Last week’s cliffhanger closing: “Where is the flawed reasoning? Why does this sin become the most primal cause of the churban?”
The Chafetz Chaim explains that Yehoshua and Kalev retorted, “That which you ten meraglim claim, i.e., that HaShem’s promise to give us the land is conditional upon our complete righteousness, is a fundamental error! Hakadosh Baruch Hu does not insist that a person be a tzaddik in order to merit a yeshuah. Rather, HaShem “only” requires that you not be rebellious, defiant, mutinous. And that, indeed, is the deeper meaning in the words of the passuk that follows: “Just do not rebel against HaShem” (Bamidbar 14:9). The simple, plain meaning of the passuk is that Yehoshua and Kalev were warning Bnei Yisrael not to rebel against HaShem by following the meraglim. According to this new interpretation, it is the very reason the meraglim were wrong! Because “all” you have to do is not rebel against HaShem! And as long as a person is not rebelling against HaShem, but doing his or her best to fulfill His will, he or she can expect all the blessings of the Torah to be relevant.
The Chafetz Chaim explains that this yetzer hara of the meraglim can be found within us, here, now, today! If you approach someone and ask, “Do you believe that those who fulfill the Torah and its mitzvos are worthy and deserving of great reward?” he will surely answer, “Why, of course! I fully believe Chazal’s statement that one small, limited amount of time in olam haba is more pleasurable than all the delights of olam hazeh. Certainly!” And if you then ask him or her why he or she is neglectful and lax in his learning, in his mitzvos, in his heedfulness to avoid sin, you will probably receive something like the following answer: “Yes, that statement of Chazal is true, but it is talking about special individuals who have completely turned away from and ignore olam hazeh, ignore their physical side, and to whom anything of this world is worthless and meaningless, including any comfort or enjoyment. They probably sit the entire day in the beis medrash, or are always busy with acts of chessed; they are fully bonded with HaShem, and He is always in their minds, and that is all they think about. Obviously such a person must be a kadosh, an other-worldly person; that is whom Chazal speak of when they talk about the pleasures of olam haba, not plain, simple folk such as myself, struggling to get by, struggling with getting things right, struggling with overcoming my base desires and wants, succeeding at times, failing at others, who knows which happens more often….
Stop! says the Chafetz Chaim. The Torah does not demand of the average person to be removed from this world, sitting and studying the entire day and most of the night, with nary a thought of anything temporal. Rather, the Torah recognizes that a person will be out in this world of ours, whether it be earning a living or other involvements. Of course the Torah wants and expects every single person to set aside set times for learning (which are inviolate) at day and at night, as well as for other spiritual matters, and that his or her engagement in this world be according to the laws and rules which the Torah has set up. Chazal themselves say (Shabbos 31a), the first questions asked of a person after the soul departs from the body and stands in judgment in front of HaShem are, “Have you conducted your affairs in a trustworthy and honest, forthright manner? Have you set aside times for Torah-learning?”
And indeed if we examine a person’s lifestyle according to the mitzvos of the Torah, we will inevitably find that there is nothing there terribly difficult or cumbersome there; in fact, the passuk in the Navi Michah states, “My Nation [exclaims G-d],what have I burdened you with, how have I hampered you, refute Me!” (6:3). Rather, the cardinal, foremost, fundamental principle is that we not rebel! Not to intentionally and in a premeditated manner violate HaShem’s rules for living. We go through life, we do our best, we win some, we lose some, we are serious about our determination to do better tomorrow, we aspire, we have to make sure that we have spiritual goals, spiritual targets, that we have a sense of mission on behalf of HaShem to better ourselves. But perfection is not expected nor demanded of us, nor is it necessary to disengage from this world (though it might not be such a bad idea); don’t rebel, just do your best!
This actually helps us understand a seeming contradiction in the Chovos Halevavos in Sh’aar Habitachon. The Chovos Halevavos insists throughout much of this sha’ar that part and parcel of having bitachon is realizing that HaShem loves you and will do chessed for you and will give you the good things that you need even if you are undeserving of them. He states that in the very first perek (indeed, that seems to be the very point of the first perek!). He reiterates in perek two, in perek three — he is adamant about it, and it does seem to follow logically — how can I fully rely and depend on HaShem if I need to be truly and fully worthy? Yet, in the third perek, he also states that one of the prerequisites for having bitachon is “that you make every effort to fulfill your obligations to your Creator, observe His commandments, and refrain from the things He said to refrain from. Only then will He indeed be ready to provide you with the things you rely on Him to provide you with… How foolish it would be to rely on HaShem and to rebel against Him! Isn’t it obvious that if someone chosen or commanded to do something important disobeyed the commander’s orders, that the commander would very likely not do what he was relied upon to do for that person? Shouldn’t that be all the more true of one who transgresses HaShem’s decrees? Isn’t he debasing everything he is relying on? Why, that is simply hypocritical!
The answer is now clear. Do your best, don’t rebel, exert yourself to do what is presently your utmost, and HaShem will, according to the words of the Chovos Halevavos, give, give, give, with love, even if from an objective standpoint we are undeserving. But to rebel!? To not do our best? Unthinkable!
This is a vital idea to keep in mind as we enter the days of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur.
To be continued…