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Parshas Shlach

When In Doubt Ask

Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon, died at the inauguration of the Mishkan because they did not confer with their teacher Moshe before offering “a strange fire that G-d had not commanded.” Their intentions may have been noble but their actions circumvented Moshe’s place in the transmission of G-d’s will. Their actions were tantamount to a denial of G- d’s primacy. Regardless of their extraordinary potential, they forfeited their lives and denied Israel and history the benefits of what otherwise would have been their eventual leadership. Had they simply asked Moshe beforehand whether or not their heartfelt yearnings for greater intimacy with G-d could be realized all of history may have been different.

This was especially critical given the timing of their fateful offering. Their deaths followed the weeklong process of their inauguration into the Kehunah (priesthood). The Kohain was supposed to be the one person whose actions reflected the highest levels of humility and dependency on G-d. He, more so than anyone else, was supposed to loose his independent identity beneath the veil of his Talis. How much more so were G-d’s expectations for the first sons of Aharon, the first Kohanim? Their relationship with G-d should have become the standard that all subsequent generations of Kohanim would aspire to. There was no room for mistakes! If only they had first conferred with Moshe!

Going back to the beginnings of Moshe’s ministry we find the same emphasis on complete subjugation to the will and command of G-d as the prerequisite for leadership. As Moshe left Yisro to meet his brother Aharon and confront Pharaoh, the Torah recorded his near brush with death. Had it not been for the quick intervention of Tziporah by circumcising their newborn son, Moshe would have died. Why? Because he thought beyond the direct command of G-d. For anyone else the same would have been considered appropriate within the frame of Halacha (Jewish law). The Bris (circumcision) of an infant while traveling in the desert on the way to save the Jewish people from persecution and death certainly deserved some leniency and consideration. In fact, during the 40 years of the desert circumcisions were not performed because of the potential danger! Yet, G-d almost killed the man He had chosen to redeem His people and give the world His Torah! Why? Because, Moshe more so than anyone else had to be the quintessential servant of G-d. As the most humble of all men G-d’s will and only G-d’s had to define the very essence of Moshe’s being. There was no room for mistakes. Just as Moshe had to be completely subject to G- d’s will, so too everyone else had to be completely subject to Moshe’s will. Moshe’s will was tantamount to the will of G-d. “The Shechina (G-d’s Presence) spoke from the throat of Moshe!” (See Rav Hirsch of last week’s Parsha 10:35-36) By Nadav and Avihu not first conferring with Moshe they did what they wanted and ignored what G-d wanted. Like Moshe, and like Adam and Chava, they deserved to die.

Given the enticement of the Nachash (serpent), what should Adam and Chava have done? They could have done one of two things. 1. Ignore the enticement of the Nachash and realize that G-d’s commandment “not to eat from the two trees in the center of the garden” was absolute and not open to interpretation or negotiation. 2. Realize that they were being enticed by the Nachash’s rational of “to become like G-d knowing the difference between good and evil,” and before acting upon their confusion ask G-d what they should do! They should have at least been true to their own rationalization! If the Nachash’s suggestion was truly the will of G-d why take the chance? Why live with the confusion and doubt? Ask G-d if it was truly His will that they should eat from what He had commanded that they should not eat? It wasn’t as if there was anyone else to ask! They were the first. Better to be certain than wrong! The worst that could have happened is that Adam and Chava would have felt foolish for asking the obvious. The fact that they didn’t ask G-d before acting proved that their rationalization, like all rationalizations, are only the excuse we use to convince ourselves to do what we really want to do, regardless of G-d’s wishes.

The story of Bamidbar is the story of the Bnai Yisroel (Jews) struggling to listen to the word of G-d as taught to them by Moshe. Just as Adam and Chava could talk to G-d the Jews could talk to Moshe. There was never a reason for doubt and confusion. All they had to do was ask Moshe. If Moshe did not know, as it happened with the Blasphemer, Pesach Shaynie (2nd Passover), and the daughters of Tzlaphchad, Moshe would ask G-d. All it took was trust in G-d and His servant Moshe.

