What Went Wrong?
It is difficult to comprehend how much could go wrong in such a short
period of time with superior people being the main destroyers. After all,
Moshe sent the best representatives he could find to become the spies and
he certainly was blindsided by their unexpected and unjustified report.
So, what really went wrong? The question has been examined for thousands
of years by all of the great commentators to Torah. What emerges from all
of this scholarly opinion is that there were two basic underlying,
subconscious, inherently unrecognizable motivations that created this
debacle. In a certain sense, these two motives were not unique to the
spies, the leaders of Israel, but were deeply embedded in the hearts of
the Jews of that generation. That is why the Jews were so willing to
accept the words of the ten spies and ignore the truth that Yehoshua and
Calev related to them. The first motivation was a personal one. The
leaders in the desert realized that new leaders would take their places
once the Jewish people settled in the Promised Land, so they
subconsciously chose to scuttle the idea of going to the Land of Israel in
favor of remaining in office in the desert. When the rabbis said ”One
should not trust one’s self” they meant that one’s judgment is always
clouded by self-interest. One has to examine one’s own prejudices,
experiences, ego and desires before passing judgment on important issues.
The prophet stated: “The heart is perverse, who can truly know it?”
The other motivation, the one that the general public of Israel in the
desert also feared was the necessity of assuming responsibilities that
having a Jewish state in the Land of Israel entailed. That generation came
from being slaves in Egypt. Being a slave is no joy but a slave after all
has no independence, no decisions to make, no responsibilities to
shoulder. After Egypt, they came to a desert where all of their material
needs were miraculously met. Manna from heaven, water from the rock and
from Miriam’s traveling well, dry cleaners from clouds and perfect weather
were taken for granted. Then, when they would become independent state
builders upon coming into the Land of Israel all of those support systems
would disappear. They would have to become masters of their own destiny
and they shirked from this task. The slave mentality had not been
eradicated from their subconscious. They preferred to return to Egypt
rather than to advance to the Land of Israel and have to deal with all of
the problems of independent nationhood. Our generation is still witness to
the difficulties of uprooting the psyche of dependency from Jews and
getting them to face the responsibilities of nationhood and homeland.
Shirking national responsibilities leads to disastrous consequences for
such a generation. Decisions of policy and state founded upon weakness of
will and distorted vision always come back to haunt us. Yehoshua and Calev
may have been the minority opinion but history has proven them to be the
authors of the correct opinion.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Torah.org
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