Continuing the theme of being in tandem with the shiva d’nechemta, the seven special haftaras which comfort Bnei Yisrael in the aftermath of the churban, I’ve decided to do nothing more (nor less) than basically rewrite what the Chofetz Chaim has to say in his sefer Shemiras Halashon about the meraglim (the origin of the sin and the punishment of the churban), what their error was, and what we can learn from them and then hopefully rectify.
The Chofetz Chaim begins his explanation with a basic question: What in the world were they thinking? After all, we are dealing with great people (see Rashi, Bamidbar 13:3), as the pasuk itself describes them as “leaders of Bnei Yisrael.” And realize that we are not dealing with political or temporal leaders, but spiritual guides. What’s more, the pasuk states (ibid 14:1), “And the entire congregation wept [at the spies’ report].” Rashi explains that this included the judges in the Sanhedrin. Et tu, Sanhedrin? What was going on? And furthermore, when the pasuk states, “We cannot prevail against the people presently living there, for [the enemy] is stronger than us,” Rashi there comments that they included Hakadosh Baruch Hu in that negative assessment! “Even He cannot remove things from there” (against the will of the inhabitants). Now, how ludicrous is that? Could anything possibly be more utterly foolish?
Says the Chofetz Chaim: On the contrary, when we delve into this, we will see that we, too, have the yetzer hara exhibited by the meraglim.
The mistaken perspective which did them in was in thinking that conquering such a mighty and powerful enemy required great, unusual merit; that Bnei Yisrael would have to be considered great tzadikim, holy people; and the belief that we had no such people! Thus, the more mighty and impressive the Canaanites seemed to be, the more fearful the Jews became that they needed greater and greater perfection in the eyes of HaShem.
It is well known that the yetzer hara tries every possible tactic to ensnare us; it tries to get us to think thoughts that are even contradictory! At times he will make a person feel secure in his or her avodas HaShem, perhaps even a bit haughty, deserving of all that is good. This stunts his growth. And when a person has his sights set on accomplishing something special for HaShem or His Torah, the yetzer hara manages to make the person feel depressed, unworthy of HaShem’s goodness. “Such work is appropriate only for big people, special people, leaders, not a ‘regular’ person such as myself.” And all of a sudden the yetzer hara starts reminding the person of every foolish thing he has ever done in his life, in order to make the person feel small and unworthy, to erase the desire to accomplish and to produce great things.
Here, too, when Bnei Yisrael set out to spy the land, the yetzer hara capitalized on such fears, saying, “Surely avoiding defeat and being victorious over such powerful giants requires a righteousness and a perfection in avodas HaShem… Why, it was not that long ago that we worshiped the Golden Calf, and it was only a short while ago that we were punished for demanding meat…” (At this point in the yetzer hara’s narrative, he has them “conveniently” forget that they had done teshuvah for these sins.) Thus, “We have come into the land into which you have sent us… and indeed it is a land flowing with milk and honey. BUT the nations living in the land are exceedingly strong… and we have seen the sons of the giants there… Amalek is living in the South…” They were saying: “Surely for this we need someone of Moshe Rabbeinu’s stature and zechusim to lead us… But we have just heard the prophecy that Moshe would not be shepherding us into Eretz Yisrael… the Chittim are there, the Yevusi… what credits of excellence are needed!” Whereupon Kalev stood up, saying, “Is this all Moshe Rabbeinu has done to us? He has provided us with mahn, he split the sea…” And following along with the explanation of the Chofetz Chaim, who sees the struggle for the hearts of the nation in this way, the interpretation is, “If HaShem was exacting and demanding, He would not have split the sea, not have given us mahn. Surely we were unworthy then, with the depths to which we had sunk in Egypt, and with our badgering and complaining in the desert…” And Moshe Rabbeinu actually alludes to this in his tefillah, “And as You have borne [the sins of] this nation from Egypt to today…” (Bamidbar 14:19).
Kalev concludes, “Surely we will rise and enter the land and inherit it.”
But the other spies insisted, “No! They are much too powerful, more powerful than…” i.e., when does HaShem perform such nissim; when does HaShem remove a nation from its land? When the replacement nation is better than they are — then HaShem allows the second nation to evict the resident nation. But we are sinners, why would HaShem perform such miracles for us? Even HaShem’s promise that we will inherit this land is only operative if and when we are tzadikim; then and only then would we be given such power. The statement that “even HaShem ‘cannot’ remove things from there” now becomes chillingly clear.
Furthermore, they said, to live in this holy land requires an ability to stand in the face of midas hadin, HaShem’s attribute of strict justice. Surely Eretz Yisrael, which is “the palace of the king,” demands a code of behavior more exacting than what we are able to live up to! Surely sinning in the palace of the king is more deserving of punishment than sinning outside the palace!?
Continuing in that vein: “And we were so frightened…” The spies implied that we will get there, and our hearts will melt with fear… and that in itself will render us unworthy of Divine protection! As is well known, the degree of such protection directly relates to the degree that a person exhibits true bitachon in HaShem; thus, our fears themselves will drive away our potential salvation!
And the Sanhedrin wept! Because, as the Chofetz Chaim so compellingly explains, the greater a person is, the more he recognizes his own faults and flaws (and that is why truly great people are the humblest of men). Thus, once they bought into the meraglim’s perspective, their worldview, it makes perfect sense for the greatest leaders, the Sanhedrin, to join in the general bemoaning of their fate.
Where is the flawed reasoning? Why does this sin become the most primal cause of the churban?
To be continued…