The sin of the Golden Calf was no different. Moshe was seemingly gone. Confusion and fear began to reign. The people approached Aharon; however, it was not to ask it was to tell! (Shem.32:1) “Rise up and make us gods that will go before u told Moshe, “You know that the people is disposed toward ev were not seeking truth and understanding. They came to Aharon with their minds made up. For them it was the opportunity to get out from under the oppressive restrictions of G-d’s laws and Moshe’s teachings. Had their intentions been good rather than “evil” they would have asked Aharon what to do. The proof that their intentions were truly evil was the fact that they came to tell Aharon, not ask him.

In last week’s issue I explained that the selection of Shayvet Layvie to administrate the Mishkan and Bais Hamikdash was due to their complete devotion and trust in Moshe when he descended from Sinai and broke the first Luchos (Tablets). In contrast to those who worshiped the Golden Calf and those who stood around (including Shayvet Layvie) and did nothing to stop them, the Leviyim suspended all rational and emotional considerations and followed Moshe. Once they snapped out of the confusion fostered by Moshe’s absence and those who worshiped the Egel, Layvie proved their complete trust and subjugation to the will of G-d as taught by His servant Moshe.

The Spies in this week’s Parsha are another example of “If only they would have asked.” Culled from the popular leadership of the nation, the Spies went on a mission of great spiritual peril. They were men of strength and courage whose mission was to independently confirm G-d’s promise. That in and of itself was the sin. What did they mean by seeking independent confirmation? Why wasn’t G-d’s promise sufficient to dispel any and all fears? Did they have reason to distrust G-d? Had G-d or Moshe ever failed them? Therein lay the seeds of their doomed mission. Motivated by the nation’s expressed lack of trust in G-d and His servant Moshe, the Spies went on their mission of confirmation. However, human nature is to challenge rather than trust; therefore, the Spies really went to disprove G-d’s promise not confirm it!

Among the Miraglim were Kalev and Yehoshua. They alone survived the machinations of the Spies. How did they survive? Why didn’t they, like the other Spies, succumb to the enticements and confusions of the “Nachash” and doubt G-d and Moshe?

As stated earlier, a prerequisite for leadership of the Bnai Yisroel is absolute subjugation to the will of G-d as taught by His servant Moshe. Yehoshua, as the student of Moshe, was tried and proven in the totality of his devotion to G-d and Moshe. Kalev on the other hand was seemingly like the others. He too must have sensed the stirrings of the Nachash in his own heart. However, because as the Torah testifies, (14:24) “ because a different spirit was with him and he followed me wholeheartedly” Kalev did something to strengthen his devotion so that he could withstand the influence of other Spies. (note: wholehearted despite the doubts because he did something abt. it)

The Medresh relates that Kalev made a clandestine visit to Chevron (Hebron) and M’aras Hamachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) to visit the graves of the Avos and Imahos. When Moshe questioned G-d after the failure of his first confrontation with Pharaoh, G-d bemoaned the absence of the Avos. “Woe to Me I miss them so! All their lives I promised them and never once did they doubt Me. Never once did they question Me!” (Rashi, Shem.6:9) The uniqueness of the Avos and Imahos was their single-minded devotion to G-d and His promises regardless of empirical validation or rational. Kalev knew in his heart that he needed the strength of the Avos and Imahos to stay true to G-d and Moshe. His prayers at the graves of Adam, Chava, Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak, Rivkah, Yakov and Leah, bolstered his resolve and allowed him to remain true to himself and G-d. In essence, Kalev was truthful whereas the other Spies were not. In essence, Kalev was willing to seek help whereas the Spies were not.

When the Miraglim returned from their mission they had a choice. Go to Moshe a report their findings and misgivings or go to the people and circumvent Moshe and Aharon. The verse states, (13:26) They went and came to Moshe and Aharon and the entire assembly of the Bnai Yisroel returned with the intention of specifically not asking Moshe to help resolve their inner struggles and doubts. How different history would have been if they had only asked Moshe to help them reconcile what they had seen with what they had been promised. Instead, the Spies reported to the people and added their conclusion, (13:31) “that people because it is too strong for us.”

The outcome of their report was the temporary demoralization of the nation and their loss of faith in G-d and Moshe. However, more devastating was the realization that the generation who had witnessed the greatest revelation of G-d’s manifest power in all of history was not ready to enter the Promised Land. Instead, they would have to die out in the desert over the next 38 years. Only the new generation would merit occupying the land and realizing the fulfillment of G-d’s promises to the Avos and Imahos.

