The Path of Normalcy by Rabbi Josh Kahn


When something goes wrong, there is often quite enough blame to go around.  After the Cheit HaMeraglim, Bnei Yisrael surely realized that the request to send the Meraglim was a mistake. But with whom does the blame for this grievous error lie?  At the beginning of Parashat Shelach, the Torah indicates that Hashem did not tell Bnei Yisrael to send spies; rather after Bnei Yisrael ask permission, Hashem grants it to them.  Hashem’s permission is a concession to the request of Bnei Yisrael, but was not His original plan.  In a subtle way, the idea is conveyed that while Hashem didn’t disapprove of the plan, it was not His ideal, while to Bnei Yisrael this was the right way to go about their conquest of Eretz Yisrael.  It seems safe to blame Bnei Yisrael for trying to push their agenda, while Hashem’s approach was to let Bnei Yisrael do as they pleased despite knowing that it was not in their best interest.  But where does Moshe fall?  Was he in favor of sending spies, or was he on Hashem’s side? 

The picture from Parashat Shelach is somewhat unclear about this point. However, Moshe’s narrative in Parashat Devarim seems to fill in the picture.  Moshe recounts how Bnei Yisrael came to him with the request and, “VaYitav BeEinay HaDavar,” “The idea was good in my eyes” (Devarim 1:23).  This seems to indicate that Moshe agreed with the request, not merely granting permission as Hashem did, but giving the plan his whole-hearted support.  In fact, some commentators take this approach.  There is, however, a difficulty with such an approach.  Why would Moshe in Parashat Devarim reprimand Bnei Yisrael for this request if he in fact agreed?  Rashi in Shelach quotes an interesting Midrash which elaborates on the dialogue between Moshe and Bnei Yisrael.  He quotes a parable of a person who asks a farmer to sell him his animal.  The farmer agrees, but the man asks if he could have a test run with the animal.  The farmer again agrees.  The man goes further and asks if he can take the animal up mountains and into valleys during the test run to test the animal’s endurance.  The man again agrees.  After seeing the confidence the farmer has in his animal, the man realizes that this must be a great animal and immediately gives him the money without the test run.  The Midrash states that this is what Moshe had in mind when he supported the mission.  He was hoping Bnei Yisrael would drop the request after seeing the confidence Moshe and Hashem had in Eretz Yisrael.

The approach of Rashi indicates that Moshe didn’t agree with the plan, but rather hoped Bnei Yisrael would back down.  This approach raises the question of why Moshe would not be in favor of this mission.  Bnei Yisrael seemed to be justified in their request; after all, they weren’t saying they wanted to see if the land was worth moving into.  It’s not like nowadays when people go to Israel to see if they are interested in moving there.  Bnei Yisrael just wanted to know what community to live in.  So why didn’t Moshe lend his full support to this idea?

Until this point, Bnei Yisrael experienced a totally miraculous existence in the desert, having their every need handed to them by Hashem.  It therefore should have come as no surprise for them to capture Eretz Yisrael in the same miraculous fashion.  The mission of the spies was therefore deemed unnecessary, for the plan was for them to speedily reach Israel, whereupon Hashem would take care of their battles and properly apportion land to each of them.  This lifestyle is comparable to that of a child being given everything by his parents.  But Bnei Yisrael asked for a different approach. 

The problem was that Bnei Yisrael no longer wanted this type of lifestyle.  They felt mature enough to take the initiative.  No longer did they want to be given everything on a silver platter; they were going to take care of themselves.  They therefore wanted to scout out Israel.  Hashem and Moshe didn’t agree with this approach.  The result of this rift was the sin of the Meraglim.  Although the approach of Bnei Yisrael was admirable, they were not yet mature enough to handle being on their own, and they therefore reacted improperly to the report the spies brought back.

Interestingly, when the time arrived for Bnei Yisrael to enter Eretz Yisrael, they did so through more natural channels.  Life in Israel was to be governed through the natural order, no longer the miraculous lifestyle of the desert.  After the debacle of the Meraglim, Bnei Yisrael demonstrated to Hashem that although they needed to mature, it was this lifestyle that they needed to live in Israel.

This change in spiritual lifestyle could be why Moshe was not allowed to lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael.  His style of leadership was perfect for the desert, but was unsuitable for Eretz Yisrael.  This further explains why Moshe states in Parashat Devarim that it was because of the sin of the Meraglim that he couldn’t enter into Eretz Yisrael.  The commentators wonder why Moshe attributes not being allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael to this sin when we know it was really because of the sin at Mei Meriva?  Perhaps Moshe means that it was this event that dictated the need for Bnei Yisrael to go into Israel through natural means, and consequently Moshe could not bring them.

Both of these lifestyles have their time and place.  Sometimes we need to live the miraculous, totally entrusting ourselves to Hashem to make sure things work out.  But most of the times we need to do things in the natural order of the world.  We know Hashem is really in charge and that everything we do is in His hands, but we also have our own roles to play in the normal course of the world.

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