Imagine that you, your parents, your grandparents, and their grandparents before them had been raised with a belief that a promise, some promise, would eventually be fulfilled and that the result would be a profound and permanent change in your lives for all eternity. Now further imagine that a messenger from Hashem arrived to tell you that the time had come for the fulfillment of that promise, and even delivered the appropriate signs handed down through the generations. Let=s take that one step further—you personally witness the fulfillment of the first stages of that promise accompanied by wondrous miracles. Finally, just as you were preparing yourself for the ultimate completion of the promise, the messenger turns to tell you that you will not live to see it. The sense of frustration is compounded by each of the stages witnessed, and accompanying that frustration is a deep despair.
This is the state in which Bnai Yisrael find themselves immediately after the catastrophe of the מרגלים. They were there in the depths of Egyptian slavery; they struggled with the question of whether to believe that Hashem was indeed redeeming them and that Moshe was his messenger; they witnessed the miracles of the plagues and the splitting of the sea, proclaiming זה אלי ואנוהו; they were the recipients of Divine protection of the ענני הכבוד and the munificence of the bounty of the מן. As far as they could tell the time for their ultimate redemption had arrived. Yet one misstep later they find themselves literally on the border of their promised land, the destination of their dreams, only to be informed that they would not enter. And those who refused to accept that reality were mercilessly defeated in battle. The sense of despair that engulfed the people was beyond description.
It is precisely at that point that Hashem intervenes. First, He teaches them that when they enter the Land, emphasizing that the corporate entity of עם ישראל will indeed enter the land regardless of the fate of particular individuals, that they are to bring from the produce of that land alongside their regular sacrifices. The assurance of their eventual entry into the land comes none too soon. Second, He instructs them how to use the sacrificial order to recover from what would appear be the devastating consequence of sin. Yet this is not yet enough.
At the close of the Parsha Hashem instructs the people in the Mitzva of Tzitzit. Much has been written about the juxtaposition of this instruction at the close of the devastating incident of the מרגלים, yet let us focus on the concluding verse. After all that has happened, Hashem lets His people in on a secret B the purpose of redeeming them from Egypt was so that He could establish a relationship with them. Contrary to (their) popular belief, which was that the redemption was to bring them into their Promised Land, they are informed that the purpose of the exodus was to begin the process of the bonding of the two covenantal partners. Suddenly the focus has shifted, liberating the nation from its despair and feeling that they were nothing but a failure, and helping them to understand that their primary purpose—building and maintaining a pact with Hashem, in which He would be their God and they His people—could still be accomplished. In too many generations our hopes that the final redemption was imminent have been ignited, with prognosticators and visionaries pointing to the incontrovertible signs that we are the generation to personally witness the Messianic era, only to have those hopes shattered and with them the spirit of the people who invested so much of themselves in those dreams. Perhaps we would be well served to review Hashem=s response to that first frustrated generation: The redemption will come, whenever that will be, yet that experience pales in comparison to establishing a genuine and enduring relationship with the ultimate Redeemer.