Rashi on the first verse of the Parsha references the Talmud in Sotah 34b where G-d let Moshe know that the nation’s request for the spying mission was wrong and that the danger to the nation was extreme; yet, Moshe sent the Spies. Why? More so, why did he seemingly only protect Yehoshua with a name change? What about the other Spies?

Rav Hirsch explains that Moshe changed Yehoshua’s name from Hoshea for the sake of the Miraglim, not just for Yehoshua’s sake! “With this change of name Moshe hinted at a truth that Yehoshua was to remember always and that his companions, too, were to remember each time they addressed him by his new name, as they went about fulfilling their mission. “Hoshea, He Who has always helped also “Yehoshua, He Who will bring about our salvation in the future.”

The name was changed in hope of keeping all the Spies focused on their mission confirming G-d challenging it not just Yehoshua. As Moshe’s closest disci represented Moshe on the mission and his new name directed their faith toward G-d. However, it wasn’t enough. There had to be an inner drive toward truth and humility for the Spies to overcome the enticement of the Nachash into fear and distrust. Tragically, only Kalev “was of a different spirit.”

The final words of the Miraglim’s report to the people said it all. (13:32- 33) “…All the people were giants? All the people we saw were huge? There we saw the so we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” Without G-d as part of the equation, natural law dictated that they be filled with fear and doubt. However, that was not the case. G- d had redeemed them from Egypt and brought Pharaoh and his entire civilization to utter destruction. He had split the sea and provided an entire nation with food and water where no water or food existed. True, the Canaanites were huge in relation to other humans, but they were irrelevant in relation to G-d. The Jews represented G-d not man! As the Rebbe of Kotzk said, “They had no right to see themselves as grasshoppers. The only reason the giants saw them as inconsequential was because they saw themselves that way.” Had the Spies stood together with the courage and conviction of Kalev and Yehoshua the “giants” would have trembled before them! (Shem.15:15)”Trembling gripped the powers of Moav, all the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away.”

In the end the tragedy is so great because it could have easily been avoided. Had they only first gone to Moshe and asked him to help them confront the Nachash in their hearts and minds the whole of history would have been different. What a price we have paid for the illusion of our own independence?

When In Doubt Ask

Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon, died at the inauguration of the Mishkan because they did not confer with their teacher Moshe before offering ?a strange fire that G-d had not commanded.? Their intentions may have been noble but their actions circumvented Moshe?s place in the transmission of G-d?s will. Their actions were tantamount to a denial of G- d?s primacy. Regardless of their extraordinary potential, they forfeited their lives and denied Israel and history the benefits of what otherwise would have been their eventual leadership. Had they simply asked Moshe beforehand whether or not their heartfelt yearnings for greater intimacy with G-d could be realized all of history may have been different.

This was especially critical given the timing of their fateful offering. Their deaths followed the weeklong process of their inauguration into the Kehunah (priesthood). The Kohain was supposed to be the one person whose actions reflected the highest levels of humility and dependency on G-d. He, more so than anyone else, was supposed to loose his independent identity beneath the veil of his Talis. How much more so were G-d's expectations for the first sons of Aharon, the first Kohanim? Their relationship with G-d should have become the standard that all subsequent generations of Kohanim would aspire to. There was no room for mistakes! If only they had first conferred with Moshe!

Going back to the beginnings of Moshe's ministry we find the same emphasis on complete subjugation to the will and command of G-d as the prerequisite for leadership. As Moshe left Yisro to meet his brother Aharon and confront Pharaoh, the Torah recorded his near brush with death. Had it not been for the quick intervention of Tziporah by circumcising their newborn son, Moshe would have died. Why? Because he thought beyond the direct command of G-d. For anyone else the same would have been considered appropriate within the frame of Halacha (Jewish law). The Bris (circumcision) of an infant while traveling in the desert on the way to save the Jewish people from persecution and death certainly deserved some leniency and consideration. In fact, during the 40 years of the desert circumcisions were not performed because of the potential danger! Yet, G-d almost killed the man He had chosen to redeem His people and give the world His Torah! Why? Because, Moshe more so than anyone else had to be the quintessential servant of G-d. As the most humble of all men G-d's will and only G-d's had to define the very essence of Moshe's being. There was no room for mistakes. Just as Moshe had to be completely subject to G- d's will, so too everyone else had to be completely subject to Moshe's will. Moshe's will was tantamount to the will of G-d. "The Shechina (G-d's Presence) spoke from the throat of Moshe!? (See Rav Hirsch of last week's Parsha 10:35-36) By Nadav and Avihu not first conferring with Moshe they did what they wanted and ignored what G-d wanted. Like Moshe, and like Adam and Chava, they deserved to die.

