Rav Eliezer Silver was one of the many Rabbis who visited the DP camps where
Holocaust survivors were taken after the war. He was approached by a young
man who defiantly announced, "Rabbi, I will never be a religious Jew!"
"What makes you say that?", asked Rabbi Silver.
"I saw something in the camp that I will never forget", he explained. "There
was a man who called himself religious who had smuggled a siddur (prayerbook)
into the camp. It was the only siddur in our group and a few people wanted
to borrow it in order to pray. He agreed to lend it but only on one
condition -- in return, he demanded half a day's bread!
"And what happened?" asked Rabbi Silver curiously.
"Many gave their bread so that they could use the siddur!" he answered
angrily. "I want nothing to do with a religion which people use to rob
starving people of their bread!"
Rabbi Silver smiled at the young man and said: "Why do you concentrate on
that one individual who had the siddur and made such a demand? Why don't you
instead look at the devotion of all of those people who gave up their bread
just to pray from that siddur!"
It's not what happens, but how we view it...
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).