Given the enticement of the Nachash (serpent), what should Adam and Chava have done? They could have done one of two things. 1. Ignore the enticement of the Nachash and realize that G-d's commandment ?not to eat from the two trees in the center of the garden? was absolute and not open to interpretation or negotiation. 2. Realize that they were being enticed by the Nachash's rational of ?to become like G-d knowing the difference between good and evil,? and before acting upon their confusion ask G-d what they should do! They should have at least been true to their own rationalization! If the Nachash's suggestion was truly the will of G-d why take the chance? Why live with the confusion and doubt? Ask G-d if it was truly His will that they should eat from what He had commanded that they should not eat? It wasn?t as if there was anyone else to ask! They were the first. Better to be certain than wrong! The worst that could have happened is that Adam and Chava would have felt foolish for asking the obvious. The fact that they didn?t ask G-d before acting proved that their rationalization, like all rationalizations, are only the excuse we use to convince ourselves to do what we really want to do, regardless of G-d?s wishes.

The story of Bamidbar is the story of the Bnai Yisroel (Jews) struggling to listen to the word of G-d as taught to them by Moshe. Just as Adam and Chava could talk to G-d the Jews could talk to Moshe. There was never a reason for doubt and confusion. All they had to do was ask Moshe. If Moshe did not know, as it happened with the Blasphemer, Pesach Shaynie (2nd Passover), and the daughters of Tzlaphchad, Moshe would ask G-d. All it took was trust in G-d and His servant Moshe.

The sin of the Golden Calf was no different. Moshe was seemingly gone. Confusion and fear began to reign. The people approached Aharon; however, it was not to ask it was to tell! (Shem.32:1) "Rise up and make us gods that will go before us!? Aharon later told Moshe, 'You know that the people is disposed toward evil.' The sinners were not seeking truth and understanding. They came to Aharon with their minds made up. For them it was the opportunity to get out from under the oppressive restrictions of G- d's laws and Moshe's teachings. Had their intentions been good rather than "evil" they would have asked Aharon what to do. The proof that their intentions were truly evil was the fact that they came to tell Aharon, not ask him.

In last week's issue I explained that the selection of Shayvet Layvie to administrate the Mishkan and Bais Hamikdash was due to their complete devotion and trust in Moshe when he descended from Sinai and broke the first Luchos (Tablets). In contrast to those who worshiped the Golden Calf and those who stood around (including Shayvet Layvie) and did nothing to stop them, the Leviyim suspended all rational and emotional considerations and followed Moshe. Once they snapped out of the confusion fostered by Moshe?s absence and those who worshiped the Egel, Layvie proved their complete trust and subjugation to the will of G-d as taught by His servant Moshe.

The Spies in this week's Parsha are another example of "If only they would have asked." Culled from the popular leadership of the nation, the Spies went on a mission of great spiritual peril. They were men of strength and courage whose mission was to independently confirm G-d's promise. That in and of itself was the sin. What did they mean by seeking independent confirmation? Why wasn't G-d's promise sufficient to dispel any and all fears? Did they have reason to distrust G-d? Had G-d or Moshe ever failed them? Therein lay the seeds of their doomed mission. Motivated by the nation's expressed lack of trust in G-d and His servant Moshe, the Spies went on their mission of confirmation. However, human nature is to challenge rather than trust; therefore, the Spies really went to disprove G-d's promise not confirm it!

Among the Miraglim were Kalev and Yehoshua. They alone survived the machinations of the Spies. How did they survive? Why didn't they, like the other Spies, succumb to the enticements and confusions of the "Nachash" and doubt G-d and Moshe?

As stated earlier, a prerequisite for leadership of the Bnai Yisroel is absolute subjugation to the will of G-d as taught by His servant Moshe. Yehoshua, as the student of Moshe, was tried and proven in the totality of his devotion to G-d and Moshe. Kalev on the other hand was seemingly like the others. He too must have sensed the stirrings of the Nachash in his own heart. However, because as the Torah testifies, (14:24) "But My servant Kalev, because a different spirit was with him and he followed me wholeheartedly" Kalev did something to strengthen his devotion so that he could withstand the influence of other Spies. (note: wholehearted despite the doubts because he did something abt. it)

The Medresh relates that Kalev made a clandestine visit to Chevron (Hebron) and M?aras Hamachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) to visit the graves of the Avos and Imahos. When Moshe questioned G-d after the failure of his first confrontation with Pharaoh, G-d bemoaned the absence of the Avos. "Woe to Me I miss them so! All their lives I promised them and never once did they doubt Me. Never once did they question Me!" (Rashi, Shem.6:9) The uniqueness of the Avos and Imahos was their single-minded devotion to G-d and His promises regardless of empirical validation or rational. Kalev knew in his heart that he needed the strength of the Avos and Imahos to stay true to G-d and Moshe. His prayers at the graves of Adam, Chava, Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak, Rivkah, Yakov and Leah, bolstered his resolve and allowed him to remain true to himself and G-d. In essence, Kalev was truthful whereas the other Spies were not. In essence, Kalev was willing to seek help whereas the Spies were not.

When the Miraglim returned from their mission they had a choice. Go to Moshe a report their findings and misgivings or go to the people and circumvent Moshe and Aharon. The verse states, (13:26) They went and came to Moshe and Aharon and the entire assembly of the Bnai Yisroel?? The Spies returned with the intention of specifically not asking Moshe to help resolve their inner struggles and doubts. How different history would have been if they had only asked Moshe to help them reconcile what they had seen with what they had been promised. Instead, the Spies reported to the people and added their conclusion, (13:31) "We cannot ascend to that people because it is too strong for us."

The outcome of their report was the temporary demoralization of the nation and their loss of faith in G-d and Moshe. However, more devastating was the realization that the generation who had witnessed the greatest revelation of G-d's manifest power in all of history was not ready to enter the Promised Land. Instead, they would have to die out in the desert over the next 38 years. Only the new generation would merit occupying the land and realizing the fulfillment of G-d's promises to the Avos and Imahos.

Rashi on the first verse of the Parsha references the Talmud in Sotah 34b where G-d let Moshe know that the nation's request for the spying mission was wrong and that the danger to the nation was extreme; yet, Moshe sent the Spies. Why? More so, why did he seemingly only protect Yehoshua with a name change? What about the other Spies?

Rav Hirsch explains that Moshe changed Yehoshua?s name from Hoshea for the sake of the Miraglim, not just for Yehoshua?s sake! ?With this change of name Moshe hinted at a truth that Yehoshua was to remember always and that his companions, too, were to remember each time they addressed him by his new name, as they went about fulfilling their mission. ?Hoshea ­ He Who has always helped us in the past,? is also ?Yehoshua ­ He Who will bring about our salvation in the future.? The name was changed in hope of keeping all the Spies focused on their mission ­ confirming G-d?s promise not challenging it ­ not just Yehoshua. As Moshe?s closest disciple, Yehoshua represented Moshe on the mission and his new name directed their faith toward G-d. However, it wasn?t enough. There had to be an inner drive toward truth and humility for the Spies to overcome the enticement of the Nachash into fear and distrust. Tragically, only Kalev ?was of a different spirit.? The final words of the Miraglim's report to the people said it all. (13:32- 33) "All the people were giants? All the people we saw were huge? There we saw the sons of the giant we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes. Without G-d as part of the equation, natural law dictated that they be filled with fear and doubt. However, that was not the case. G-d had redeemed them from Egypt and brought Pharaoh and his entire civilization to utter destruction. He had split the sea and provided an entire nation with food and water where no water or food existed. True, the Canaanites were huge in relation to other humans, but they were irrelevant in relation to G-d. The Jews represented G-d not man! As the Rebbe of Kotzk said, "They had no right to see themselves as grasshoppers. The only reason the giants saw them as inconsequential was because they saw themselves that way." Had the Spies stood together with the courage and conviction of Kalev and Yehoshua the giants would have trembled before them! (Shem.15:15)"Trembling gripped the powers of Moav, all the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away."

In the end the tragedy is so great because it could have easily been avoided. Had they only first gone to Moshe and asked him to help them confront the Nachash in their hearts and minds the whole of history would have been different. What a price we have paid for the illusion of our own independence.


Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org

The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.


 
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